Friday, January 24, 2014

Royal Flush

Okay, while it's perhaps not fit for royalty, we are very happy with our downstairs bathroom remodel. After much trial and tribulation, heartache and hairpulling, we have a working, attractive bathroom again. There are still several little details on the punch list to complete, but given how we roll, they may go unfinished for years!

Bathroom before:
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I had tried to freshen the bath up a bit right after buying the house, but it was still an eyesore (that shower curtain is hiding an abundance of ugliness):
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And now, for the big reveal!

From the mudroom entrance (the door you see straight ahead is off the guest bedroom, so this bath is like a Jack and Jill of sorts):
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Vanity nook (mudroom doorway to the left, linen closet on the right):
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Window wall:
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Shower view:
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Shampoo shelf (I'm OCD enough to want matching, pretty bottles, but frugal enough that these stay until used up!):
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Here are the details:

Shower tile: American Olean Monte Carlo 1x2 glass mosaic with Polyblend Oyster Bay non-sanded grout
Tub: Bootz Maui enameled steel extra deep soaking tub
Faucets: Price Pfister brushed nickel; shower is Marielle, vanity is Amherst
Toilet: Danze Orrington
Vanity: St. Paul Madeline 36" chestnut
Flooring: Style Selections 12x24 White Travertine with Blue Hawk Saddle Gray grout

I'm not convinced the shower curtain is the right one. I'm still planning on sewing a custom creation, but this little TJMaxx find fills the spot for the time being. I also am hunting for a better plant stand. Sadly, we couldn't center the toilet under the window because of crazy old house plumbing, so the live plant deceives the eye as well as clears the air! But it deserves a nicer perch, when I can find the right one. You'll notice I also haven't shown any light fixtures. I'm really debating whether to go transitional/contemporary, blingy, or vintage basic with the overhead light and vanity sconce, so the old ones are still in place.

And if anyone knows where to purchase the skinniest trash can imaginable, please let me know. I have just a few inches to the left of the vanity and would love to squeeze in a slim waste receptacle. Otherwise, I'll probably look for a small door mounted version for inside the cabinet.

All in all, it's still only a bathroom. Just a simple tub/shower combo, toilet, and sink. The pictures are pretty, but the real dramatic difference is the function. We have new PEX pipes that won't freeze or corrode. Our water doesn't run red. Our hot water flows quickly and forcefully from the taps. Our toilet flushes the first time very time. Our tub isn't leaking into the wall. Our floor is level and clean. Our sink doesn't cause backaches to use. So if you'd like to come to inspect and appreciate the form and function in person, we're ready for houseguests anytime!

P.S. A big shout out to Christina from Little Victorian for the photo tips! It made a big difference in getting nice shots of all our hard work ;-)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Color Catastrophe

I just about had a heart attack while grouting the shower tile Sunday. I had spend hours selecting the perfect grout color, because it can make or break the tile. You can see how very different the sample mosaic looks with various grout colors.

In the end, I had to special order the non-sanded grout and matching caulk in the color I chose. Shipping took longer than expected and held up the rest of the bathroom, but I felt it was worth it. Until the moment Jeff brought me the freshly mixed grout and I began to apply it. Panic! It looked like baby poo! And that is not an exaggeration (or a phrase I use often; we usually prefer more elegant words like stool or feces or bowel movement, but in that moment, it was most definitely baby poo)!

I frequently see subtleties and nuances in color that Jeff doesn't, but even he agreed it looked pretty awful. This iPhone photo doesn't begin to capture the terrible color, and we were in no mood for pictures anyhow.

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Now, I know from research that wet grout always looks much darker than dry. I know that people often initially dislike the grouted look after seeing tile bare for so long. I knew I had to let the grout dry and cure and then adjust to the new look before forming an honest opinion. And I held it together simply because I had no other choice. The grout had to go on that day; I didn't have time to pick out another color; I couldn't return the special order; and I couldn't very easily wipe all that fresh baby poo out of the joints even if I wanted to. But it was killing me that my hard fought tile job was being ruined by poopy grout! It made the blue-green tile look washed out, the taupe tile look purple, and the travertine look blah. I can't emphasize enough how terrible it was!

And then it dried. And then it cured. And then it was lovely. What a relief! Just another saga in the DIY adventures of Jeff and Sarah.

Man Hands

This bathroom remodel has not been kind to my hands. Installing the cement board chafed them. Mudding with thinset dried them. Laying the sharp glass tile cut them. Grouting chapped and wrinkled them. Caulking with silicon required constant mineral spirits for clean up, which burned and irritated them. I don't know how working men (and women) take care of their skin, but I need something better than standard lotion at this point!

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This doesn't look so bad, but after cleaning grout haze for hours, my hands were quite pruny. I thought surely all that water would help rehydrate them, but I guess the grout sludge in the water defeated the purpose!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Peckish for Pecans

As with last fall and winter, we have pecans coming out of our ears. I still have uncracked nuts from last year, and the yard is full again with this year's crop. I found a nice salmon recipe that uses pecans, so that was our Friday night meal a few weeks ago. I upped the pecans a bit just because I have so many, but I think it would be just as delicious as written. I served it with garlicky green beans, glazed sweet potatoes, and homemade focaccia bread.

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Pecan Crusted Salmon with Honey-Dijon

1/4 cup butter, softened
3 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp honey
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
4 tsp chopped fresh parsley
4 (4 oz) fillets salmon
salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil and lightly oil. In a small bowl, stir together butter, mustard, and honey; set aside. In another bowl, mix together bread crumbs, pecans, parsley, and freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

Pat salmon dry and place on prepared baking sheet. Brush each fillet lightly with honey mustard mixture and sprinkle with bread crumb mixture; press to adhere. Bake salmon 12 to 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until it flakes easily with a fork. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

Cat Nap

Just as a follow up to the cute cat story, here are some even cuter sleepy cat photos. Not having had felines in my life before, I didn't know the truth behind the phrase "cat nap". Schrodinger can seemingly sleep anywhere in any position!

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He's really asleep, not just looking at something!

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I guess an exhausting day of paperwork at the office wears us all out!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Hero

It's a bird; it's a plane; no, it's Jeff to the rescue!

I had just picked up Schrodinger from the vet following his neutering surgery. Since animals have to go under anesthesia on an empty stomach, he hadn't eaten for over twenty-four hours. Our little guy was pretty ravenous and devoured dinner. He still wanted more, so we gave him a little extra dry food and went back to cooking our own dinner. That's when we heard the strange, high pitched wheezing noise. We ran back in to see Dinger apparently choking on a piece of kibble. Jeff gave him several firm compressions around the ribcage and abdomen, and finally out flew the offending morsel. Heidi quickly gobbled it up, so poor Dinger lost his testicles and his tidbit all in the same day!

I was pretty proud of Jeff! Who knew the Heimlich maneuver worked on felines? Now, Jeff wanted it made clear that he did not give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a cat. All that was required was some quick wit and some manly squeezes!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Walk of Life

Jeff and I had the last minute opportunity for a special ballroom dance class with a world class Latin dance instructor. Olga (all the best dancers are Russia, aren't they?) was the partner of one of the Dancing With the Stars professional dancers. So of course we jumped at the change for two workshops under her tutelage.

What might we have focused on for an hour an a half, you might ask? Walking! Well, not walking, of course, but basically the dance version of moving forward and backward. The more we get into ballroom dance (and consider competitive dance sport), the more we realize we don't even know how to move! So an hour and a half spent "dancing" forward and backward (rumba walks and cha cha locking steps, for those in the know) barely scratched the surface. But it gives us plenty to work on!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

High and Dry

Well, it's rather pointless to strive for completion of the downstairs bathroom, as we have no water! Yes, we were one of the many affected after the polar vortex worked its abnormally cold temperatures in our area. We kept lines dripping at night, but inexplicably yesterday afternoon I suddenly had no water in the house. A little road trip down to our far-flung meter box, shut off valve and regulator revealed a bubbling spring of county water pouring into the pasture yet again (if you're wondering why "again", then you probably haven't had the pleasure of enjoying our first major water saga and its exciting resolution).

That distant water supply is going to be the death of me. Oh, to have a meter and shut off near the house like regular folks! The flood seemed to be coming from the actual utility box, which would be the water authority's responsibility. But when they got there and checked it, they determined it was "on the customers side". I.e., our dime! So I await the plumber yet again. I'm just thankful that I'm in with so many plumbers that I could get someone to come out the very next day in this week of frozen and burst pipes all over the country!

UPDATE: The plumber was able to repair the break the very next day. It was the piece of pipe running right under the meter box, so he thinks it was the weight of the box combined with the freezing and thawing ground that broke the line. We know our main is undersized and thin walled, so maybe come spring we can finally trench in a bigger, sturdier pipe and stop all these breaks!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's One Thing AND Another

They are wrong (whoever the ubiqitous "they" are). "They" say, if it's not one thing, it's another. I'm here to attest that it is both one thing AND the other. When it comes to tiling, anyhow!

Jeff and I are exhausted. We feel like we have been tiling for days. I forget now whose brilliant idea it was to do a tiled shower and install it all ourselves (okay, so maybe fatigue causes amnesia, because I'm pretty sure Jeff could tell you who dreamt up the plan). This was definitely a labor of love; it couldn't be anything like the labor of childbirth because I hear that pain fades and you're ready to do it all over again. I'm pretty sure my tiling days are over. In Scarlet O'Sarah style (as Jeff calls me when I get dramatic and plaintive):

I shall never lay tile again!

Well, except for the bathroom floor. Because I still have that to go. And then, of course, the mudroom needs matching tile, so I'll have to do that one day. But after that, no more tiling ever! I hope. So, maybe just no more tiny glass mosaic tile showers with lots of fiddly cuts, itty bitty pieces, tricky obstacles, and special expensive thinset.

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This innocent, naive smile is the face of a woman who completed the long back wall of the shower in a day and is sure she can wrap up the two small walls in just another day.

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See this niche? The one we spent hours laying out, measuring, and framing so the tiling would be easy? Well, I can't imagine how long it would have taken if we had just decided to wing it, because this niche (and flanking sides) took almost two hours to tile! You're probably starting to realize that we did not, in fact, complete the rest of the shower very quickly. I won't divulge our pathetically slow pace, but suffice it to say that between Jeff and my professional billing rates, we are well on our way to a multi-thousand dollar shower surround!

That's just a teaser photo, because I have yet to grout the tile. But I will say that the shower looks really great (if you don't stand too close!) and we're quite pleased with the last minute tile switcheroo.

Monday, December 30, 2013

99¢ Mantel

No pretty bathroom progress pics yet, but the adjoining guest room is looking a little nicer, due to a tiny step forward in reclaiming the fireplace in there. The credit goes to the shabby mantel that's not so shabby anymore. It wasn't a bad purchase for $.99, especially since I bought it over two years ago and didn't even know if I would get to use it. But after all the restoration work it has required the past few weeks, I'm glad I didn't pay much more!

 I don't know if it was purposely "shabby chic" or just really neglected, but I'm leaning more toward the latter. After scraping, heat gunning (if that's not a word, it should be), cutting, repairing, sanding, caulking, priming, and painting, the mantel is fit for the guest bedroom!

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Stripped bare:
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Sadly, the guest bedroom firebox is not quite ready for such a lovely surround. It will probably be months before we tear open this brick wall, especially after our lengthy experience with the other firebox (which you can read about here and here)! But the mantel is now sleek instead of shabby and, more importantly, out of our shop and closer to realizing its potential. Even if we never get a real fireplace installed, I will have gotten to enjoy the effect of a design idea concocted before we even purchased the house!

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Red-dy, Set, Tile!

I'm so excited! We're finally to the fun part. Building the tub surround has been a long, slow process due to out-of-square walls, wonky studs, lack of tools, and not enough time. Jeff has done a marvelous job framing for the cement backerboard and building the shampoo niche. It was my job to caulk, tape, and mud with thinset to even out all the awkward transition spots. Then, in a romantic little duet, we both climbed around each other in the tub to apply the vivid RED waterproof membrane as quickly, evenly, and neatly as possible.

And today, the moment has nearly arrived. The tub area will finally look like a place to shower or bathe, instead of a dusty wall or a glowing neon inferno. Tile time!

The process:
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Protecting the tub and framing the wall
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The much measured, plotted, and planned shampoo shelf
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Mudding the joints with thinset
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Feathering in the strange wall thickness
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Jeff touching up the very red RedGard membrane
(the Pepto-Bismol pink coating dries red, so you know it's cured)
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Placing the very first tile. Only about 70 more sheets to go!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wet Feet

Not cold feet, as in backing out of something, but wet feet, as in changing horses mid stream!

After spending hours planning around the one inch mosaic tile I selected for the shower surround (and I mean hours!), we have scrapped that plan. Not because it wouldn't work eventually, but because inspiration struck while in the Lowes tile aisle!

To give you an idea of the magnitude of this change, I had better back up. To minimize tile cuts, we had measured and plotted every inch of the shower layout to perfection with the original tile I purchased in mind. We designed and built the shampoo niche to within an eighth of an inch specification so the tile patterns would fall just right. And then I had to go and fall in love with a different tile just one day before install!

I've mentioned some of the issues we had with the first tile. But we were moving forward pretty well and had everything on hand to start the job. I only ran to Lowes to pick up the flooring before the holidays. I will be forever grateful that the staff was stocking the tile department and had boxes and pallets all over the aisles. I grabbed what I needed, but had to detour down another aisle just to get out. And that's when I saw it! Lovely mosaic tile on clearance. Only $2.99 a square foot, in a 1x2 mini brick pattern, with mixed glass and travertine, picking up my bathroom colors AND the flooring tile I had just grabbed.

I stopped. I stared. I wavered, desperately sure that changing tile now would mess everything up. Why, we had just spent hours building the shower around a different size tile and mosaic sheet dimension! We couldn't change now, could we? Even though the new tile was cheaper? And prettier? And matched the flooring perfectly? What would Jeff say?!

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I won't say it was a sign, but the store had exactly the right number of boxes I needed; no more, no less. And all in the same dye lot! I knew I could always bring the tile back, so I loaded those puppies up. All the way home, I wondered what Jeff would think. But I needn't have worried. When I got home and explained why I had 80 square feet of shower tile in the car when I went out for 50 square feet of flooring, he calmly listened to all the pros and cons, helped me carry in some samples of each tile to compare, and weighed in with his decision that...
He, too, liked the new option better!

So, the layout might not be perfect. There will be more cutting and fewer factory finished edges, since we didn't build with this tile in mind. But I will look at that shower and always know that sometimes, just sometimes, spontaneity and impulsiveness work together for an inspired design!

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Our practice piece, after experimenting how to cut all those staggered edges!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Craft Room Follow-Up

My gawky craft roof is finally coming along. It's been slow going, since the bathroom really needs to take priority, but I have been able to get a few things done here and there. I still need to do something with the window sashes and muntins; I'm thinking of trying a dark ebony stain first. If I don't like that, then I can just paint it all white like the trim. The floor still needs to be sanded and finished, and I'd like to install baseboards while I'm at it. I'm also planning a box cushion for the windowseat. But the new wall and ceiling color (BM Revere Pewter) and painted trim (BM Linen White) have really brightened up the room. It definitely reflects a lot more light; even into the upstairs hallway, which I wasn't expecting!

Before we moved in:
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The wall color looks a little washed out in these photos, but it's a warm gray or light taupe. You can see the difference compared to the creamy white door and window trim.

The room is pretty sparse right now, but for a sewing and craft center, I think I like starting that way. It will fill up fast! I have a folding table I can set up for cutting or pattern layout, and I may build a fold out top for the bureau to serve as an extended work surface, too.

I mentioned the retro shortie curtains in a post a few days ago about window treatments. I was thrilled that they worked so well with my rug! This dhurrie rug started out in the kitchen, then moved to our temporary bedroom, and now finds a long-term home in the craft room. I love when a piece is that flexible! It assures me that my design choices are cohesive enough for the house as a whole, instead of just individual rooms.

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I really wish I could use a vintage pendant or some other unique lighting fixture in the room, but the upstairs ceilings are barely seven feet high. So I had to go with a flush mount that would light the corners of the room and not just glare down from the center. I'm satisfied with this halogen unit, and it was cheap enough to be a placeholder unless/until I can find something I really love. I installed it in probably less than half an hour (no nightmare lighting adventure like the guest room chandelier experience!), but at least fifteen minutes of that was trying to insert the small, fiddly halogen lights into the narrow shades using the special "relamping" tool, since you can't touch any part of the bulbs!

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Another little update was my sewing machine table. It's just a small desk I bought years ago. But I didn't know what I was doing at the time and painted it rather poorly with a cheap brush and low quality paint. This time, I sanded it down to smooth the bristle marks and gave it two coats of good paint with my favorite Purdy sash brush. What a difference!

Before repainting:

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I was thrilled to find this vintage metal and wood ironing board at one of my local thrift stores last month. It was only $5, and I find it functional as well as lovely. Double score on the William Morris test!

"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." - William Morris (father of the Arts and Crafts movement)

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It's a happy, streamlined little space now, so maybe after the bathroom remodel is done, I'll be able to get into the craft room and do some sewing!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pet Peeves

Perhaps I'm a grammar snob. Or maybe even more broadly, an English snob. But it really bugs me when simple rules of English fall by the wayside. Not esoteric things, but things every native, American born English speaker learned in elementary school. And sadly, the problem is getting worse, not better!

If you regularly search Craigslist, you will see a never ending stream of comic errors. If I see another ad for "Chester Draws" down here in the South, I think I'll scream. Who is Chester and why do we care that he has artistic talent? Has the accent so pervaded the brain that somewhere along the way the knowledge that it was a chest of drawers has been lost? I won't even go into the number of times I've seen something for "sell" or how many people try to "sale" their merchandise.

Another thing that gets me is the wrong use of the apostrophe. I know it can be confusing when you're talking about contractions versus possession (I don't think there's any excuse for people who use it for plural!), but we all had to learn this in grade school. The worst offender is "it's" as opposed to "its". It seems as though people have completely forgotten which is which. "It's" is the contraction for "it is"; "its" denotes ownership. As in, it's not fair for its usage to be wrong!

I don't know why, but the pronunciation (or butchering) of the word "height" gets me more than most spoken errors. Maybe because it's become so ubiquitous that I'm afraid whole generations are growing up not knowing any better. It's pretty clear; width, breadth, depth, length. Those dimensional words all end in "TH". And I don't know why it's an exception, but height ends in a "T". So let's say it, people! Please don't say "heigTH". That would be wrong! Nobody says "weigTH"; think how silly that would sound, and you'll hear how odd the mispronunciation of height is to us sticklers. It should rhyme with "might". Give it a clipped little "T" at the end, just as you would in choir when the music director tells you to use those ending consonants. It may not seem important, but if you say it wrong, think how much harder spelling it correctly will be!

P.S. Please note, I recognize the irony and deep responsibility in writing a post about correct writing! You can bet I double and triple edited to ensure I didn't embarrass myself by committing obvious errors. They certainly come as easily to me as anyone, so if you ever see mistakes in my posts, please feel free to let me know! It may just be a typo, or it may be a habitual grammar faux pas on which I can improve.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Blind No More

Finally, after more than two years in our old farmhouse, the last of the aluminum blinds are down from the windows!

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The whole house had the exact same old blinds throughout, so I could at least appreciate the symmetry and continuity of the effort. But the blinds were dingy, dusty, often bent, and noisy when operated; and they did very little to accentuate the beautiful wood windows. Due to drafts and light control needs, I couldn't leave the lovely windows bare, but I did want to highlight as much of the molding and wavy glass as possible.

I've tired of seeing the same fabrics and styles of window treatments everywhere, so I went a little vintage in a few rooms. The quality of materials and workmanship in older items often can't be surpassed these days, and what's old is new again in the design world. So why not step back from the mass marketed products of today, score a deal, and keep things out of the landfill by reusing some quality items of yesteryear? In particular, I used 1950's barkcloth panels in the downstairs guest room and retro fiberglass shorty curtains in the gable sewing room (both sourced on eBay).

Here's a sample of the window treatments throughout the house.

Dining room before:
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Living room before:
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Guest room before:
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Study before:
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Gable room before:
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In the rooms with white trim, I still need to paint all the interior window sashes and muntins, but first I must repair a few of the sash cords. That involves prying off the stops to get to the weights in the pocket, so you can see why I have an excuse to wait before caulking and painting!