So then this had to happen.
Category Archives: Ranch house renovation
Bathroom update: two steps back
Friends, I was so hoping to reveal our beautiful new bathroom this week. Here’s where we’re at: tiling is 95% complete, with the exception of a backsplash. (Our vanity top is beautiful, and was the deal of the century! More on that soon.) Fixtures are mostly in — except what you see here. Which is turning into a serious headache.
See, way back long ago, in a chapter that we don’t much care to revisit, our contractor asked us to choose our shower and faucet fixtures. We looked at him with big, wide eyes — at the time, the entire bathroom was gutted down to the subfloor and studs. And we had no earthly clue what we wanted it to look like, eventually. All of our creative vision was focused on the kitchen and wood floors (and framing out a laundry room, and moving electrical outlets, and and and …). We were in a state of decision-making saturation, and couldn’t make even one more.
So, he fixed us up with a cheap faucet set — which he had to do, because he had to complete the plumbing work inside the walls — and they needed the install the valve that goes behind the tile. A little vocab lesson: the “valve” is where the water pipes connect to and deliver water to the bath (13 and 14, below, I’m pretty sure). The valve holds the “cartridge” (15, below) which protrudes through your shower wall, and into this your faucet handle is eventually fitted. Turn the handle to move the cartridge to open the valve, and you’ve got flowing water.
Fast forward a year: a custom vanity is built, the tile is set, and we finally choose our lovely fixtures — carefully selecting the same brand as the cheap (read: super ugly), previously installed model to ensure everything will work together. And … the new Delta faucet handle doesn’t match up to the installed Delta cartridge. At all.
Normally, when you update or upgrade your faucet handle, you can swap out the cartridge from the front — but not so, for us. Because the valve itself — the thing attached to the pipes inside the wall — won’t accommodate the newer cartridge that came with our new fixtures. Because the contractor-installed fixture set was discontinued in 2006. (Six years before we moved in, notice. Where this fixture came from, we have no idea.) And we can’t return the (expensive) fixtures, because we’ve already opened and mostly installed them.
The most reasonable path forward? Cut a hole (this is where my shoulders slump and I open a bottle of wine and try not to yell) through the freshly painted bedroom wall directly behind the shower, and replace the entire valve.
It’s one of those projects that creates another project. And believe me, with everything on our priority list, patching, texturing, and painting a drywall hole is going to fall wayyyyy at the bottom.
The spouse is on deck for this one, because we’re out of cash — Saturday promises drywall dust, scraped knuckles, and some cursing, most likely.
Fingers crossed — we are so ready for baths and comfortable showers in this house.
A month. Then two.
Hi, you. It’s been awhile.
In a month, seventeen boxes of books get unpacked.
A room filled to the ceiling with boxes and furniture is transformed into a home office/guest space.
A yard pushes up surprises: columbine, lily of the valley, forget-me-not, day lilies, painted daisies, hosta, daphne. Wild roses and strawberries.
The eight-months-missed touchstones of home emerge from boxes and find new nooks. Our artifacts. Our us, in objects. The small stone jaguar from the Yucatan. The sonogram. The flower pot decorated with buttons and crayon scrawls. Grammy’s desk.
The typewriter collection comes out of storage for the very first time. (Platen count: nine.)
Paid work gets tackled every day. Kindergarten races toward the finish line. We meet the sweet neighbors who live with their 90-year-old mother named Violet. The first water bill arrives (xeriscaping and water barrels are in our future). I cut an inch off of my own hair. Mainly to avoid auditioning curly-hair stylists. Two bummers about moving: new dentists and new stylists.
The kid writes a song about fleas on a dog’s knees that get blown away by a breeze onto the trees–and sings it to me whilst strumming our out-of-tune ukulele on Mother’s Day.
In two months, a fence gets half built. There are 260 linear feet to cover, in total. Half is good.
I realize it’s my first summer without a daily office job since the kid was born. Longer than that. I buy a wading pool and a stack of bubble wands and make a huge list of fun-but-educational games and at-home science experiments for an enriched summer experience and … yeah. I know. It will be popsicles and mayhem.
Our coffee ritual transitions from warm to iced–we unpack the espresso machine and the cold brew kit. The fence continues; the neighbor offers beer and sends her kid out to help.
We take our picnicking skills for a test run, sandwiches and potato salad and gritty sand in the wrong places. Crawdads. Lifejackets. Sunscreen protests. Aloe vera. Inexplicably, my head is too big for my old sunhat. Can an adult outgrow a sunhat? The lake’s water is rimmed in a wide band of bright yellow, rocking in the small, lapping waves. It’s pollen from the pines, blown across the water and pooling at the edges. I don’t realize how vibrant and beautiful and strange it is until I look at the photos, later.
We glance at the boxes still stacked against the dining room wall. We studiously ignore the Chaos Pit otherwise known as our garage. The (now gutted) second bathroom fades to a vague future dream and we forget what it’s like to have a bathtub. Almost.
The kid’s kindergarten graduation ceremony happens. I don’t cry.
The next morning, I drop her off for the last day. Through the classroom window, I see her toeing off her velcro sneakers and sliding on her indoor slippers–a preschool routine for four whole years. Goodbye, soft-footed mornings. I cry in the parking lot.
We think about adopting a kitten. We discuss our chicken coop dreams, sketch plans for a treehouse, talk greenhouse strategies. We stare at the mistletoe infection in our junipers and mumble hopeful predictions and go inside.
I finally have lunch with a new friend.
We welcome a hamster into the mix.
A 34-year friendship is shored up with a visit. I make her look at mountains every single day. I make her break her cleanse with beer and a cheese plate. (I once force-fed her an olive. We were eight. A story for another time.)
Dance recital rehearsals are incessant. They are a flock of little girls, skinny and pudgy, knock-kneed and swaybacked, awkward and graceful. They match only by merit of their identical pink leotards and ballet slippers, gauzy skirts above playground-bruised shins. They are certain of their own beauty.
We count nine months since we hightailed it to our new life. It is vibrant and beautiful and strange. Knock-kneed and soft-footed. Awkward and certain. Stories unpacked. Pushing up surprises. Wide open.
Kitchen follow-up: the pantry
It’s been a little over a month of living with our kitchen, up and running — hard — in our daily lives.
We use our kitchen, and I was curious to see where the clutter would gather. How the surfaces would hold up. If the gooseneck faucet would have splashback issues. Whether one of our new drawers could withstand the weight of a dozen vintage Pyrex bowls, two waffle irons, and five serving trays.
So far, so good. Last night, we rolled out fresh tortilla dough on the laminate countertop–and it performed beautifully. The stainless appliances aren’t streaking or smudging (relief!). The evenness with which the electric stove bakes a cake is a thing of beauty, and the continuous grill across the gas range is soooo helpful when you’re playing musical pots and pans for a dinner for eight. And if I ever questioned a single vs double-bowl sink, I never will again.
In the Big Reveal post, we skipped over the pantry. And this pantry deserves some attention, because I swear it’s got magical properties. It never seems to fill up. We reduced the pantry size by more than half, and I can still store all of my staples plus weekly dry goods in here, and feel no clutter.
Remember, we started with this:
After removing the horrid accordion doors, we ripped out the shelves, knocked out the back wall, and pushed the whole space back about a foot. This meant losing closet inches in the adjacent bedroom. (We then restored those bedroom closet inches with new framing, sacrificing some bed space — gain a foot here, lose a foot there). It also meant the pantry would have an odd L-shape, because the furnace is located directly behind the back left corner, but it would increase the overall depth of the shelves — and it would let the fridge nook hold a standard-depth fridge, if necessary. Mid-stream, it looked like this:
On our first attempt at building pantry shelves, we went with plywood — inexpensive, large enough sheets to cut out the odd shape we needed. But we cut exactly one sheet before I confessed how much I would hate returning to painted shelves. I lived with painted shelves for seven years. Everything sticks to them, no matter how long the paint cures. They chip, get gooey, and suck to clean. Back to Home Depot went the spouse, for sheets of white MDF.
We made an L-shaped template, decided on shelf heights, attached the support ledgers, cut the shelves, and installed. There was some caulking and possibly a few curse words. We built and hung the over-fridge cabinet (aka, The Liquor Library).
And then, oh wouldn’t it be nice to have the microwave hidden? Wiring an outlet inside the pantry, no big deal, you go ahead honey, I’m just going to make an iced coffee …
Of course, he totally did it. And then it looked like this:
One of these days, we’ll paint the unfinished door. Voila!
The Kitchen Reveal
I’m just going to be quiet right now. Without further ado — our new kitchen:
We still have to install the (oh so beautiful) range hood. And hang pendant lights, paint the pantry door, buy bar stools. But this … this is what we’ve worked so hard to make real.
Don’t be fooled. The kitchen is my pristine, perfect baby — but the rest of the house is still largely in chaos. See over there, past the peninsula? Eh. Whatever. LOOK AT THOSE DRAWERS. Just look at them.
I dreamed of open shelves. There were naysayers, doubters. There was much consternation and an awakening to the difficulty of engineering anything into a corner. (Originally, these, below, were going to be L-shaped. Thanks, mom, for this better idea.)
This is my favorite slice of the kitchen right now. Our daily plates, glassware, neatly stacked and at the ready. To me it says, “We live here. We use this place, and we care for it. This kitchen is for gathering together, making food, being a family.” This corner also brings together our whole palette: white, wood, steel, and ceramic — the clean lines plus warmth that equal the “organic modern” balance we were striving for. I think it worked.
One more photo. The stove. And that gorgeous tile, our one splurge. And the stove. Did I mention the awesomeness that is my new stove? (Dual fuel is the way to go, absolutely.)
And for the full effect — before and after. Click to view larger and prettier:
Questions? Comments? Champagne recommendations?
Who’s coming over for dinner?
Edited to add:
For a full recap, see the following:
- The Kitchen Recap, Part I: Where it All Began
- The Kitchen Recap, Part II: No Guts, No Glory
- Kitchen Follow-up: The Pantry
If you’re new here and looking for the more detailed blow-by-blow on our kitchen and other projects, here’s a gathering of my ranch house renovation posts.
If you’re curious about the gorgeous, copper-colored cooking pot sitting on our Frigidaire gas range, you can read more about micaceous clay vessels — and find them for purchase — at our family collective, Pine Cone Alley Studio. They’re made from a hand-harvested, rare clay and are perfectly magical. You can also learn more at the artist’s blog. (She just happens to be my mom!)
The Kitchen Recap, Part II: No guts, no glory
In our last post, we revisited the past. This cramped, dark, icky kitchen past:
Let’s continue with our recap. Some of this you’ve seen before, but I’m including a lot more detail about each step along the way.
On Demo Day, the mister and I brought our face masks, work gloves, crowbars and enthusiasm, ripping up carpet and tearing into the cabinetry. Those uppers were fun — after briefly pondering how heavy those suckers would be, we pried them loose from the soffit and brought ’em down. That’s the range hood duct sticking up through the middle. The spouse had to go into the attic to pull it up and out.
And here ’tis. Our very first, early glimpse toward a more open kitchen. Do we have vision? Looking back at this moment, I’d say heck yes. And it’s a good thing. Our family must have thought we were insane.
At this point, we found a contractor to help us out a bit. We still had a major hand in demo, but they were able to bring a) tons of tools and a huge debris trailer; b) relationships with local subcontractors — remember, we were completely new to town and leery of trusting craigslist referrals with our new baby; c) an understanding of the process (I think we would have frozen if we’d had to make some of bigger decisions on our own); d) an architect who helped us gain important inches here by stealing from there (and who confirmed things like load bearing walls, etc.). It was awesome getting an architectural rendering of our house, not to mention having our vision heartily endorsed by a professional.
Anyway — this is what it looked like with demo 100% complete. Did we remove those soffits? Yes we did! See all that pink insulation and wiring hanging from the gaping holes in our ceiling?
This is where things seemed to slow way down. And get expensive. The plumber was called in to scoot the kitchen sink to the left and move the gas line to the back wall, plus do a whole crap ton of work on other projects I’ll cover later (a bathroom that is at present plumbed but still gutted, and a laundry closet situation).
Meanwhile, “the guys” were tearing out closet walls, reframing and moving doors for the other projects I’ll get to later, and generally making it possible for us to, you know, keep our jobs.
There was some drywall repair work. Which got us to this:
Then the electrician. We spent an hour drafting up our dream plan in a consult — three-way switches here, dimmers there, outlets in the most gracefully convenient locations, can lights. [bbrrrrippp! That’s a needle screeching on a record, holy $@*^ electrical is expensive.] We modified those plans dramatically when the estimate came in. And the spouse took on a huge, technically complex project involving VOLTAGE. [Correction: spouse tells me it’s the amps that are scary. See? Technical.] Late at night. By himself. Mostly in a dark attic crawlspace filled with fiberglass and bird skeletons.
He mapped the entire circuitry of the house, planned electrical loads, ran wire, installed boxes, and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t understand and that freaked me right the hell out. (Most of this happened in the Mystery Bathroom I haven’t showed you yet.) He’s very, very technically inclined and deals with circuits, in a way, in his profession. I believed in him entirely. I also made sure our life insurance policy was up to date.
When he was done, the certified electrician came back and did his thing throughout the house, including installing the kitchen can lights. And discovering that the off-center, atrocious can light over the sink? Couldn’t be centered, because there’s a ceiling joist in that exact spot. Cue hand waving and weeping into the couch cushions.
I cried and yelled a lot during this phase. And pinned things on Pinterest and IMed my best friend for martini recipes. Wasn’t I ever so useful? Yay, me. Yes, this was probably the most stressful point in the project — both due to the cost and that it required a lot of trust between everyone involved.
So. Demo, plumbing, drywall, electrical: done. Next, it was time to tape, mud, sand, and prime. Oh, sweet and happy day, when the primer was done. It started to look like a room again:
I have some masons in the ancestry on my Italian side. Maybe that’s why my affections ran deep for Tony the Texture Guy (and Aaron the Tile Guy — he comes later). Tony brilliantly, expertly covered the popcorn ceilings in the dining room with skim coat. It’s gorgeous. You would never know what’s under there. He also made the walls look seamless.
And then — our contractors were supposed to use the lightest possible orange peel for a final spray of wall texture, and we were dismayed to discover they used something higher profile — it’s rougher, for sure. I still notice it when I think about it, but in the scheme of things we had to let it go. Our timeline didn’t allow for sanding the entire house.
Once texture was done, we chose wall paint and had the whole house sprayed — so, so much faster than rolling it ourselves. (We had to do a LOT of painting anyway. Trim, baseboard, some extra coats here and there, new color in the kid’s room.) The color is Sherwin Williams West Highland White.
We also hired out the wood floor installation. We thought long and hard about this, considered click-lock flooring to make it easy, but finally decided it was really important to get it done right, and get it done quickly. You might remember how I felt about the floors the first time I saw them. Update: the contrast is mellowing with exposure to light, and my attitude is mellowing with time.
Which brings us to this view:
It was time to bid adieu to The Guys. They cleaned up and cleared out, hugs shared all around. That was the moment when the house felt like ours. Not unlike that moment when the hospital sends you out the door with a two-day old baby. Terrifying and exhilarating. Because holy crap now we have to take care of this thing and ohhhh isn’t it the prettiest thing ever?
Somewhere in there, our beautiful suite of Frigidaire appliances was delivered. It was time to give them a real home.
We chose IKEA cabinets after stellar reviews from friends and reading a lot online about their impressive durability and affordability. We took a marathon trip to Portland to choose our surface (Abstrakt), which is a story in and of itself. (Let me know if you’re wondering why we chose the glossy white — I could go on.) Then, we found IKDO.
I recommend this service highly. IKDO is an online kitchen design firm that takes your submitted room measurements and sketches, and creates precise plans for your new IKEA kitchen — including a complete parts shopping list, down to the last hinge. The plans include elevations and 3D renderings from every angle. You get one design modification for free. And they do it in 24 hours for $100. I can’t tell you how many headaches and six-hour round trips to IKEA this saved us. Thumbs up, grade A recommendation.
After a few tweaks (just where would we include a recycling/trash center? Are we sure about open shelving?), the spouse printed out the IKDO plan and parts list, flew to Portland, rented a truck, and hauled home our kitchen. He spent about a week, tackling it after hours, getting the lowers fully installed. This included creating his own custom base out of lumber instead of the stock IKEA feet. It also included a modified box for the blind corner.
A major improvement came from moving the peninsula into the dining space two full feet from the original. It makes the kitchen feel so much bigger.
When the boxes were in, it looked like this:
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. In part III, we’ll find the finish line. Stay tuned!
The Kitchen Recap, Part I: Where it all started
Once upon a time, there was a small family. The family was looking for a house to make their home. They searched and searched. Some were too small, some were too big, some had no heat source and a collapsing foundation.
After many weeks of searching, a 1965 ranch house beckoned to them. Something in its dated surfaces and state of mild disrepair whispered, “It is possible!” And so, they bowed to the universe and said to the little house yes, we will fix you.
And we will start with your kitchen, for the kitchen is your soul.
In Part 1 of our reveal, let’s travel back to
1965 through 1987 five months ago and remind ourselves where it all began.
This is the original kitchen. Well, most of the cabinetry is original — the countertops were “upgraded” at some point with a gigantic remnant slab of faux woodgrain laminate. The overhang was ridiculous — almost two feet. And it was supported by the cheapest shelf brackets you can buy. The peninsula face was a cheap, thin piece of fiberboard. The arched peekaboo over the stove was probably carved out with a jigsaw at some point. The short backsplash was peeling away from the wall. This shot was taken right before we started ripping out the filthy carpet.
Here’s a view of the original cabinetry on the back wall. Note the very narrow space for a refrigerator. For the record, I actually really like the old slab style doors. I would have been happy refinishing or painting them if the rest of the kitchen was workable. But they just weren’t space efficient. Preservation did not win out over practicality, despite the adorable Holly Hobby shelf paper inside.
We noticed immediately that the sink and can light weren’t centered to the window. At first we thought it must have happened when they moved the cabinetry to accomodate the dishwasher, but the plumbing was actually placed directly below the center of that sink. It seriously grated on my nerves every time I looked that direction. (I lean left, people. Left.)
This is the peninsula and stove, as purchased. It was already plumbed with a gas line — score! We wouldn’t have the expense of running gas to the house. The uppers created an awful division between the kitchen and the dining room, and blocked a lot of light. We knew they would have to go. The question was — would the soffit have to stay? Was there ductwork inside? (This shot was taken after our first day of demo. The carpet came up, revealing asbestos tile throughout the dining room. That big white patch looked like some kind of attempt to level the floor surface where tile was missing — we’re guessing for the carpet install. It was naaaaasty.)
The pantry’s accordion doors were cracked and broken, and the shelves were oddly spaced and inefficient. (Side note: see the wall phone jack on the right? I kinda wanted to keep it.) The architect who drew up some simple plans for us recommended reconfiguring this space — stealing inches from the bedroom closet on the other side of the wall to accommodate a full-sized refrigerator and create a smaller pantry to left. We would also gain more continuous work surface in the kitchen by moving the fridge. But could we gather the courage to tear out valuable storage space?
This also gives a decent view of the cheapest Pergo money can buy. Oh, it looks fine in this photo. But walking on that stuff is horrible. The clicky-clacky tappy sound from the thin, floating boards … gahhh. No.
That’s it. That’s where it all began. Next up: no guts, no glory. We go full steam ahead and hire a bunch of guys to help us.