We FINALLY have a construction permit to do our kitchen renovation. FIN.AL.LY. Whew. It’s taken awhile to get here for a number of reasons that I’ll share here. I’ll break down the steps we took, the costs we’ve incurred, and some of the story behind everything.Read More
I've spent the past three years trying to decide on a new layout for the back of our house. We've come up with lots of ideas, but there is ultimately always a compromise of some sort and we struggle with identifying what we want to give up on. I think we've solidified a plan, but I'm still not 100% so I want your feedback!
Below is the existing floor plan.
We have three bedrooms, one bathroom, and a nice flow between the spaces that makes the house feel airy yet not too open. The ceilings are nine feet tall so even though our house comes in at just under 1,400 square feet, it still feels perfectly spacious. I love this little abode.
But, here's what we don't like.
The master bedroom is accessible only by walking through another bedroom, or the kitchen. It's fine right now when the guest bedroom is actually just a TV room, and access to the kitchen is very convenient for rolling out of bed straight to breakfast. But, I'd like to access the master without tripping over a sleeping house guest or a stove.
We'd like to have a second bathroom in the house, ideally in the form of an ensuite off the master bedroom.
The kitchen layout isn't the most functional. It's decently sized but with wasted space on half of the room and with the two mudrooms. These two little rooms are inefficiently used for storage, and the walls block all of the natural sunlight from the back of the house.
We want a more indoor/outdoor feel. Right now, the only backyard access is through a door that's tucked away in a mudroom. We'd like to see the kitchen and the master extend into the outdoor space.
Here's the plan I'm toying with:
In this new layout, we'd gain a second bathroom, a bigger closet, both the kitchen and the master the would open up to the backyard, and we'd access the master through a hallway instead of another room. YAY! The only compromise is that the guest bedroom would get significantly smaller. To remedy the small space, I'll add transom windows over the guest room and hallway doors so natural light can flow between all the spaces. We will also install pocket doors to gain as much floor space as possible.
Here are each of the floor plans side-by-side so you can see the changes.
Since it's hard to visualize a space that you've never set foot in, I put together a video walkthrough using the renderings I created to design the floorplan. Take a look at the 2-minute video below for a better idea of the house will flow.
Reducing the size of a bedroom isn't ideal, I know. But the other options I played with had much bigger compromises. We toyed with adding on into the backyard, making the master accessible from the dining room, by jogging the hallway over to not take away bedroom space, and so many more.
If you're into floor plan configurations, cycle through the ones below. The differing rendering styles are because some are mine, some are from the previous owner's plans to add on, and the others were sketched by Ross' uncle who we cornered at a family reunion to brainstorm a bunch of ideas together. He's a prison architect - yes, prisons - but in a nice rehabilitative way. I have probably 30 other drawings in a notebook, but looking at them is too exhausting. If you're a layout nerd, let me know and maybe I'll upload the rest of them.
So, tell me! Any thoughts? comments? questions? concerns? I genuinely am interested in what you have to say! I'm not an expert, and I haven't lived in a variety of houses to know how different designs function but I'm taking inspiration from house tours, blogs, online images, books, and asking all the pros I can. Please weigh in - whether you're an expert or not! If you want to sketch up an idea to send my way, here's a pdf of the current floor plan.
We're taking this project on in phases, but phase one starts soon, so speak now or forever hold your peace! Note also that the kitchen isn't fully fleshed out. The renderings are not the final layout and most certainly not the finishes you can expect in the kitchen remodel - so stay tuned for that.
Thanks in advance for your feedback!
While the kitchen didn't get a full gut and remodel like the bathroom, it received its fair share of updates to make it usable. Among the most impactful were the concrete countertops.
The existing counters were granite tiles. Now, some of you may swoon when you hear "granite counters" but these were NOT swoon-worthy (but also, not many granite counters are swoon-worthy in my personal opinion - though, I digress).
You may be familiar with concrete countertops that are a solid piece of concrete that's poured in place, but skim coating is an easy option that doesn't require any demo. If you're a DIY-loving renter that has the "go ahead and make changes but I'm not going to pay for it" landlord, then this project is for you.
I'm not going to pretend that I came up with this DIY. I followed the instructions from John and Sherry of Young House Love to a T. For a comprehensive step-by-step, take a look at their whole process here and here, but you can follow along with my brief play-by-play below. Then, I'll get into how they are holding up 2 years later.
What you'll need:
- Ardex Feather Finish - this is the star of the show. Amazon sells it in packs of 4 which is good if you need a lot. My kitchen needed less than 2 bags for a 12' run of counters and no backsplash. I got this option which comes with 2 bags and a trowel.
- Measuring and mixing buckets - I used an old gardening pail and a cup. The ratios are what matter more than the actual measurements.
- Scraping tool - I used a metal putty knife, but a 6-in-1 tool works great. I recommend something with a 2-4" blade.
- Trowel - You can get creative with lots of different sized and shaped trowels but I used the one in the combo pack of concrete and a trowel. If you're new to this type of work, I'd recommend a short trowel to give you more control. A "pool" trowel has smooth edges which also helps newbies not make track marks as they spread. If that's what you're after, here's one.
- Sandpaper - I used a heavy grit paper on my sander, then finer grits on the sanding block.
- Mask and eye protection - During the sanding stages, it gets really, really, really dusty. You'll want eye protection and a mask or respirator.
- Sealer - to protect the concrete that you so laboriously applied.
- SafeCoat Acrylacq - to finish the counters and make them food safe.
- Foam brushes - If you have a lot to cover, you can get a foam roller, but I used a wide foam brush.
As a reminder, here's what the kitchen looked like before.
The first step is to quarantine the room you'll be working in. I was lucky to be doing this project in the midst of renovations, so dust was aplenty. But, if you're living in the house while doing this project, you'll want to thoroughly seal off the space to contain the mess. Note that this is a multi-day project, so plan accordingly.
I used a coarse grit sandpaper on my sander to rough up the counters. It seems silly to sand granite which is a pretty darn strong material, but I did it anyway to really clean up the surface and sand down remnants of anything that I didn't want between the counters and the concrete. If you have a softer countertop material, this step is helpful for scratching the surface and giving the concrete something to grip to.
After wiping up the dust, I mixed the concrete according to the ratio on the bag (2 parts powder to 1 part water) to get a toothpaste consistency. If you're doing a lot of vertical work you'll want more of a peanut butter consistency, but if you're just working on the flat counter, it can be runnier. Find what works for you! I mixed small amounts at first to see how far it went. If you mix too much, it will harden and all you'll have is a concrete mold of your bucket.
Coating the counter was like icing a cake - over and over again. The first coat is similar to the crumb coat of a cake - not pretty but an important base for the next step. I dumped out the mixture onto the counters and used the trowel to spread it to an even thickness. You don't want to go too thick or you'll prolong the already-lengthy process. Coat everything and don't worry too much about the edges.
After the concrete dried for a few hours, I followed up with a scraper to knock down the bumps and imperfections. You can try to make it perfectly smooth right after you apply it, but it's often too wet and you end up messing up, then reapplying, then fudging a little, then reapplying. Hot tip: set a lamp low on the counter and point it parallel to the surface; this will emphasize the imperfections so you can scrape them off easily.
After the first coat dried completely, I followed up with the sander to make it smooth for the next coating. I used a power sander which made everything go by quickly, but it did get suuuuper dusty.
Once the base coat was sanded and smooth, I applied another coat the same way as before, and then again. Three coats is the minimum I'd recommend, and it does indeed take three days! I applied the concrete late at night, went home, went to sleep, went to work, came back, sanded, sanded, sanded, wiped up dust, applied another coat, went home, went to sleep, and repeated.
The sanding block was helpful for refining the edges that the power sander couldn't do. I started with a coarse grit block, then graduated to a finer grit for the last layer.
I purposefully left trowel swooshes and visual texture in the concrete. If I didn't, then any imperfection would show dramatically. Concrete isn't known for being particularly beautiful, so I embraced the nature of the material and aimed for a handmade look - plus, imperfection is so much easier!
Once the countertops were shaped and smoothed to my liking, they had to be sealed. There are lots of opinions on sealers, but John and Sherry did lots of research, so I followed their lead. This final process included wiping on a few coats of sealer, then coating everything with a few layers of Acrylacq which is basically a polyurethane - but a non-toxic food-safe version. I don't have photos of this process, but it's easy as pouring the sealer on and spreading it out, then waiting for it to dry between coats.
How they're holding up two years later
They are doing pretty well after two years of use! They still have a nice shine to them and still have the natural concrete look. I haven't babied them, so they're definitely seeing signs of wear.
Water: I store our dish scrubber on the countertop, so a puddle of water will pool on top of the counters for hours/days. I worried it would break down the finish and cause big issues like mold, but the only problem is it darkens the tone. Since I don't mind the darker shade, water on the surface doesn't bug me at all.
Heat: I somehow forgot that I had (essentially) a coating of plastic on my counters when I sat a hot cookie sheet on top of them. It didn't sit there long before I remembered the many days of labor I put into the countertop project, but the cookie sheet definitely left a burn mark. There are a few small spots where the finish completely melted away.
Chemical: I sat down some laundry spray on the counters only to come back the next day to find an oval-shaped haze on the counter from where the product leaked out of the bottle. I haven't managed to get rid of these, but the haze has dissipated over time and blended into the other markings.
Rust: The bottom of my coffee maker started rusting and left a nice orange spot on the surface of the counter. I used some Bar Keepers Friend to buff off the rust, though I scrubbed through a layer of coating because it's a bit more dull there. It isn't attracting any issues, so I don't mind!
My review? Overall, I love the concrete counters and how much this project transformed the kitchen. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Bathroom storage is a biggie. In all of the infomercials of people in dramatic black and white reenactments spilling their toiletries all over the bathroom floor or in House Hunters when a couple is tripping over each other trying to both get ready in the morning, they all exasperatedly exclaim how they need more storage in their bathroom. We've all been there, amiright?
I try my hardest to live minimally and own as few makeup products as possible, but we all have stuff to store. Without a vanity to hide all of our things in, we carved out a nice spot in the corner of the room to store all of our goodies.
To revisit, here's the layout we played with during the design stage (the finished dimensions changed a bit).
See that chunk of space at the end of the tub in the upper right corner? That pocket is the answer to all of our storage woes. The 6.5" deep space became what I call "wet storage" and is accessed from the shower/tub. The 12" wide section is our "dry storage" that opens into the main part of the bathroom. The goal was to create as much hidden storage as possible so things didn't sit on the sink or the edge of the tub. Also, I'm one of those people that decants my shampoo into an unbranded bottle aiming to see as few product labels as possible - sorry toiletry brand graphic designers.
With these terrible photos, you can see how the whole thing came together.
Before the storage unit construction began, the window was sized, the subfloor was rebuilt and prepped for tile, electrical was put in, rough plumbing was installed, walls got cement board, and the floor was tiled.
When we were interviewing contractors for this project, 85% of them said that adding this storage unit was a bad idea. They said that the weight of the tile would pull on the cabinet and the only way to prevent it was to make the unit super strong by building a wall between the tub and the shelves, which would only leave 5” of usable storage space. I refused to accept that, and the contractor we ultimately hired agreed that my cabinet dreams could indeed come true.
Well, the bathroom remodel wrapped up two years ago and the storage unit is in perfect condition!
Kim and Scott of Yellow Brick Home did a similar cabinet at the foot of their tub awhile after we installed ours. They used the wall and pre-made cabinet method - but did so much better a job than any of those doubtful contractors could have done. Either route works!
A big part of what made this cabinet strong is we opted to permanently install the shelves, rather than adjustable boards that we can move up and down along pegs. The permanently affixed shelves hold the whole piece together from top to bottom. I don't have the luxury of resizing the cubbies, but that's perfectly fine for our needs.
We also took the cabinet all the way to the ceiling. Which is storage heaven, and gives it extra rigidity being tied into the floor, ceiling, and wall.
The wet storage earned marble shelves to create three cubbies to rest shampoo bottles. The marble sits on top of the row of tile and gets wedged in on all three sides by the second row atop the slab.
Here she is - two years later and still going strong.
The original plan was for the shower niches to be 6.5" deep, but I found a remnant slab at a local stone yard that was 8" deep, so why not! Each shelf varies in height from 8" to 14" tall to allow for different sized bottles. The whole recessed niche is 19" above the edge of the tub so its low enough that the bottom shelf can be reached while soaking in the tub, yet not so low that we're bending down to grab things while showering.
I talked about the tile in this post, but I just have to point out this detail at the bottom of the cabinet with the base tile wrapping underneath the door. Love.
The bottom shelf is 23" tall to allow for the toilet brush, plunger, and cleaning supplies. The rest of the shelves are 13" tall. It's the perfect size for these baskets and this modular acrylic storage. With 17" of depth, I can fit 24 rolls of toilet paper easily within reach. Any deeper and it would be hard to reach anything in the back of the shelves.
The concealed storage and the tucked away shower niches give all of our toiletries some privacy. Yet, whenever guests ask "Where are all of your things?!" I proudly open up the cabinet and pull back the shower curtain to reveal the shampoo bottles. Which kinda defeats the purpose of designing a hidden niche and a concealed cabinet. oops!
You can read about all the rest of the bathroom elements by clicking the button below. Then, subscribe so you can follow along when we add another bathroom to the house in 2019!
Since most everything was leaking, rusting, failing, sinking, or otherwise not super pretty, nearly all had to go. But as an old home lover, original features don't get ripped out that easily. Only a few elements had been there for a century. The original medicine cabinet would need patching and cleaning, but it could get freshened up to be a real stunner. The hardwoods were original but were rotten beyond repair rotten and couldn't be salvaged. The bathroom door and trim were original and would definitely stay. So, those keepers would get saved, but the rest of the bathroom would go.
That tubular thing in the crawlspace is our HVAC, but it reminds me of the dragon in The NeverEnding Story.
It isn't uncommon during remodels to demo only select parts of the room. You don't always need to pull all the drywall down and demo into the attic and crawlspace like we did. Yet, demo only happens once, so it's the only chance to expose everything and repair anything. With evidence of bigger problems, and knowing the plumbing has been there for a century, we didn't hesitate to take everything out to start from scratch.
A contractor that I interviewed to do the project proposed putting the new floor tile directly on top of the existing hardwood. Let me count the ways that it was not a good option. 1. Adding tile on top of existing flooring would leave a perfect place to stub my toe walking into the bathroom with the floor an inch higher than the hallway. 2. The hardwoods and the subfloor were visibly rotting, so adding a new floor atop certainly wouldn't resolve that issue. 3. The plumbing would have never been revealed to see how corroded it was.
Thank goodness we didn't heed the advice of that contractor because those 100-year-old pipes were at the end of their life. We also found that the vent pipe had a big crack down the back of it.
Also, inside of the exterior wall, we found a beehive. A hive!
I suspect that the bees found a hole in the exterior wall and started to build their home, only to get locked out when someone noticed the buzzing and sealed their entrance. I saved the honeycomb but have yet to find a use for it. Any ideas?
Even though we spent a bit more time gutting the whole room, we've gained so much peace of mind having fresh materials. I realize most renovators know that the advice to layer new material on top of failing material isn't the smartest move, but if you ever had any doubt, let this be a lesson. You just might find a beehive!
For more bathroom progress, click the link below, and then subscribe for more - I’ll be adding a new bathroom in 2019!
Did you see the incredible kitchen transformation that Julia, Chris, Kim, Scott, and Daniel (from the respective blogs Chris Loves Julia, Yellow Brick Home, and Manhattan Nest) accomplished? Talk about dream team! These folks completely gutted and rebuilt a kitchen in three days. Yes, three DAYS. Oh, and for a mere $4,500. Click the links above to see how these insanely talented people did it.
I mentioned the other day that I'm loving the podcast S-Town - and I'm not even that far into it! NYT rounded up 9 podcast episodes that are worth discussing, and I can't wait to tune in to each one. The article fails to mention Radiolab's episode Playing God which totally moved me when I heard it last summer, and I still can't get over it. Seriously, it was so thought-provoking and emotional. I do not cry easily yet I was a mess listening to those stories. That episode will stick with me forever, just like each episode of the show Black Mirror surely will. What do you recommend I watch/listen to when I want to be an emotional wreck?
Hunting for new artwork to use in the One Room Challenge has been all-consuming. I spent some time exploring historic photos in Google's LIFE free image archive. But I took a pause when I learned that The Library of Congress recently digitized rare 19th-century photographs of black women activists. They are gorgeous and rich in remarkable history.
Before I get into why the walls needed repair (other than to remedy the smell), I'll kick off with some old house wall 101 on plaster and lath, which is a common construction for lots of American homes at the turn of the century. There are so many other great resources that cover other wall materials and styles such as gypsum board, shiplap, etc. Turn to Chip and Joanna for all things shiplap, and refer to This Old House for all things old homes.
Wood laths are strips of wood about an inch tall that are installed horizontally and attached to the wall studs with small gaps between each strip. The plaster is then coated over the lath with a trowel and pressed into the lath until the plaster oozes between the gaps and hooks onto the back side of the lath. Imagine sloth fingers hooked over the edge of a bucket. The funny looking fingers are the plaster and the rim of the bucket is the lath. Did you click that link and "accidentally" watch 45 minutes of sloth videos? I sure did. Let's get back to the walls. This is what the back of a plaster and lath wall looks like. See the sloth fingers?
Once the plaster hardens and gets a few finishing coats, you have a wall! This construction has many perks adored by old house lovers. Unlike modern-day drywall, plaster and lath is quite thick and therefore is a great sound barrier and provides decent insulation. I particularly love how it feels more solid than drywall. It feels substantial and does nice things for the room's acoustics. When Daniel of Manhattan Nest reworked the walls in his bedroom, he doubled up two layers of 1/2" drywall to mimic the goodness of a thick plaster wall. He gets me.
All this is to say, I love my plaster walls, and would much rather repair them than replace them. The bummer with plaster is that after a few California earthquakes and 100 years of the house settling, the plaster can crack and even pull away from the lath. We had this issue in several spots, plus some pretty bad patch jobs, and lots of chipping.
The original texture was really sandy, and the previous attempts at patches were like extra coarse grit sandpaper. I was told this wall texture was created by grinding up walnuts and incorporating them into the plaster mix. The walnut consistency wasn't my ideal surface, but the old house purist in me felt we needed to keep that original texture. Once we determined that the best way to get rid of the smell was to skim coat the walls, I was glad to be able to replace the walnut walls with a smoother finish.
Remember when I mentioned the phenomenon of "well, if we're going to do that, we might as well do this?" Well, I did it again. Since we knew the walls and ceilings were about to earn a beautiful new coating of texture and new paint, it was the perfect time to tear them open. Enter: electrical.
Here's my brief old house electrical 101: Knob and tube wiring is a pretty interesting technology made up of ceramic pieces that route the electrical wire through the walls. However, this type of wiring isn't grounded, and often can't handle modern appliances and electrical needs. This, plus the potential of a fire hazard makes this a feared technology - so much so that many home insurance companies will charge more if your house has even a little bit of this outdated wiring system. Old houses get a pretty bad rap for their old wiring, but many operate with knob and tube just fine. Our house was 90% K&T, with the other 10% being really poorly spliced additions that were more dangerous than the original electrical. The shoddy modifications and the lack of sufficient outlets led us to redo all of the electrical.
Running new electrical through existing walls is some sort of magic trick that electricians humbly do for you. Through their sorcery, they manage to run new wires throughout the entire house and only leave a few holes behind.
Because I'm (sometimes) an old house purist, I knew that if we had to cover up the original plaster, I wanted to be sure that it was recoated with old fashioned plaster. That is until I got bids that cost as much as a Toyota Corolla. So, I changed my tune and decided that a thin coating of drywall mud would suffice.
I called a few old house neighbors to ask them for referrals to retexture all of the walls. A block away lived an older gal named Holly who when asked for a referral replied, "Are you home now? I'll be right over." No more than 12 minutes later Holly was waltzing through my front door with a paper bag full of her preferred drywall tools: a trowel, a taping knife, a mud pan, joint tape, a multipurpose tool, and joint compound. (I'd also recommend a hawk, but it bothers her wrist). Without hesitation, she took the pointy end of her multipurpose tool and carved a gash in the living room wall along the seam of the major crack. She narrated her process of cutting a v-shaped crevice in the line of the crack which would provide more surface area for the new compound to adhere to. She then filled in the crack with joint compound, layered it with joint tape, then smoothed it over with more joint compound.
With the gash in my wall and the tutorial from a woman that restored her house with her own hands, I was inspired and confident that I could retexture the walls on my own. So, I started scraping anything that was lose, and began carving into the cracks.
That multitool (seen above) was a dream. It was able to dislodge any loose pieces and I could carve into the plaster easily. The scraping process was cathartic and I even managed to get a few family members to scrape the walls with me. Thanks, guys! With Holly's confidence in me and that tool, we scraped, and scraped, and scraped until the walls looked like this.
I'd say it's finished - if I were going for a medieval French chateau look.
The process of scraping one whole room was very time-consuming, and my hands were beaten up after scraping against the sandpaper walls. (I know, gloves. Live and learn!) I was losing patience with the scraping and decided to tackle the retexturing process. Since I was just starting out, I kicked off my hours of retexturing in the closet where I could experiment with different techniques without care of how my clothes would judge my inevitable mistakes.
The process is quite simple once you get the hang of the wrist movements. I used Holly's recommended mud pan and a small putty knife to fill the big holes and cracks, then layered them with fiberglass mesh tape to add strength that would prevent cracking again. Once everything was patched, I used a trowel to scrape the walls so I could knock down any high peaks in the texture. Then, I used the joint compound mixed with a touch of water to coat a layer over all surfaces. The idea was to use enough mud to fill in all of the valleys in the texture to bring the recessed portions to the height of the peaks but not so much that you're caking everything with an inch of drywall. I worked in the closets late at night so I lost track of time and the ability to judge the quality of my work, but I'd say it turned out pretty nicely - for a closet.
I really enjoyed working with the drywall mud but I was losing energy. I was retexturing walls while also doing lots of other projects on the must do before move-in list and I wasn't moving as quickly as I hoped. The wall texturing was necessary to complete before the floor refinishing, so I was risking slowing down the progress of the rest of the renovations. So, we hired it out, and I'm so glad we did. It was completed perfectly by the pros, freed up my time to work on other projects, and ensured that all wall surfaces were completely covered up and free of smells.
The crew skim coated everything in a very light skip trowel texture to make the walls almost completely smooth. The ceilings had their fair share of cracks, and due to the horizontal nature of ceilings, they tend to crack perpetually. To prevent this, the ceilings earned fresh pieces of drywall that won't crack or peel.
Once the crew was done, the walls needed to dry out, then they got a healthy coating of primer, then paint. Picking a paint color is always tricky, and white is a particularly easy color to mess up. Take these paint samples below. They all looked white on the swatches, but when compared to each other, their undertones pop and it's easy to see which ones are too blue, pink, and brown.
After the walls got a fresh skim coat of new drywall mud, I started to fancy their new hue and found myself color matching to the drywall color. Thus, we selected the swatch on the far right, Sail Cloth by Behr. With my time freed up not doing the drywall install, I was able to paint all of the ceilings and walls before move in with the help of my mom. Thanks, mom!