Saturday, January 31, 2009

5 Bits of Advice on Remodeling

1. Say "no" to toilet storage. Do not allow your husband to store old toilets in the backyard because "it's funny". OK, for 24 hours it was funny and then it was over.

2. Be agreeable within reason. Any renovation is challenging and you should expect to live without creature comforts for quite some time. However, just because the electrician says that there's no other way to move forward, do not agree to demolish the whole house and move into the litter box without consulting your husband first.

3. Throw more bodies at the job. Your incredibly smart, talented, curious husband may want to try his hand at every project, but it will take 30 years to renovate the whole house if he does it all by himself since he has a very full time job already. Do hire people.

4. Be kind to your mother. Do not tell her how much anything costs. It will freak her out. I learned this lesson long before we started this renovation. She will sleep better and so will you.

5. Be sensible. When your plumber roughs in the plumbing downstairs, make sure he/she caps off the sewer vents so that your entire house does not smell like a porta-potty.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Cue the Violins

OK, boys and girls, today is a real doozy. Our electrician arrived promptly at noon to wait for the electrical inspection. I eagerly awaited the report from our electrician that all was well and that we could soon proceed with sheet rocking. Well, as you might have already guessed, we didn't pass. Our electrician explained to me that the inspector said that she couldn't sign off because of all the work that we would soon be doing upstairs. Basically, if she signed off, we would seal it all up with sheet rock and when she came out to inspect the wiring upstairs, she wouldn't have any access to see what he'd done from down below.

SO, what this means is that we basically need to proceed with demolition and framing upstairs. The trouble, my sweets, is that we still live upstairs. Our magical plan had involved us fixing the downstairs, moving down there and then doing the upstairs. That was apparently wishful thinking. I guess there's been a lot of that going around.

We will see, but my new plan is for us to move to the very back of the house, seal it off as much as possible and then demolish everything except for that room and the bathroom upstairs. The room, unfortunately, is the coldest room in the house. It is full of single-paned windows that create a lovely wind tunnel effect. It is also home to the litter box and our washer and dryer. I am pretty sure that our bed will touch both walls.

** I just heard from Josh and explained the situation to him. He says that this is crazy and that it's easier for the electrician to run the wiring through the bottom, but with a little extra effort, he can run things up and over the ceiling instead (thereby preventing us from having to demo anything up here). He's going to talk to him. Sigh. I hate not knowing these things. I hate that a contractor could force us to live in the kitty litter room and demolish the whole upstairs because he doesn't want to take the time to go up and over. I will endure most anything to get this done. I want to expedite this situation as much as possible, but don't make me do something that dramatic if I don't have to, ok?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Knob and Tube

Just in case there was any question in your mind, this is NOT what proper wiring should look like. This, my friends, is just a sampling of the scary wiring that was somehow not burning our house down all these years. If this is what yours looks like, call an electrician now!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sliding Doors

Here is what I learned last week at the shower door store: that I am a raving lunatic. The door lady practically laughed me out of the store when I told her what we were planning. And the miraculous thing is that after setting me straight on what was actually possible for our tiny bathroom, her solution cost LESS that what I had wanted to do. This NEVER happens.

The shower that we are building is only 2.5'x4.5'. My vision had always been to have a sleek piece of glass covering most of the shower going floor to ceiling with an opening that you would simply walk through. I have been determined to build it this way to make the bathroom look bigger and because I think it looks pretty damn sexy and cool. So, I explained my vision to the woman and she practically started laughing after I told her the dimensions. She said that even with a curb, that all of the water would end up in the middle of the bathroom. "All righty, then what if we add a nice glass door? How much more will that set me back?" Not exactly the look I was going for, but still very nice. She mockingly explained that those were still not going to be completely water tight due to the small size of my shower. "What, then?" I said, starting to get more than a little annoyed with her attitude.

She explained that the sliding glass doors were the only reasonable solution for our situation. I let out an audible gasp because we currently have sliders in our bathroom. They are made of wavy plastic and the top comes to my neck, so I have to duck about a foot to get into the shower inevitably banging my head every third time. As if I need another reason to promote tubbing! I got over the horror after she showed me the model above. They can make it taller (yes, please!) and can trim the width and it costs 1/3rd less than my sexy glass option. And it is pretty much completely water tight. Done and done.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Counters and Backsplash

We finally settled on our kitchen counters and they are as impractical as one can find, but we both love them. It's called Crema Marfil and it is gorgeous. Creamy and elegant and lovely. I really like granite and know that it is so much more practical (esp as a rental which this studio will be down the road), but we got the Marfil. Here is the really exciting part: it comes in smaller 63" slabs which is exactly the dimension of the large area that we need. We need an additional 18" width piece to fit in to the left of the stove which was going to force us to buy an additional slab, however, I found a small broken piece in the bargain area that will work out perfectly for only $45. I was very pleased with my scavenging.

We are most likely going to go with a small square stone tile like the one above as well. We'll do that last after the counters are installed. I think that we are pretty effectively going to be emulating this kitchen that I fell in love with before.

Import Tile has a great selection of granite slabs at really reasonable prices in addition to all of their beautiful tile. That's where we got the Marfil. The small backsplash tile is from Best Tile which is a bizarre place on Bayshore. They didn't have much, but I did like this tile.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not One, But Two Indoor Geysers

Why travel all the way to Yellowstone Park or Taupo to see a beautiful geyser when you can see one at our house? Thursday night was full of excitement. Josh had to continue rerouting some of the plumbing for the heating guys when we had our first geyser in the garage. This was tackled quickly by releasing the pressure on the hose outside.

We then moved upstairs where we decided to tap into the new plumbing currently under our bed. Blowtorch in hand, Lucy and I stood aside to supervise (as always) while he soldered and cut through more pipes. What we had forgotten, however, that the plumber had tested these lines that we wouldn't be using for while, so there was a little water in them and they were, in fact, pressurized. So, the water suddenly shot up in a huge stream towards the ceiling landing all over the floor and the bed. We both collapsed in hysterics and he instructed me to run downstairs and release another valve. The water came to a quick stop and he finished up the soldering while I mopped up the water and changed the sheets. The very strange linoleum flooring in the bedroom made the cleanup rather easy.

A few hours later, we had cold water again enabling us to flush the toilet. Excellent news! Today, Saturday, we now have hot water again and gas for the stove and dryer. It's funny, but after living without any water for a day preventing the toilet from working made it seem like no big deal when I knew we wouldn't have hot water or gas for a few days more.

In other news:
- We got our estimate from the nice tiler, but he wants what I consider to be a not so nice amount of moolah to do the tiling for a pretty simple 4.5x10 ft bathroom. I am now on a quest now to get additional estimates. Yes, I know, that's always a good idea.
- I made other important discoveries in the land of shower doors and tile which I will share later. I figure the geysers are enough for today.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Very Own Spaceship

Little did I know that seeing that alien toilet ship at the plumbing store yesterday would lead to our studio starting to resemble its own spaceship today. There are giant E.T.-style ducting tubes going in every direction in our studio. There are sheet metal tubes poking through flooring and up through the ceiling for venting in places where we will some day frame upstairs. There are holes in the floor right now that are silver and shiny that our little pussycat, Muffin is so intrigued by. To her, it would act like a little slip'n'slide and she would land hard on the concrete floor below, so I hope she doesn't try it. I hope that we've made all of these calculations correctly because it's quite possible that the vent pipe is actually going through where my tub needs to be. And we all know that we will not be building a bathroom upstairs without a tub. I remain optimistic.

In other news:

- Poor Josh had to move the water pipes again. We now have hot water in the bathroom sink, but no water anywhere else. That means no toilet and no kitchen sink. Vavooom!

- The tile guy came out today. I am very excited to watch him tile so that I can possibly do some of it next time myself.

- Electricity down in the studio/garage seems to have diminished since this morning.

- The furnace guys have disconnected what was working upstairs. It will be at least another week until they can come back and get it operational again and finish the job.

- Our cabinets arrived today! I am so pleased about that. We are attempting to minimize the workable space downstairs as much as possible. I timed this best I could, but what can you do? It appears that they are even in the correct color which I still love, thankfully. The sweet delivery guys thanked us about three times for ordering cabinets. They said that no one is ordering right now and that business has been really slow.

Alien Spacecraft or Toilet?

Maybe you think it's weird that I keep writing about toilets, but I'm committed to sharing all the details of this reno. No one can try to tell me that a toilet and sink are not important things in one's day -- each and every day.

Over the years, I haven't exactly kept tabs on trends in toilets. Except for that pill box toilet that came out a few years ago, I haven't been interested enough to notice. I took a trip over to Excel Plumbing yesterday which has a huge selection of all bath and kitchen related fixtures and faucets. I was rather mesmerized by their fancy display model featured above from Toto. The way it's displayed with the bright lights and the toilet seat that goes up and down every couple of minutes, it really seemed like a little alien spaceship ready to take off. I couldn't imagine having one in my home. It's one of those new toilets that's the combo toilet/bidet. I know it's supposed to be hygienic, but it it grosses me out. And it has a control panel next to the toilet. That is too complicated for me. I feel like you'd have to follow your guests into the bathroom to show them how to use the toilet and that is not something that I can imagine doing any time soon.

The good news is that Excel has fantastic pricing on everything -- even cheaper than the cheapest online deals I could find. I'm still liking the Promenade. It's one of the cheapest that Toto makes and pretty snappy. It's no lunar lander, but I think it will do...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One of Those Yards

You know those houses that have a big tub in the back corner with all sorts of crazy things growing out of it? And you always wonder, how the hell did a bathtub end up in their backyard? Well, lemme tell you. Yesterday, Tommy did a little demo in our upstairs master bathroom so that the electrician could pull through some wires to the upstairs. (We stopped using that bathroom about six months ago because the shower/tub leaked and we removed the plumbing for the toilet.) Tommy removed everything and put most of it on the floor of our bedroom where it still lives. The rest of it made it to the backyard. He usually puts stuff in his truck and carts it away for us, but for some lucky reason we get to enjoy the toilet and sink in our backyard for a while.

Tommy does little odd jobs for us. He did most of the framing and helps with things like the bathroom demo. He also has a pickup truck which is incredible because we used to pile up all the junk and rent a U-Haul truck to take it to the dump. Dealing with U-Haul and shoveling dirt and junk in and out of the back of a U-Haul and then dealing with the dump is not one of my favorite activities. Having Tommy take it away is fantastic. Maybe he left the toilet in the backyard just to remind us how wonderful this service is...We appreciate you, Tommy!

$250,000 Furniture Fundraiser Sale

We're not in the market yet for any furniture, but I thought this looked interesting if you live in the Bay Area. I can't tell from the pics how nice the furniture really is, but I bet there are some real gems in there:

* Furniture Sale - Under One Roof's $250,000 Blow Out Fundraiser - 1/23 - 2/1 *

Sale Begin - Friday, January 23rd - 12:00 PM Sale Ends - Sunday, February 1st - 6:00 PM

Old Castro Tower Records Location
2278 Market Street (Market, Noe & 16th Street Intersection) San Francisco

Phone: 415-503-2300

* What Is This Sale?
Under One Roof received $250,000 of amazing designer furniture when the SF Furniture Mart closed. The sale will take place at the old Castro Tower Records location and will feature every item to be sold at 75% off the list price.

All the profits from this sale go to benefit 28 Bay Area HIV/AIDS Service Organizations.

* Sale Schedule Details -
- Friday, Saturday & Sunday, January 23rd, 24th & 25th:
12:00 Noon - 8:00 PM
- Wednesday through Saturday, January 28th - 31st:
Noon - 8:00 PM
- Sunday, February 1st (final day):
Noon - 6:00 PM

At the end of December, 2008, with the closing of the SF Mart on Market Street, Under One Roof received a donation of more than $250,000 in brand new furniture from these "to the trade" design showrooms. These beautiful items include armoires, tables, chairs, desks, artwork, bedding, lamps and more. We have literally filled the 6,000 square foot former Tower Records at 2278 Market Street in San Francisco to the rafters. A $1,200 dining table will be sold for $300. Beautiful $300 lamps will be sold for $75. It is no exaggeration that this sale will be one to remember!

* Message from Under One Roof -
Under One Roof is grateful to the Bay Area design community for supporting our efforts to raise unrestricted funds for 28 HIV/AIDS local support organizations.

Your attendance and purchase at this event means that while you are getting the deal of a lifetime, you are also supporting much-needed Bay Area services during a difficult economic time.

Please join us! Save 75% off list price and take home beautiful furnishings from some of America's best designers. Delivery will be available for a fee. Please feel free to forward this email to your address book and visit for more details!

* About Under One Roof -
Since 1990, Under One Roof, a San Francisco non profit, has been raising funds for Bay Area AIDS service provides through a variety of retail sales, including both a year round store in the City's Castro District and a series of specialty sales held at various locations around San Francisco.

Under One Roof
518a Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114
UOR is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Let There Be Light!

Look at all those beautiful lights. Can you take it? I didn't know what to do with myself down there, I was so excited. I could see everything! It's such a new experience for me. Lighting is a wonderful amazing thing. There are approximately 19 cans in our little studio. Here's the lighting plan in case you need a refresher on where they are exactly.

Our electrician is estimating that the inspection will happen early next week. I can hardly believe it. We just need to giddyup on building our shower pan and tiling the bathroom so that we can do "the rock" as Tommy likes to say. That's sheetrock in case you don't know the lingo. Of course, I'm insisting on an actual tile shower pan rather than one of those plastic ones from the Depot. I prefer a tub over a shower any day, but I love a nice looking shower. The tile takes more time, but it will look so nice.

Happy Inauguration Day

Reclaimed Barn & Factory Flooring

Me likey - especially the second one that is old factory flooring from the East Coast. Those crazies want 1k just to ship it here from Wisconsin though and they suggest ordering 20% more than you think you'll need to "accommodate the unique nature of this flooring material". These are all from Restoration Timber which you can order from Reclaim Home in Menlo Park. I know that we can't do this, but I seem to enjoy torturing myself by looking at all the pretty pictures online.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Josh's Favorite Things

Josh put the finishing touching on the framing this weekend. Here he is with two of his favorite tools (ie toys): the nailer and the skillsaw. The nailer freaks me out. It's like a relic from the Mad Max set. I tried it once, but that was enough for me. Otherwise, I was very focused on my supervisor duties. So was Lucy, of course. All I can think about is that scene from Lethal Weapon 2 where the guy gets killed with the nail gun. When you try one out, you fully appreciate what a gnarly death that would be. At least it would be quick. (By the way, moms, it wasn't an accidental death by nail gun in the movie. It was very intentional, so nothing is going to happen to Josh with normal usage.)

The electrician is back at work today. I'm hoping he'll be done in a few days so that we can get it inspected next week. Hello, progress, my old friend.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

New Concrete Footings

So, I'm going back in time a little bit here, but I found these pictures so I thought maybe someone would find this interesting. The bottom of the house had these two rows of posts going down the center holding it up. Josh was downstairs one day, leaned against one of these center posts and it started to move. Not a good quality in a post that is supposedly holding up the house. This prompted him to dig down a bit around the post and he discovered that the original footing for the post consisted of nothing more than a handful of bricks. He explored the other posts and decided that we needed to dig out and pour solid concrete footings for ALL of the posts. Fantastic. Like I always say, "tear it apart and start from scratch whenever possible." Um, no, but that is definitely Josh's motto. Unfortunately, it is very easy to say that in an 1880's Victorian.

The wood above is the form for the concrete and each one had a mountain of rebar in it to keep it solid. All in all, Josh redid 10 posts. Even better was that afterward we decided to pull out 3 of the new posts completely so that we could widen the studio apartment. He sistered the joists together to give it enough support and now the studio feels much larger. Yes, it would have been easier to decide this before he did all the posts given how much time each one took, but that wouldn't have been any fun, would it?

Our house is one of the oldest on the block and has survived many a quake. With our new footings I'm really confident that this baby isn't goin' anywhere.

Friday, January 16, 2009

So long, W.

Does anyone else remember this image from the cover of The New York Times when Bush first ran? I've always been fascinated by it. Happy almost inauguration, my sweets!

Photo from The New York Times

A Well-Deserved Treat
for the Project Manager

Because all Project Managers/Hostesses deserve a treat for a job well done from their tireless work every day, here is the perfect gift for your little (or not so little, in our case) canine companion that helps manage your renovations every day. My amazing artist friend, Rigel Stuhmiller, is offering this insanely cute gift for Valentine's Day. It's a little box of heart-shaped doggie cookies topped with a letter pressed card of one of her amazing drawings. She makes a full range of letter pressed notecards of magical dogs and cats. And if you're completely obsessed with your dog or cat, you can commission her to do custom letter pressed notecards or a custom block print portrait of your little sweetie. I am a huge fan of this lady. And if that's not enough, she was featured in Town and Country and Dailycandy in December. She must be cool.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sage Advice on Toilets

The in-laws popped in yesterday and lent us some very important advice on toilets. This all started when our very practical Irish plumber said that we were not allowed to consider buying a toilet and sink at Home Depot. This was sad news to me because I had settled on this nice Kohler set that was going to cost less than $300 for both. He said that what the Depot carries is the bottom of the line Kohler and that if we didn't want to be replacing our toilet in the next year, we needed to consider investing in something nicer. This makes perfect sense, but so much for my bargain shopping.

I shared the plumber's thoughts with the in-laws and they could not agree more. They had a tenant in their house that seemed to call them almost weekly with tales of clogged toilets. The strange thing was that the in-laws never had any issues when they occupied that house with four growing children, but these tenants seemed to be having issues constantly. I still wonder about what kinds of things her youngsters (or her, why am I blaming the children?) were putting down the toilets to cause such problems. I also wonder about her inability to use a plunger. Regardless, the in-laws are a big fan of the super duper all-mighty strong power flush to minimize any problemos down the road. Their top recommendation is Toto which I think is also known for being quiet (obviously a great feature in a studio apartment). I like the Promenade featured above.

Photos from

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Floors and Drywall

I had the drywall guy out to give me an estimate this morning. I think it was pretty reasonable. He says it will take about a week to do the 500 sq foot studio. The hardwood floor guy came out to give me an estimate this morning too. He gave me what I think is a pretty reasonable price for a completely finished floor. He'll supply the wood, lay it down and stain it whatever color we want. And he'll do the perimeter border upstairs for the different rooms which I'm really excited about. It will take about 1.5 weeks to do the studio floors.

I want to go pretty light for the studio since the ceilings are low. The top pic floors are super light. I like how the plank width varies. The bottom pic is definitely darker, but I think it still might work for downstairs. That door is almost exactly like the door we have down there. Those windows, however, do not resemble our window. The flooring that I really want is from Reclaim Home. It's old barn wood that's been hand scraped. Gorgeous. No VOCs in the stain, etc. Super expensive though. Over $10 sq ft just for the wood. No installation. Should the planks go vertical or horizontal down the length of the studio? I don't know the answer to this question.

I really want to go darker with a wider plank upstairs. I love dark floors with high ceilings. We have amazing tall Victorian ceilings, so I think we can pull it off. Some day I want to do a parquet chevron in another house. I love those.

This appears to be a good time to hire people. They all seem to be available immediately which is kind of amazing and a little sad.

Photos from Elle Decor

Why We Live in San Francisco

70+ degrees today. I heard it was -37 degrees in Fargo. A record low.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Project Manager & Hostess

There is nothing more exciting for either Miss Lucy or myself than having multiple workmen here at the same time. Today, there are three trucks in the driveway: 2 electricians and the plumber. Phase 1 of the plumbing should be complete today. The inspector is coming out this afternoon. The electrician started this morning. Yippee!

Our project manager/hostess is forever excited by their activities and continually greets the boys each time they go in and out of the front door. She takes her hostessing duties very seriously and always has her duckie or pink hippo in her mouth. She knows what they are doing every minute of the day. Luckily, all the boys all seem to be dog people and are quite happy to have her greet them each and every time. Here she is in her perch by the front door ready to greet her next visitor.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Inside Out

Where, oh, where has this amazing magazine been all my life? I'll tell you where it's been: Australia. I found Inside Out at Borders last night and fell instantly in love. I'm such a such a nut for wrought iron anything and then that pink claw foot tub was just too much. My favorite though was actually the concrete kitchen in the last pic. I normally am not a big fan of this trend, but I think it's really chic here. I remember now Jodi telling me that concrete everything was really big in New Zealand a couple of years ago. After all the concrete we've removed over the years, all I can think about it is the cost of disposing of it at the dump once that trend is over...

Photos all from Inside Out

The Greening (or graying) Is Complete

It's hard to believe, but the greening is done! It's kind of funny when I look at these pics because it doesn't look very green at all with all the baby plants and river rock. But that's our sweet little urban garden at the top and our neighbor's garden below it. That's crushed granite in between the curb and our little garden. It's required so that people don't trip when they get out of their cars. The trouble is that when it's dry it resembles cat litter. It was christened by a delightful ferrol kitty in the neighborhood last night. I'm thinking the river rocks will be a nice deterrent pooping dogs. We shall see, won't we?

Now we need to plant the area in front of the studio or at least plan for it. It's a tiny little space as you can see. I've been delaying it with all the work going on as I didn't want it to get trampled. I'm thinking a nice bright Bougainvilla along the fence and then a thicker little hedge right up against the fence to create a little bit more of a barrier from passers-by, but not taller than the fence. We'll figure this out in the Spring. In the meantime, 'tis the season to trim back all the roses in the backyard.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Lighting Plan

The top pic shows what the original floor plan was like downstairs. The bottom shows what the lighting and new floor plan looks like downstairs. The first third of the space is the eating/kitchen area. The second third is the living area where you'd put a sofa and tv and the final third at the back is the bedroom. It will all be recessed lighting since the ceilings are on the low side.