Gutting the Bathroom

In a 1 bathroom house, it is no surprise the bathroom is about the number 1 priority before I can officially move in, especially since I knew it needed some major remodeling.  Just from a simple peek into the bath cabinet, I had pretty much already made up my mind that I would be needing to run new plumbing. There were signs of prolonged leaking around every fixture in the house (water heater, washer, kitchen sink, toilet, tub… I think that’s nearly the whole house). And from peaking into the crawlspace, I could tell that much of the drainpipes were still cast iron or steel, which had me thinking new PVC drains for the whole house would just be good measure also.

So here is basically how I found the bathroom (for all the bath “before” photos, scroll down or click here).


Within just a few hours work, the bathroom was almost empty. I tried to loosen the bolts “holding” the toilet to the floor, but they were seriously rusted tight. So I tried to see how loose it might be to get a saw blade underneath to cut the bolts, and I nearly picked it right up off the floor, no kidding! It was only held on one side, and barely at that. The sink vanity, although not in bad shape (I plan to put it by the curb with a “FREE” sign) literally felt like a child’s sink in height. I can only imagine the neck and back pains trying to wash my hands or brush my teeth in that, not exactly chiropractor approved for my 6′-4″ tall self.

The flimsy paneling wasn’t glued at all, just a few nails into the plaster so it ripped off so quick. And then I started ripping up the flooring. I didn’t take photos of every layer, so let me describe it: imagine a sandwich of linoleum, 1/2″ thick plywood, linoleum, strangely soft and termite eaten panel board, and then another layer of linoleum on top of the home’s original wood floor. Each layer showed signs of being glued at one time, but thanks to the amount of water it survived and what looks like hungry termites, they simply peeled off like a freshly baked Pillsbury grands biscuit. Hungry? Me neither.


At first, I was super excited to see the wood floor peak out under all those layers of wet flooring. But the closer I got to the tub and toilet stack, the worse the wood got. Until eventually, I put accidentally put my foot right through the spot where the toilet bowl would have been. It just splintered apart. And the board broken at the front edge of the tub was rotted through, it came up like ripping apart a dry sponge. And trying not to fall through the floor was the cruelest game of hop-scotch.


I debated about whether or not to remove the tub. My debate lasted all but 10 seconds. The tub drain had signs of leaking, with every connection corroded. But I have never moved a cast iron tub before. Thank goodness for friends who are willing to come over and help lift a tub. Seriously, thanks Kyle!

Next came knocking down the loose plaster. I didn’t think this step through. I figured knock down what was loose, then take out the floor. Looking back, I should have simply cut out all the plaster and lath for the entire wall behind the tub and on the toilet wall right then. For the window wall, I don’t want the insulation to fall out, and I don’t plan to run any pipes or wires through that wall, so that lath can stay.


So now the tub is sitting in my kitchen, where a normal person would have a stove and refrigerator. But I am not a normal person, so I have a tub in mine. I love the look of the enameled cast iron, and it’s really very solid. I expect it to clean up really well with a ton of elbow grease after I get it reinstalled.

Where I left it on Saturday was beginning to cut out the wood floor. Yes, cried a little at this step, knowing how nice a dark and luxurious wood floor would be beautiful in an otherwise classic black and white tile bathroom. But the amount of rotted wood was just too much, the entire half of the room closest to the window would have needed replaced. I would have found boards to match, and by cutting out the floor I gain a larger access into the crawlspace for when its time to run new plumbing and add new electrical lines to a few other rooms. So attack it I did with the Sawzall, and there’s no looking back now. Plus, many homes of this age originally had marble or hex-tile bath floors, so my finished look should pass as age appropriate.

So what is getting me through the panic attack of not having a bathroom floor at the moment? Below is my bathroom inspiration:

white bath charcoal walls

White, lots of white. Except imagine a dark wood medicine cabinet built into the wall, as well as dark wood trim and door. I’m not too much a fan of painted woodwork (yes, this house will be the real test of my paint stripping abilities), and I think a black and white bathroom with just a little bit of deeply stained wood will make the room feel very rich. But in the mean time, I have got some major crawlspace work to do!


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Keys to Green Gables

Well, it happened! This past Monday, to be exact. I drove to the bank right after work, signed 6 trees worth of paper, and they handed me the keys! The best part was my realtor bringing a 12 pack of one of my favorite beers with a big red bow, right into the banker’s office to congratulate me! What a surprise that was! Is it even legal to have beer in a bank? Oh well, my banker was good about it and laughed it off. I finished the paperwork and headed to my new place. I already had an ice cold beer in the car, ready to help me inaugurate the new place, and a camera in the other hand to make sure I could get a photo out front with the realtor’s SOLD sign.


So there she is, in all her green gable goodness. Not a nice green either, but sea foam green. Or bright fresh spring vegetable green. Not a bad color by any means when a kid is excited about a brand new 48 pack of Crayola crayons, but on a house?? I drive down the street and barely notice the other run down homes, and then – BAM – like a jar of baby food smashed peas, there’s my little bungalow! It has a one car detached garage, stone driveway, and not a bad size front yard.


So what all does this house have going for it? Well, it’s entirely wrapped in aluminum siding. Not my favorite color, but it’s wrapped pretty well. Siding, soffit, and spouting all look to be in great shape. Upon closer inspection, the window trim was never wrapped in aluminum, so it either needs painted or covered. The concrete walkway to the front porch is in great shape, the steps are nice too. Being 3 steps, code requires it to have a handrail. The porch floor has taken a beating, looks just like a weather beaten deck. And the windows are reeeally bad. Loose glass, water damaged sashes, and cracked or missing glazing. And neither of these photos do justice to how bad the roof is, or just how many pieces of shingles I picked out of the yard the first afternoon.

I need to take “before” photos of several more rooms, and the nice back yard. But already I know what the first project will be: the bathroom. It’s dingy, moldy, rotting, and who knows what else. Looking in from the kitchen, it looks like this:


The nice large bathroom window floods the room with light. And that’s about where the amenities end. The walls are covered in bad paneling, the goose-themed wallpaper border is glaring, and the linoleum is peeling up all around the tub from water leaking.


Step through the doorway, and immediately to the left are the skinny skinny vanity, the room’s only light fixture, and the toilet. The yellow tags are reassuring, they were left by a property maintenance company to let the realtor and myself know that the drains were winterized with antifreeze. Although the toilet isn’t that old, neither of these fixtures are staying.


Standing just inside the doorway shows how close the front of the toilet bowl is to the tub. Cozy, to say the least. Notice all the seams in the paneling below the window, the installer used scraps which means more seams and more areas for water to get through.


Stepping inside and turning around, here is the tub. Yep, the paneling is deteriorating from water, the tub faucet and handles are so corroded, I don’t even know if they would work if the water was turned on. The tub itself isn’t in too bad of shape. At this point I’m hoping to save the tub, after going a little Nicole Curtis on it with gentle cleaner and a ton of elbow grease.


Here’s the plastic hose and hand-held shower head, and in the ceiling is the home’s only attic access. The yellow wall is a poorly built divider between the tub and this unfinished space which puzzles me.


I can’t figure out what this area was. It is immediately to the right once inside the doorway. The linoleum has been tore up, exposing the original wood floor. The open wall looks like it used to be a doorway into one of the bedrooms. Part of me thinks there could have been a stand up shower here; its big enough, but there is no sign of plumbing, either supply or drain. So I figure this must have been a closet, and that would explain the door frame still in the wall. Perhaps the previous owner removed the closet in a first step to renovating the bath.


This is the same area, with the back of the tub faucet showing. This half-open wall was not constructed correctly and will be coming out. How about that great insulation job – aka- the opening in the sub-floor stuffed with an old towel. The entire room screams years of leaking without being repaired, and the quick-fixes I’ve found so far deserve some kind of award for stupidity. The sink, cabinet, toilet, and partition wall all need tore out, followed by the linoleum. I hope to find a solid floor underneath there somewhere. I’m also sketching a few ways to rearrange the bathroom fixtures in order to maximize space.

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What’s it Worth?

Apparently, almost exactly what I’m paying for it. As part of the mortgage process, my bank had a real estate appraiser survey the property for real estate value. They do this to make sure the house is worth, at minimum, the amount I’m borrowing to purchase it. If the house appraises for more, thats great for me the buyer (instant equity). If the house appraises for less, the bank won’t let me borrow any more than the appraisal amount. And in many cases, you take the appraisal back to the seller and say, “about your price…”

My appraisal came in just $1000 higher than the purchase amount, so I’m in good shape. As part of the appraisal, which my bank gave me a full copy, it shows the recent home sales in this and similar neighborhoods which show where she based her number. She compared my house with 4 others which have sold in the last few months, all similar in square footage, number of rooms, and condition. The house she ranked as the most comparable was the house across the street. Although it has a basement, she deducted a certain amount from its selling price and volla, my house appraisal.

Now I am waiting on the bank to do a clear title search and schedule a closing date. We are less than 1 month away, or so they tell me.

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House Hunting – Part 2

Continuing where the last entry left off, I put in an offer on a different home, although just across the street. Also a foreclosure, but this property is owned by a different bank. It’s been listed since October of 2013, and every 2 months they drop the listed price by about 10%. I had an idea of what I thought I would pay for this one, but my realtor convinced me to make an offer significantly lower. And I’m glad he did. I submitted my offer with the realtor after work on a Wednesday evening, I had a counter offer before noon the next day. Their counter was even below the price I originally had in mind, so I accepted! I know what you’re thinking, I thought it also: why not make a second offer and see what they say? But we’re only talking about $2,000 difference, and I didn’t want to get greedy and lose this house to the next person in line like I did the first one.

Then it was a waiting game to get my contract. I had to initial 12 pages of “addenda” to the offer, basically a bank novel to help me understand that “as-is” really means “as-is.” One week later, I had my contract and took it to the bank. I was already pre-approved for a mortgage several months before. I did this for 2 reasons: first of all, I wanted to know what dollar amount the bank would let me borrow for a home, because there is a very precise calculation they do comparing your debt to your income. Secondly, if I did find the right house, I would need a bank financing letter in order to submit an offer. Since I already did the first step, the bank took my contract and I signed the mortgage application. The funny part was when the banker (super nice guy, btw) says, “how much?” The look on his face was priceless. I had already explained to him in our first conversation that I was looking for a fixer-upper. Apparently he didn’t know just how much of a ‘fixer’ I was after. The look on his face said, “Are you sure you know what you are getting yourself into?” YEP! But I was prepared for that expression. I explained that I’ve tackled home improvement projects for the past several years, and have done woodworking for even longer. To convince him further (not that it was necessary, but I don’t shy away from showing my work) I brought along a small album of before and after photos including inside, outside, and a major bath redo. He seemed impressed, not so much by the work itself, but that he had no idea I was a DIY guy.

So now its just waiting on the bank to confirm all of my application details, hire an appraisal on the home, run a title search on the property, and then hopefully schedule the loan closing. On or before April 18, just over a month away! Being under contract is such a relief. I’ve been making an inventory of the things I will need. I can start picking up household items when I see them on sale or at yard sales this spring. I’m Craigslisting every day to find nice used appliances. And I can’t stop Pinteresting ideas for every room. Have you searched “Craftsman Bungalow” on Pinterest? You don’t know what love is until you do.

My little bungalow (yes, I am already calling it mine; I might also drive down the street at least every other day to see what the neighbors are up to and how the house looks as the snow continues to melt) – anyway, it has 2 bedrooms, 1 bath, kitchen, living room, dining room, and small laundry area at the back entrance. Also a 1 car garage with stone drive, back yard shed, and pretty good size yards in front and back. All the woodwork and dining room built-ins are painted, but they look original and otherwise in great shape. Hardwood floors under the old carpet, though needing refinished. The windows look original to the house, and badly need replaced. The roof also looks terrible; although there’s no water damage to the ceilings, it looks like just a matter of time until it fails. The bathroom is terrible; plywood on the floor, extremely soft all around the fixtures from lots of water damage. And the bath layout overall looks cramped, I’ve already been sketching ideas for moving either the vanity or the toilet. But I cannot wait to get started! And I do plan to document every room and the outside with lots of “before” pictures so I can enjoy looking back and seeing how much change I’ve created over the next few years.


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Head, Heart, and House Hunting

To recap the last couple years, off and on this blog has been a writing tool and way to journal about the home improvement and DIY projects I’ve tacked. However, these have not been on my own place. Most have documented the improvements to my mother’s home, so that she has a house to serve her long term needs and keeping in mind qualities that will need little maintenance in the future. But with my job now being full time and the desire to start roots here, I’ve been house hunting.

And so I should probably explain my choice of title. Because 4 months ago I was not even thinking about a house of my own. A spacious loft apartment, yes perhaps. But home ownership? Sure, I have the knowledge to do a lot of the work, but I thought that was years off. Now I’m not so sure. That’s why these last few months have also been head and heart “hunting.” Or maybe that’s just my way of saying, soul searching. Determining what I want in my future, and deciding that a fixer-upper house in a nice neighborhood is a plan that makes sense both in my head and heart, and in my budget. I think I’ve shown on paper that it will be a smart step for now and also for the years to come, and of course with my love of DIY, my heart was already into it.

What would I want in a house? Being single, I wanted something small and efficient. As a lover of all things old, I wanted a house with charm and character (“they don’t build em’ like this anymore”). And with a desire to do all things myself, I wanted a fixer upper (DIY or die trying). And I knew I was on a budget, looking at the middle to lower realm of the housing market in my area (including many foreclosures).

I found that homes meeting this criteria fell into 2 main categories. Either they had owners who slapped on inexpensive and crappily done “improvements” (I’m talking cheap quality, glue down flooring, flimsy paneled walls, cardboard cabinets, and plastic baseboard); or, they had gone without maintenance so long that the original character wasn’t worth saving (holes in the roof, holes in the exterior walls, windows falling out, floors falling in). I finally told my realtor; I want as authentic to the original home as possible, but in the best possible condition. And small, but in a nice neighborhood. And less than $50k. I think he was about to give up on me.

And then I found the right street. An older neighborhood of mostly large, character-rich and wonderfully loved and maintained homes. Lining the last 2 blocks are several little bungalows, all very similar in size and style. And several of them for sale. And of those, a few right in my price range!

I know they say don’t buy the first home you look at, but it was love at first sight. Craftsman built ins, small and efficient, needing DIY TLC, beautiful woodwork, stained glass details, great foundation and decent roof. So I made an offer and waited. And that funny positive feeling that said, “this is the one?” Wrong. I waited about 2 weeks, only to find out my offer was rejected, and the home was now under contract. Well shoot.

Ok, what about the second home you look at? And right across the street from the one that I was unsuccessful with? I looked at it, very similar in size but different in the types of work it needed. Roof is sagging, windows not in great shape, but the same built ins and a better layout! And a few of the neighboring houses have recently seen very nice renovations. Let’s put an offer on that one!


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Mad Men Chair – Part 2

I finished this chair a few weeks ago, but I’ve forgotten to take photos of the finished product. But first, let me define mid-century modern. For me, mid-century modern (or mcm) is hard to describe, but I know it when I see it. The term can apply to homes, furniture, architecture, even graphic design and fashion, popular among designers and cities across the globe from the mid 1930′s to late 1960′s. Mcm furniture can be described as crisp, with sweeping lines and sharp, geometric shapes. Before the 1950s, furniture was more elaborate and involved complicated lines and adornments, mostly adopted from common European furniture styles that were still being used centuries later. Mid-century designers were modernists, and their furniture embodied their ideas of the world and society. They valued simplicity and streamlined their pieces accordingly. Their designs were high-quality, often using materials that were uncommon for fine furniture such as teak, stainless steel, chrome, and bright bold colors. Want to see more styles? A quick Google search and you’ll see the most popular designs of Charles and Ray Eames, Arne Jacobsen, Mies van der Rohe, and Eero Saarinen. I’ll bet you recognize them, and you never realized the enormous impact their furniture has had on home and office design.


But back to my Mad Men chair. This blog post from yesterday showed the before, during, and even my inspiration photo for the finished chair. The hardest part was the upholstery. I tried to stay as true to the original upholstery style as possible, including making the cording around the top edge of the seat cushion and small pieces on each arm. Aside from a little simple sewing, it was a learning experience in how simple folding and a ton of staples in the right place can make anyone a professional in upholstery. The result? A really sleek and finished look.


The color is Varathane Dark Walnut gel stain, the first time I’ve used a gel stain. It didn’t get as dark as I hoped for, so I built the color up by reapplying 3 additional coats. Still a bit more wood grain showing than I hoped for, but I couldn’t get it any darker without losing the chocolate color. Then 3 coats of polyurethane in semi-gloss. Typically mid-century modern wood furniture has a matte or satin finish, but I used what I had on hand. And I knew I wanted it to have a strong finish to resist wear, so the step up in level of shine will be ok for me. Can you see the stitching on the seat cushion and back? It’s subtle, but the lines are there. It might be barely noticeable, but it breaks up the large surface of the seat and back.


The fabric was in the clearance bin at Joanne’s, I bought all that was left. It’s a tweed of some sort, reminds me of ground black pepper. It’s actually a bit darker in person than these photos show.


Seven (7) nail head brads just like the original also. Except they were gold/brass originally, but that color didn’t look right with the gray fabric. I found them in silver at a big box home store and I really like how they came out. You can see the seam on the back of the cushion in the photo above, but that’s exactly how the old one was done also. So that’s what I tried to replicate.


Of the 4 casters, they don’t all match. They are 2 and 2 of the same. You can also see in this photo that each leg has a dark brown cap, originally plastic, which I believe is meant to protect the legs when you set your feet on them. Two (2) were cracked and looked terrible, so I removed them during the tear-apart. I knew I would never find anything to replace them with, so I made new ones out of walnut stained with leather dye. They match is uncanny. You can see above one remaining that has the corner slightly broken off, but I chalk that up as character.

So here is where I started (almost, I forgot a true “before” photo).


And below is my new desk chair. You can see the stitched lines on the seat and back really well in this photo. And its comfortable, oh my is it comfortable. It wobbles a little bit because of the metal structure (which I did nothing but clean really well), and it squeaks a little, but overall its a very sturdy piece.


So let me add up my expenses.

$10   Chair purchase
$16   Fabric
$  9   Stain
$  5   Upholstery trim

$40   Total, and probably 10 total hours.

Not bad when other similar Paoli chairs are listed for $250, $275, $365, and up on such sites as Ebay, Etsy, and Apartment Therapy. Not bad at all.

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Mad Men Chair – Part 1

That’s what I call it, because I am enamored with mid-century modern furniture as so often seen on the popular AMC television series Mad Men, set in New York City in the 1960′s. The fashion, the furniture, and the social context they build in this series had me hooked. And now I have my own Mad Men chair.

It was probably over a year ago, shopping with a friend at a nearby independent furniture store that I first saw it. The store was having a “retirement & going out of business sale.” Lots of new beautiful furniture, but even on sale it was all a bit out of my budget. First floor, upper floor, full of wonderful items to draw inspiration and future wants. But then the basement is where I saw it. A mid-century upholstered office chair, low to the ground and on casters. It just had “that look.” But it was broken, in the corner, and probably not supposed to be out where the shoppers could see it.

So I found the owner and asked her about it. She laughed. In a store full of deeply discounted new furniture, I wanted the broken old chair in the corner that was probably supposed to be in the trash a week ago and someone forgot about it. “Yep, that’s what I want!” I offered her $10, and the owner declared, “sold!”

Turns out once I got it home, it was a pretty popular chair made by the furniture company Paoli out of Indiana. The Paoli Chair (turns out they made lots of similar styles, all now very popular on Ebay). My chair even had the original label stapled underneath, dated 1963!

Unfortunately, I started taking it apart before thinking to take photos. Can you tell I’m not a professional blogger? Anyway, below is another chair just like it I found on Etsy (with a price tag of over $250!), but in much nicer shape.


Just imagine it all scratched up, with the armrests almost entirely worn of their color, and the upholstery so dirty you want to wash your hands after just touching it. And not yellow. The chair I bought is green, not yellow like the one above.


So here is the main body of the chair, seat removed, and starting to strip the finish.


I even took photos of removing the upholstery, to make sure I could re-upholster it the same way and get it looking as professional as possible.


I also saved the fabric. Why? I knew I wasn’t going to re-use it on the chair, but by saving the pieces I have an exact pattern of each piece to use when cutting the new fabric I plan to use.

Once the fabric and all of those staples were removed, I used a liquid furniture refinisher to strip all of the stain off of the chair Then I wiped the wood clean with mineral spirits and a clean rag. This cleans any remaining refinishing liquid off the wood. Then I let the wood dry completely.

Next comes sanding. You could tell where the old chair had constantly banged up against a desk or wall, it almost looked as if a dog had chewed on it. I knew I couldn’t sand those spots out completely without altering the shape of the chair, but I smoothed the spots over best I could. The rest of the chair needed just light sanding. A few spots will still show a little when it is re-stained, but that gives the chair character. It shows the piece of furniture has been used and loved before I came along. When refinishing furniture, I’m not trying to make a piece look brand new, but rather respect the craftsmanship and give it another life.

I’ll reveal the finished chair in the next post. But below is a very similar chair by the same company that I used as inspiration for the finished product.

Paoli in striped gray

I’ve always been a fan of monochromatic gray, and I think gray together with wood tones results in a masculine look. The gray fabric on this one is a little light, but I really like how the back rest and seat are upholstered with the stitched lines to give it a little interest. I’m not entirely sure how to obtain that effect, especially since I’ve never done anything more than a simple fabric covered board for a seat. But I strive for perfection, and I’ll post photos of the finished chair here soon, because it turned out great!

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