Category Archives: Our House

Taking “You Can Do It, We Can Help” to a Whole New Level…

About a month ago, Adam and I decided we were going to host a Labor Day weekend barbecue as our first “official” party at our place. (Well, other than the baby shower we hosted there before we even moved in and while the kitchen was under construction… but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

But this is not a recap of that barbecue. (It went well, but there aren’t any interesting stories. It was kind of crappy out, so we all stayed inside. There were many babies, because we have apparently reached that age, which I don’t know how that is possible since I feel about 27.)

No, this is a recap of how everything (minor) that can go (not terribly) wrong in the (complete) renovation of a (teeny tiny) bathroom, does when you are trying to complete it in the week before potentially a few dozen people will be coming over.

My parents came down to visit the weekend before Labor Day to help us out with some things around the house. My dad is incredibly handy, has handled all of the renovation projects they’ve ever done in their home, and has tons of tools. Plus, they actually really like doing these sort of things, so obviously I was being a good daughter by taking them up on their offer of free labor. They were in Hawaii and California for a few weeks before coming to visit us and before they left, my mom told me to make a list of the things we wanted to get done when they came to visit. The day before they arrived, we had a text message exchange that went like this:

Me: Do you think it would be possible for us to start the little bathroom this weekend and finish it by next weekend if we find materials we like at Home Depot?
Mom: That should not be a problem.
Mom: Is there tile on the bathroom floor or walls now?
Me: Nope, vinyl on the floor over concrete. Just paint on the walls.
Mom: That will make it much easier. As long as there are no unexpected surprises it should be doable. Once he sees it he can be more sure.

So, that is how Adam and I decided to tackle a complete bathroom renovation a week before inviting a few dozen people over to our house.

Friday night, we all went to Home Depot and dropped a few hundred dollars (thanks to my Dad for letting us use his 10% off miliary discount!) on a toilet and toilet seat (because the one that comes with the toilet is cheap plastic), a vanity, a light fixture, a toilet paper holder, a hand towel ring, tile and various tiling supplies, and a quart of paint. When we got home (around 9:30 p.m.), Adam and my dad started tearing the bathroom apart – ripping up the vinyl flooring, taking out the toilet, taking the old toilet paper holder out of the wall and then patching up the gaping hole (where they found an empty beer can, likely from 1972). They decided to wait and take out the vanity the next day when they were going to put the new one in.

So far, so good, right?

This is where we congratulate ourselves on having the foresight to move a mile away from a Home Depot. Let’s review this comedy of errors piece by piece:

+ Replace vanity. Realize that old vanity is not the current standard size (probably because it’s 40 years old) and that where the pipe comes out of the wall does not line up with where it needs to go to hook up to new sink. Realize pipe is glued into the wall and that, due to its age, it would not be a good idea to move it.
+ Make trip to Home Depot for something that is supposed to help hook up one pipe to the other. It does not work. Decide to ignore that for now and deal with it later.+ A few days later (after the parents leave) realize we will need to basically construct a new pipe to connect the two ends out of PVC. Buy PVC pieces at Home Depot. Come home. Realize they are the wrong size. Repeat. Repeat again. (Third times the charm!)

+ Glue tile to the floor using 3/8″ spacers.
+ Realize that my dad made an error in measuring the fireplace tile (which we were using as a guide) and we should have gotten 3/16″ spacers.
+ Just deal with it, because that shit is glued down now. Oops.

+ Give walls first coat of paint.
+ Realize that because it’s semi-gloss painted on top of semi-gloss, it does not go on easily and uses up more paint than if it had been a different finish.
+ Realize that we need to buy a second quart of paint. (This room is 5X5, with one door and one quarter of the room taken up by a vanity… one quart was a reasonable estimation.)
+ Go to Home Depot and buy second quart of paint.

+ Begin to install toilet.
+ Realize it is not creating a seal with the wax ring due to (a) uneven floors, (b) uneven toilet (it came crooked in the box), or (c) both.
+ Chip away at tile under toilet until you can make it level enough to create a seal. Pray you don’t screw up the rest of the tile.
+ Seal created, toilet installed.

+ Install faucet.
+ Realize that when you release the plug after stopping up the sink, water leaks out a pipe in the back.
+ Determine a washer is required to stop the leaking.
+ Go to Home Depot and buy a washer.

Towel Ring
+ Hold up towel ring next to sink to determine where to install.
+ Realize that, due to small size of vanity/sink, hanging a towel ring next to the sink actually means hanging it over the sink.
+ Realize that towel ring is actually a pretty cheap looking piece of metal-colored plastic anyway.
+ Go to Home Depot to return towel ring and buy a towel bar to hang over the toilet. While you’re there, buy a matching toilet paper holder and return the cheap-o one purchased previously.

Air Vent Cover
+ Realize after first coat of paint is on the walls that you should probably buy a new air vent cover, since the old one is pretty ugly and the off-white color doesn’t go with the room anymore.
+ Measure old air vent cover.
+ Go to Home Depot and buy new air vent cover.
+ Get home, realize it is the wrong size (pro tip: it’s the INSIDE that you have to measure, not the outside).
+ Go to Home Depot to exchange for proper sized cover.
+ Get home, install, and realize you need to bang some of the metal vent around to get a proper fit.

+ Take door of hinges before starting the demo to paint the inside white to go with the new color scheme.
+ When room is completed, hang door back up.
+ Try to close door.
+ Realize that tile that has gone under the transition in the doorway has raised the transition a fraction of an inch, thereby preventing door from closing.
+ Go to Home Depot to buy door planer.
+ Plane the door, get saw dust all over the living room.
+ Hang up door. It shuts. Thank god… it’s kind of important to have a functioning door to a bathroom.

+ Decide to be resourceful and reuse existing mirror, just painting the frame white.
+ Begin to paint the frame white. Realize the frame really is actually pretty ugly and not worth the cost of the paint it’s sucking up. Toss mirror out with the trash.
+ Grab another random mirror in the house currently not in use. Paint that one white instead.
+ Hang mirror successfully.
(This one did not involve Home Depot. However, it did involve a trip to Michaels, which is on the backside of the same plaza the Home Depot is in, so was made during a Home Depot trip.)

+ Let husband carefully measure where to install back of the light fixture to the wall.
+ Stop him before he starts drilling to remind him that the cover is wider than the back, so if he hangs the back where he has it marked, the cover won’t go on.
+ Crisis averted.

Floor Molding
+ Shockingly, the cutting and installation of this went smoothly.

Whew… that’s it for the renovation. But wait, there’s more!

New Hand Towels and Rug
+ Go to Home Goods. Have no luck finding towels and rug you like.
+ Go to Marshalls. Have no luck finding towels and rug you like.
+ Go to Bed, Bath & Beyond. Have no luck finding towels and rug you like.
+ Go to Target. Have no luck finding towels and rug you like.
(Seriously, how hard must this be? All we wanted were some yellow towels and a matching rug.)
+ Go to Pottery Barn. Have no luck finding towels and rug you like.
+ Go to Crate and Barrel. Find towels and rug you like, even though they are not yellow. Hurrah!
+ Bring towels and rug home. Put in bathroom. Realize they don’t actually look good after all. Should have stuck with yellow.
+ Go to Macy’s. Find yellow rug and towels you like. Bring them home. Realize they look perfect.

And, here’s the before…

and the after…

Just to be clear, this did not all occur in one weekend. Oh no, my parents left us with having to (a) clean the grout, (b) paint the walls and trim, (c) install the toilet, (d) install the trim, (e) install the towel and TP holder, and (f) figure out how in the hell to hook up the sink to the pipe coming out of the wall. We expected to have to do most of those things ourselves after they left, but we did not envision being up until nearly midnight every night during the week on it, in a mad rush to complete it before that Labor Day barbecue. We also did not envision needing to go to Home Depot eight times in seven days.

And now, I think we’ll be taking a little break from renovations. (As I ignore our hideous guest bathroom upstairs.)


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The People Have Spoken…

… and they want to see some pictures!  Pictures, you shall have.

This is a “before” photo of our kitchen. It doesn’t really look as terrible in these photos as it did in person, but trust me, it was pretty bad.  Those cabinets? Consensus is that they were likely original to the house, almost definitely at least from the 1970s. The reason we know that? Because they had obviously never been replaced while the PAISLEY laminate countertops were in place and I can’t imagine that someone installed paisley countertops any time post 1980.

You can’t tell that the countertops are paisley unless you look at them up close (we didn’t even notice it the first time we saw the place) and we didn’t take a close-up photo, so you’ll just have to trust me.  Actually, the small section of countertop to the right of the stove was a different countertop. It must have broken at some point… most likely after paisley countertop stopped being manufactured.

The refrigerator and dishwasher were probably between 5-10 years old, both in working order. The range on the other hand, was much older (mid-80s, maybe?) and you could not use multiple burners and the oven without blowing a fuse, so it had to go. (Not to mention, it was ugly.)  We decided we might as well just replace all of the appliances at once so that they’d match.  We donated the dishwasher and sold the fridge… the range went to appliance heaven.

The vinyl flooring was new.  The previous owner had replaced the floors throughout the first floor before listing the house – vinyl in the kitchen, hallway, laundry room, bathroom, and foyer, and carpet in the dining room and living room. We wanted hardwood floors throughout most of the first floor (we left the vinyl in the laundry room and bathroom for now, until we do those renovations), so even though the vinyl was new, it came out with the rest of the kitchen.

And here’s the view with my back to the window/sink area, facing the dining room…

Yup, a wall. We pretty quickly decided that needed to go. Also, you probably can’t tell from the above two photos, but those are actually two different big globe lights, which were just sort of oddly floating in a non-symmetrical and not centered fashion.

Okay, that’s an overview of the “before.” Now, onto the “after”…

As you can see, we took down the wall between the dining room and kitchen and added a peninsula.  We’ll eventually get two stools to stick under there, on the kitchen side.  We moved the dishwasher to the right side of the sink so that we didn’t have two appliances right next to each other (it wasn’t an issue functionally, I just didn’t like the look of it), which meant that we could actually center the sink on the window.  (You can’t really tell in the first photo, above, but the sink was off-center to the right of the window a bit.)  We also added some narrow (technically, upper) cabinets to the left wall where we set up our “breakfast” station.

Here’s a before photo of that wall (next to our laundry/utility room)…

And the after…

See? It was just wasted wall space. Now we have a place for our blender, tea maker and bananas.  (The blue dessert glasses are just hanging out there temporarily… I bought them this weekend.)  Underneath, we store our other “breakfast” items… tea, coffee, french press, coffee grinder, smoothie cups, travel mugs, and toaster.  There’s also room for a bunch of Pyrex that we received for our wedding that we had to keep packed in the box in the guest bedroom closet in the apartment.  We’re not sure whether we’re going to put a metal spice rack up there (or make some sort of magnetic spice rack on the back of a cabinet door) or if we are just going to hang some artwork.  Since our stainless steel fridge isn’t magnetic on the front, we hung a magnetic white board on our laundry room door.

Here’s the old view when standing in the hallway…

And here’s what it looks like now…

Ahh… so much better. (Don’t forget, that was a closed off wall to the dining room before.)  We’re going to hang some pendant lights above the peninsula, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  We just didn’t have time to go looking at pendants so hadn’t made the decision before the contractors were finished. All the electrical that’s needed is up there though… we just need to actually make a decision and then have them come back and add it. (We think we’re going to do ball jar pendant lights after seeing them in a restaurant the other day.)

Here’s a close up of our finishes. For those who are curious, we have GE appliances (yes, that IS a double-oven!), Caesarstone countertops in Raven, RiverRun cabinetry in Mt. Vernon Snow (which doesn’t appear to be on their website), Daltile Semigloss subway tiles in Desert Gray, and Benjamin Moore paint in Pear Green.  (The paint color is reading a bit more yellow on my monitor than it does in real life.)

(We also got under-cabinet lighting and lights above the sink, which I forgot to turn on for the photos. Adam would also like me to mention the soft-close drawers, which he was very, very excited about.)

Our design was to be neutral with all of the more permanent fixtures, with greys, whites, stainless steel, and polished nickel, but then use bold colors to accent it. If we get tired of the bright green, we just need to repaint.

Much better than the before, right?

And here’s what it looks like when standing in the dining room…

I can’t believe that view used to be a wall!

We still have a few things left to do. Eventually, we’ll paint all of the trim and doors in the house a crisp white, rather than the off-white that they are now, but that’s kind of low on the list of priorities since we want to do it all at once.  We’re going to add some sort of curtains and/or blinds to the window.  Also, as I mentioned, we need to add something above the breakfast area (either a spice rack/shelves combo or some artwork), stools for the counter, and the lighting above the island.

We love it. In fact, I love it so much, I get sad that it ends up dirty after we cook in there… I wish it could stay sparkly and pretty all the time.


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This Post Ended Up Sounding Way More Whiny Than I Intended…

A friend’s status message the other day was something like, “Home ownership is exhausting.” Indeed!

Although we closed on our house on April 20th, we didn’t actually move in until May 24th. Our lease was up the end of May (well, technically we went month-to-month after our previous lease ended in April) and having a month overlap between renting and owning meant we had time to get the kitchen renovations started, paint a few rooms, pack our belongings, and move over to the new place. We somehow thought we’d get so much more done with the house before we actually moved in, but really we only ended up painting two rooms. (And hiring contractors to start the kitchen and install new floors, but at least that wasn’t manual labor on our part.)

We make trips to Home Depot or Lowes more than once a week. Target, too. We still have our serving dishes, barware, and booze packed away until we buy some storage pieces for the dining room. Our living room, while large, has a layout that just doesn’t work with two couches, so we need to replace one with a couple of chairs. We have a few boxes of items that need to be freecycled or craigslisted or donated. Although we replaced the master closet, we still don’t have doors for it. (I’m just calling it a “walk-in” closet right now, even though it’s really a “walk-up-to” closet.) Our brand new refrigerator has a bum part that keeps the freezer from getting sufficiently cold, so it needs to be replaced. (At no charge, thank goodness.) Our washing machine puts out cold water when you turn it to hot, and hot water when you turn it to cold, so we’ve got a plumber coming in to fix that. (Adam attempted to himself, but to do so some valve needs to be replaced or else it starts leaking everywhere… I don’t exactly know. I’m leaving that sort of fix-it stuff to him.) The washing machine and dryer are also probably 25 years old and we have to talk nicely to them so they don’t break right away. Adam went to clean the gutters out last weekend because there were baby trees growing out of them, but when he got up the ladder he learned that the previous owner had installed a gutter cover… that apparently didn’t work, so we had to hire someone to take those off and clear out the gutters for us. We’ve painted the dining room, but still need to paint the living room hopefully by the end of this month when Adam’s parents come to visit. There’s nothing hung on the walls anywhere. The carpet desperately needs to be vacuumed. I’m completely ignoring that one bathroom in our house even exists, because it’s so ugly and the sliding glass door to the shower scares me. Not to mention that the one room in the house the previous owner attempted to update/renovate — the master bathroom — has crooked floor tiles, a crooked toilet, and a crooked light fixture. (Clearly, this man did not own a ruler or a level.) It also looks like it belongs in some Florida vacation home… and not in a good way.

And I feel like this barely scratches the surface of all the things that need fixing/updating/replacing/purchasing.

I know it sounds like I am complaining, but I’m really not. I love our house. I love the neighborhood. I love the easier commute. We’re just at the point where it is hard to believe we’ll ever get settled, which can be really frustrating. Not that I expected to be all unpacked and settled in just a few weeks; it’s just that every time we cross one thing off the list, we seem to add at least two more and there’s no end in sight. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting.

At least our new kitchen is super pretty.


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The One…

When I last left off in the house-hunting saga (see parts one and two if you missed ’em), we’d gotten pretty frustrated with the process and were debating whether or not to take a break for a while when we got an email alert for a house that looked pretty interesting. It was actually on the same street of the very first house we saw, back before we even had an agent, that got us thinking we were ready to jump into the house-hunting process. It was a half mile from the metro, in one of the neighborhoods we had been focusing on, and priced almost 15% lower than any other house (other than a foreclosure) we’d seen.

Yeah, so that last point had us worried. I mean, obviously something had to be wrong with it if it was priced so much lower than other houses in the area.  But we still decided that we might as well go take a look.

An open house was scheduled for the weekend, but we knew from experience that there were usually offers in, and sometimes even accepted, before the open house. So we emailed our agent immediately (this was at 8 a.m.) to ask her if there was any way we could see that house after work that day. One of her associates was available, so Adam and I met up with her at the house after work.

You guys, this house had so many things we were looking for… and even things beyond what we thought we could get in our price range! It was a half mile from the metro, had a large (for its size) kitchen, had 2.5 baths (including a bathroom on the main floor AND one in the master!), and the bedrooms were all larger than we’d been seeing AND had good sized closets.  While we knew the place definitely needed some updating (some appliances appeared to date back to the early ’80s and the two main bathrooms are UG-LY), we knew that with the lower list price, we’d be able to tackle some of those updates sooner rather than later. We knew immediately that we had to put in an offer on this house before it got snatched up.

I suppose it’s of no surprise to anyone by this point that we ended up buying this house. But it is so crazy how quickly it all happened. Just a few days before, when all of our friends were in town for the weekend for the half marathon, we were telling them that we weren’t having any luck and were thinking of taking a break. Tuesday, the house comes on the market. We made an offer the next morning. The offer was accepted that afternoon.

Without going into too many financial details, I will admit that after looking at comps we did end up offering more than the asking price, BUT! During the purchase process, the house was actually appraised for more than our offer, so we felt pretty validated about that decision. We still have no idea why the owner priced the house as he did, other than we think he was VERY motivated to sell as quickly as possible. (We’re pretty sure he must have been relocated and already purchased a new place. He wasn’t even at the closing because he lived in another state.)  He’d owned the house for a long time and we saw all the paperwork, so we know that he definitely didn’t lose any money on the deal. Whatever his reason, we’re obviously not complaining! By somehow finding the one house priced below cost in the area, we were able to have some money to put toward some MUCH needed renovations.  Oh, just you wait until you see the before photos of our very 70s kitchen. Here’s a teaser… the previous countertops were PAISLEY.

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