Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays

(Or, how to make almost every wrong decision and it still turns out okay.)

A long long long longlonglong time ago, back in the 80s, when we were young and stupid, we built houses for other people who would, presumably, pay us when the houses were finished. There is nothing more fun than to build houses for people who will scream at each other over things like the choice of a tile backsplash, or mediate couples who will end up getting divorced over bronze vs. nickel finishes. I’m not talking about a couple who were obviously in peril before the build started–those, I understood and it broke my heart for them, because you could see the impending doom a mile away that they were blind to. Much much worse were the ones who looked perfectly happy, who seemed to get along in all other areas of life (from what little window we had on them), but who melted down over knobs and countertops. In one four month period, we had three couples divorce, (in the middle of the project), one go bankrupt (and of course, they had chosen the high-end-everything and wore diamonds when they were going swimming), and one guy (wealthy) left the country so he didn’t have to pay (even though he thanked us, because it was the most beautiful house he’d ever had done). Oh, sure, there were probably other things bubbling underneath the surface–at least, I hope we weren’t marriage killers–but for a lot of the couples, their dream homes were just the last straw. It happened so many times, we got out of the house building business and we started pouring concrete. Boring, but nobody stands there screaming about the shade of gray it’s going to be when it dries. (Industrial concrete. You could not pay me enough money to do decorative concrete for a homeowner.)

I’m usually a very decisive person. I don’t dither. I know what I like, pretty much immediately, and I’m good with picking that thing and moving on. My husband is the same way. Luckily, we have very similar tastes, so that decisiveness works.

We had once remodeled our very first home, when we were first married, but lacked the funds and, really, the know-how, to do much more than the basics. And since starting our company and dealing with the fallout of the Construction Wars, we had neatly avoided major remodeling on a home we owned until about four years ago, when wear and tear and a rotting bathroom cabinet forced us to go into the breach and brave those choices. In fact, for years, just the idea of remodeling something in our house made us flinch; a sort of Contractor PTSD. All I can say is thank goodness we didn’t have us as clients all those years ago, because I’d probably be in jail for killing the client.

I dithered, people. There was dithering. It was not pretty.

Mostly, we made some dumb (classic) mistakes that we should have known not to do, which forced us to figure out solutions.

The bathroom project didn’t start out to be a full remodel. After a lot of years of barely scraping by, we were kinda scared to commit to anything more. It started out to be very very simple: I hated the bathroom wallpaper. It was a color that, on its good day, resembled Pepto Bismal-gone-bad, and it hadn’t had good days in thirty years. I meant to get a “before” photo, but once my husband said, “Well, sure, I don’t care if you paint,” the room looked like this about five seconds later:

house bathroom #2


That middle doorway there opens onto this:


house bathroom #1



And as seen from standing in that corner, facing the doorway:


house bathroom #4



I may have gotten a wee bit carried away.

There were other things I loathed in that bathroom, like the faucets and the poured-marble countertop. Now, some poured marble is really pretty, and it’s a low cost alternative to Corian or real marble, and can look really great. This stuff was yellowed and stained and looked like pee. Not an attractive thing to have on your sink. And the faucets were so ugly, I used to mentally swear at the previous owners that they must’ve gone to the Ugly Store and bought the biggest selling item. These faucets had dragons inlaid into the brass… with all the scales and wings… and while I love dragons as much as the next nerd, cleaning those damned scales and wings of toothpaste from the kids or just water stains and dust was a pain in the butt. I also kept eyeballing that overhead fluorescent light, (and is there anything that makes you look worse?), and I wanted it gone. I wanted the box that contained the light gone, because the box only had a grate up there instead of a lens, which meant… flies or mosquitoes would get up in there and it was a pain to keep clean. But to take that box out would mean completely re-doing the molding because no one sold that exact molding anymore. They sold something really close–close enough that you could not just look at it and easily see the difference, but trying to match it during installation would be a nightmare.

I had reconciled myself to none of that changing.

Then our youngest son came home, and on passing through the house, noted the wallpaper was down and said, “What are you doing?”


“Just the walls?”

“Probably the cabinets, too.” My husband was going to repair the rotted part, and I would have to paint, since it wasn’t likely that we’d easily match the new to the old.

“Really? You know there’s enough room in here for two sinks, if you rearranged things.”

I measured and damned if he wasn’t right.

“While you’re at it,” he said, “you might as well do it; you’d add a lot more value to the house to have two sinks in here instead of one.”

That’s when we started thinking and dithering and trying to decide what to do. It took a while to make up our minds that the project was worth the aggravation, and right off the bat, I realized that in removing the wallpaper, some of the sheetrock’s surface layer had come off, and instead of just being able to prime and paint, the entire room would need to be re-floated and sanded smooth again, because it was pretty hideous. No way to hide the rough (fuzzy) surface with paint.

We had to decide on what sort of look we were going for (something classic that would fit in with this Acadian-styled house, a little old-world), and a color palette (mostly black-and-white with a pop of color on the walls), and then specifics, like the type of tile for the floor, the shower, and yes, the dreaded backsplash. We made several mistakes, even as “pros”… and in two of the cases, the mistakes ended up forcing us to come up with a design solution that we ended up loving so much, we’re incorporating them into the new place we’re building.

Since this blog is already so long, I’ll put the “After” photos up next Thursday. (Normally, I’ll be here once a month.) But here’s a sneak peak:

house bathroom #15


See ya next Thursday, where I show you the mistakes (“You know… a plan would’ve been nice.” “Would you have agreed if we had had a plan and a budget in the beginning?” “Probably not.” “I rest my case.”), the good things that happened as a result, and talk practical solutions and what to look out for…

Meanwhile, what project (house or personal) in your life that you really really want to have accomplished, but you’ve been holding back on starting it because you’re afraid, or you’ve been burned enough in the past, that starting it just makes you wonder if you’re a glutton for punishment? What’s one baby step you can take toward getting started?


131 thoughts on “Toni: Reconstruction Thursdays

  1. jinx says:

    Oh my gosh, yes! Projects and serendipitous successes based on hair-tearing obstacles! I love topics like this. Go, Toni!

  2. Barbara says:

    My father was a contractor. He claimed the most expensive words in the language were “while you’re at it.”

  3. How cool that you’re starting this blog just as I’m in the throes of a total renovation of the downstairs of my house! It’s been 30 years and the time had come. To be honest, my vote was to move, but Husband is very attached to this house and this area–we live on an acre and a quarter of the old Reinhardt family farm. His cousin lives across the road–we’re embedded. So, I asked him to compromise–if I agree to stay here with you until we carry you out in a box, will you agree to revamping and updating? He agreed and here we are. Things are coming along great, I adore my contractor ( and the workers are fabulous. It’s going so fast I’m completely overwhelmed…and bonus, Husband loves it too and is living in the mess with graciousness and patience.

  4. I can’t believe you are making us wait for the after photos! Wow on the one sneak preview – can’t wait to see the rest. 🙂

    We have a bathroom that will need updating in the next few years. I don’t hate it but it’s just getting dated and the cleaning of certain parts of it, like those dragons, is not going to be something I want to do for years on end. I’m not sure I can stand to contract it out though – the thought of strangers in my house makes me sick, and the mess that is made when renovating makes me crazy. My brother did tile for me in our old house and he organized it so that he did it in a very short time, and he cleaned up as he went. Even then I was a mess. Though I’m reading Nan’s comment above and thinking maybe I’m catastrophizing how bad it might be. 🙂

  5. Danielle says:

    Oh my Lord, you are not kidding, Toni. As a designer, I have witnessed more stupid finish-related meltdowns than I care to recall.

    My first boss (an astute Architect) told me during the first week on the job that a designer/architect/builder must be, in addition to being an expert in their respective field, a marriage counsellor. He said that people struggling in their marriage will often do one of two things in order to get it back on track (both of which fall under the heading of STUPID IDEAS, by the way):

    1. Have a kid.
    2. Build a house.

    So far, he has been proven right. At this point, I think I’m entitled to an honourary degree in counselling.

  6. Man, you are not kidding. And we were in our twenties when we started building houses… young, married, and dumb as rocks. We had no clue how to mediate and help people through the process (other than listening… I did a lot of listening).

  7. Well… it can be a real mess. And a pain. And take longer than anyone planned due to mishaps. That’s just a part of the process, and I say this even though we were doing much of it ourselves and so controlled the mess as much as possible.

    When we ended up doing the rest of this house (stuff I’ll show on Reconstruction Thursdays), we had to hire a sub to handle it because Carl was so busy, he couldn’t do the bulk of it this time. And the guy was a friend, was good, was pretty organized, and even so, there were messes that made me want to hunt him down a few times and strangle him. However, we got a great end result that increased the value of the house, which is what we really needed.

    Maybe think of it as a life lesson? 🙂

  8. My sister spent 25 years as a kitchen and bath designer. I know exactly what you are talking about! (Now she is just selling kitchen and plumbing supplies and is a lot less stressed.) And I redid my entire kitchen when I moved into my house 11 years ago (if I posted before and after pictures, you’d see why–no countertops at all, and only 4 white metal cabinets on the walls). The house that was freshly painted, in its entirety…(wait for it)…pepto bismol pink. You woulda loved it 🙂 [Needless to say, I repainted it all a lovely cream before I ever moved a stick of furniture in.]

    I decided years ago to replace my faucets in the bathroom because there was a drip (which I could have fixed with a new .50 cent washer) and they were ugly. I got a handyman guy friend to help me. When we removed the faucets, we discovered that the new ones didn’t fit in the sink base, because they’d apparently changed the standard size. So I bought a new sink. The we disconnected the pipes underneath the sink, and they all broke. So I replaced the pipes. By the time I was done, I’d replaced everything except the wooden box surround. ten years later, the faucets have peeled and can’t be cleaned well, and I keep eying them and thinking…

    And when I redid the kitchen, I had an electrician who kept saying, “All ya gotta do is…” A month into the project, every time he said it, the contractor and the plumber and I all winced.

    I am clearing and throwing out stuff, and I had planned on that being my only project this year. But now I have an infestation of rats in my unfinished basement (and the walls of my house) and it has become unpleasantly clear that I am going to have to spend some serious time and money rehabbing that space. *headdesk*

    Welcome to the blog, Toni! And not for nothing, but I just bought a copy of your book (Bobbie Faye’s Very, very very very Bad Day) on the recommendation of one of the Betties. Sierra, I think. And it looks FAB!

  9. Oh, honey, I live in a half done project. My new porch is going on the third year, because all home improvement around here happens between when we ship the calves in the fall and when we start calving again in February. Whatever point the project is at when that first calf hits the ground is where it will remain for the next eight months. Which is why I have a mostly finished porch and a brand new washer and dryer that we bought at a President’s Day sale and still haven’t picked up from the store because they have to be plumbed in. I also have a picture window for my living room that’s been sitting in the half finished porch for over a year.

    Ah, well. Maybe this fall.

  10. Oh, I LOVE this. Somebody who knows what she’s doing.
    And I don’t have to wait to see the result because I have a back stage pass, so I can tell you Toni’s bathroom turned out beautifully.

  11. Lola says:

    A friend of mine was doing a complete remodeling her huge master bathroom and for the sink she bought the most beautiful antique dresser you’ve ever seen. Like King Louis XVI Neoclassical style. Very fancy smancy. Not at all practical but she wanted a certain look and for it to be the show piece of the whole room. So then, she had to leave for the day while the contractor installed the plain, white, no-frills toilet and all the water lines too. I don’t know if no one told him where it was suppose to go but he must of thought the dresser was so beautiful that whoever would be sitting on that toilet needed a full view of it. He installed it directly in front of that Louis. Not only did it block the view of the faux-Louis but the toilet was practically in the middle of the room, like the royal throne.

  12. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    We bought an old house and worked really hard, learning as we went because neither of us had had any training in any kind of construction, we were young, and we could afford the house as a starter home.

    When we moved into our new house 13 years ago, it was 5 years old and we were less than two months away from baby number 3. At that time, it had the cheap builder paint on the drywall, a cold white, and gray carpet. In the middle of February in Northern Illinois, it was all I could do to not dig a hole and give up.

    We finally managed to get the downstairs painted (two rooms are yellow and neither of them work…) but we still have yet to get the upstairs painted, aside from the kids rooms.

    And, I still have to re-hang pictures from the downstairs painting job, but I think that’s because I really want to undo the yellows that don’t work.

    How to get started? I have NO Idea.

  13. Yellow is really really tricky. I went through three shades before I found the right one for the kitchen (which was 14 years ago… that kitchen is now a pale green). But I loved that yellow. It went great with everything around it, and looked good at all times of day or evening light. Many yellows do not do this, so it’s likely just the shade/tone that’s fighting you.

    I opted for an earthy yellow… I’d started off with a beautiful pale yellow (much like the background color of this site) and I LOVED it… until evening, and then it turned a sort of sickly green in the evening light. It also made the colors around it fail.

    Yellows can have undertones of peach, or gold, or green, or blue, or brown. You have to look at the “family” of yellows where you found the color–all the shades around it on those little cards… and see where they’re leading to when they lead to the darkest color on the card. If it’s going toward peach, you’re going to have an entirely different effect than if it’s headed toward a blue-ish yellow.

    Gauging that yellow against the colors around it boils down to “family” issues. Keep all the colors in the same underlying “family” and they should (not always, but should) work together. So if you have a lot of greens, for example, you’d want an earthier yellow, in the brown family, and not a peachier yellow or a blue-yellow.

    Not sure if that helps.

  14. Redwood Kim says:

    We have been broke for so long, there is a huge backlog of projects. (Hey, we still own the house. That right there is the main thing. It was touch and go for a while.) The dishwasher hasn’t worked properly for 3 years – that’s first. The washing machine could stand to be replaced, too. After that, we can get to the fun stuff. Although we are in desperate need of a new bathroom faucet. No dragons, got it.
    After that :hardwood(isn) floors for the dining room and hallway (kid you not, white shag carpeting in the dining room. One dog and two toddlers later – just gross;) redo the front bath; redo the master bath Then we get into dream territory – new kitchen cabinets, new decking, an extension.

  15. Have you SEEN my house. I live in the ugliest run down 200 year old Farmhouse in all of Vermont. I recently redid the Pantry/Laundry – partially to fill the holes so the mice couldn’t get in there anymore, but mostly it was just disgusting.

    I started repainting the outside two years ago, wrecked my shoulders doing it, and now the house is Half painted. The lower have I could reach. Oh and the one side of the house we had re-sided. (Long Story). The re-done kitchen my MIL spearheaded is a nightmare. None of the ground floor rooms have level floors.

    The laminate I put down in the living room has huge cracks in the seems because of the dips… I told my husband we should have had the house leveled before we started… But we are one of those couples you can see a mile away. We will never agree with anything having to do with money. Or taste!

    Well I could go on FOREVER. Right now I want to convert one of our out buildings to an apartment for me, but I’m flat broke and can only do so much by myself. Although I do think I’l make my daughter a bed frame this summer.

    I love making things but don’t have all the right tools, or muscles…

    So many things I’d like to do!

  16. My house is one giant project. It wasn’t when I bought it, other than paint. I hired a friend of a friend to paint before we moved in and he did a HORRIBLE job on the downstairs. Together with my rather horrible job on the upstairs, the whole house needs professionals.

    Then 2012 was the year of the water curse. In Jan or Feb the hot water heater drain got turned on in the middle of the night. There is still no explanation for this. No idea how long it was on, but it fed gallons and gallons of water into my living room. So that carpet had to go.

    Then in late July and August, the pipe under the house got clogged, sending water pouring out from under the half bath toilet. A few weeks later, the AC drain got clogged sending water under my kitchen floor. So there went the flooring in the entry, kitchen, and bath.

    We now have concrete floors throughout the downstairs with area rugs everywhere. I did buy tile for the kitchen and then my tile guy ditched me. (I had NOT paid him a penny.) Since there’s no money for anything, we’re just dealing with it.

    It’s sucking the life out of me, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. However, when I do have the money, reno will begin!

  17. Tara says:

    Wow! This is perfect timing. We just redid our bathroom (nothing as extensive os yours) all we were able to do was strip the wallpaper, paint and replace the vanity top, but it looks so much better. Our hold up is not my husband or myself, but my father in law.. We live with him in my husbands childhood home, which my mother in law decorated in the early 90’s. (she passed in 98)Now don’t get me wrong it’s not bad, it’s just getting dated and a little grungy from time & kids, it’s also not our style. BUT my father in law is one of those “if it’s not broke don’t fix/upgrade/improve it” people.
    In short we have to slowly convince him to change things. That or we just do what we want & deal with his comments on it. Next project is the upstairs hall…

  18. This post reminds me how lucky hubby & I were when we had our current house worked on. We had only a few weeks to get the work done before we moved in and just over a month lead time to get everything in place before work began. Including choosing all our finishes & materials and finding help to get everything done.

    And we were doing a lot–new porcelain tile floors on two levels of the house (involved carpet removal & new subfloors added); granite counters in kitchen; unfinished storage space finished and opened up to master bedroom; some windows replaced; wall paper removed and two levels repainted (and wallpaper was everywhere, even inside cupboards and built-ins); outlets moved; panelling removed; new drywall in several rooms; kitchen cupboard torn out and supports added for counter above; doors fixed & cat door added to inside door. Sure I’m leaving stuff out, too. But it was synchronized and ALL done in about three weeks. Miraculously. Hubby & son helped out with some painting but the rest was done by a local contractor (unknown to us at the time but now our go-to guy) & his crew, some expert tile installers (artists really & magicians since they had to work with our slanted floors), and counter installers.

    And now we’ve started tackling one of our lower levels and have just done some repainting and decorating. And we’re still married.

    Reading your experiences with couples, I’m thinking maybe hubby and I need to put up a plaque when we’re done that says: No blood or tears were shed in the creating of this home;)

  19. MC says:

    Serendipity. Renovating my kitchen right now as we had to get rid of the ugliest tile floor known to mankind that was literally killing my back and fix a layout built for a single cook into one that works for a family of five. Gutted last Monday and Tuesday, electric on Wednesday, plumbing on Thursday, drywall on Saturday, new hardwood in on Tuesday, prime and paint yesterday and today and cabinets are being delivered this morning to be installed in the next few days. I’m running a tight ship managing all the contractors more or less on my own. biggest disagreement my husband and I had was on paint color so we went to a color specialist, explained what we wanted, she picked out three shades and we agreed on the one we wanted. Nothing says togetherness like a hubby who will wash dishes in the bathroom sink at 530 am before work 🙂

  20. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    It does, and I cam see why they aren’t working now that you’ve explained it. I ended up using an apple green on an accent wall with a warm yellow in the kitchen, and a pale shade of the apple in the adjoining room. There is a second yellow in the entryway and living room, which is blue-er, but it doesn’t warm my heart, and it doesn’t go with the kitchen yellow, which is a nice yellow, but doesn’t go with anything else. At this point, I’d like to scrap all the yellows and paint the kitchen a pale apple and the living room anything else – maybe a blue since it faces west and can handle that. I guess the thing I need to do the most is to figure out which is my favorite, and correct around that. And talking with you has helped. I like the kitchen yellow on it’s own, but I look at all the other things I love, and I like the blue and green shades more. So Thanks! 🙂

    I think the thing that stalls me most is that it is so long between doing anything, I’m afraid to make a mistake, and that prolongs the process. I think it can be similar for a lot of people doing artistic things – the time element adds more pressure to not mess up, which leads to procrastination, which builds up the process into something undoable.

  21. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    OH Terri,

    I’ve lived through several different water damage issues. I feel for you! Hang in there!

  22. patndixie says:

    Love this addition to ReFab! I’ve only commented once or twice, but hopefully, there are no dumb questions. We have talked about adding onto our house since we moved in 14 years ago. We know the best place to put an addition is off the back of the house. We know what we want (bedroom, bath, and will have to remove the back porch but incorporate the laundry area and back entry in the new space), but have no clue how to configure it. Do you recommend going to an architect (that sounds awfully expensive) or are contractors sometimes able to help with planning? I’ve asked around our area, and am told contractors can sometimes handle it, but nobody can give me any names. Any suggestions?

  23. I went through three pale yellows before I found the right one for the living room and that was just an accent wall. Yellows are very tricky. OTOH, I just painted the door to my future master suite taxi-cab yellow. After I’d bought three cans of various shades of a gorgeous earthy yellow that was just wrong for the door. I think yellow is the most difficult color to get right.

    The next time Lani comes down, I’m giving her five quarts of yellow paint. She loves yellow.

  24. The thing I love about paint is that it’s always fixable. You put in the wrong tile, it’s gonna cost you to replace that. You paint a room the wrong color and thirty bucks later everything is fine.

  25. Office Wench Cherry says:

    Tall Boy and I reno’d the main floor of our first home after living with the hideous dusty rose carpet, the orange oak cabinets and builder’s grade everything. We did almost all of the work ourselves (we had people come in to finish the flooring and install the kitchen counter), bought everything on sale and I planned everything to within an inch of my life. I brought the kitchen – and we replaced all the major appliances including the stove I wanted – in for less than my $12,000.00 budget thanks to floor models and waiting on sales. And thanks to our neighbor who let us store some things in her garage. It took over a year from when I first got mad and started ripping up carpet to when we we 99% done. The kitchen was never completely done because I couldn’t decide on a backsplash – but it was painted, not like the house now.

    And then we moved.

    And we bought the house (truthfully) neither of us liked best because A)we could get it at a better price and B) Tall Boy thought I liked it better and since I was moving because of him he was going to give me the house he thought I liked best and C) the rooms in the other house were so small I’d have taken a sledgehammer to the walls in about a week.

    Now we’re slowly working on it. Replacing trim, putting in a new kitchen (ha! new kitchen! all that was there before was one run of counter with about 8′ of usuable space and some cabinets. The corner cabinets were virtually useless because with the fridge and dishwasher in the way you couldn’t really open the doors) painting and working on the upstairs bathroom. Regardless of what my husband will tell you, we are not touching the upstairs full bath until after the new three piece in the basement is finished.

    And I’m making all the planning/decorating/design decisions because it’s just easier that way.

  26. Cindy says:

    Yellow is very tricky indeed. About 5 years ago we painted our kitchen a pale yellow. It was supposed to be a soft, pale yellow, but with all the white cabinets, and the fluorescent lighting, it looked like those bright yellow road hazard signs on the highway. That paint could not get covered up fast enough!

  27. Fabulous information here, Toni. Welcome to the blog and to Thursdays. : )Wish I had some money, and time, to make a few changes here. Next year, maybe. I’ll start small, with the powder room. ; )

  28. Cindy says:

    We have 2 bathrooms and a kitchen to tackle. I hate our vinyl floor in those rooms, i despise our laminate cabinets. The sink in my kitchen fits about 2 cups and 2 dishes. I would love to replace the tile countertop in the kitchen and the poured marble countertop in the bathrooms with granite. And lastly I’d love to just replace the tubs in the bathrooms. And the sinks and faucets in the bathrooms, well, you get the point. But the thought of the expense of those projects makes me want to hide in fear.

  29. Office Wench Cherry says:

    I love yellow kitchens, Tall Boy hates yellow but he graciously put up with me trying three or four yellows in our kitchen in the old house. I didn’t realize how violent his hatred of yellow was until he walked into the master bedroom of our new house and said “This has got to go” about the custard colour on the walls. They are now a colour called Burnt Pumpkin. It’s gorgeous but it took him about three gallons of paint to get it even and deep.

  30. Office Wench Cherry says:

    If you want the look of granite without actually buying stone, check out Formica’s 180FX. People who don’t know think my counters are stone. Heck, there are days I think they are stone. In this house I have Dolce Vita and in the last house it was Blue Storm. Love, love, love it. I’ve never seen either stone in person but I saw a high end house with Blue Storm counters on a real estate show and mine looked just as good.

  31. Carol says:

    I know that color Pepto-Bismal pink, when we bought this house the master bedroom was painted “shudder” pink with the most gawd-awful wallpaper with pink things all over it. We lived with it for a year because young, no money, couldn’t make up our minds over the carpet. We had a lot of teak furniture and Picasso prints which did not go with Pepto Pink.

  32. nightsmusic says:

    We built our home about 12 years ago now. My husband left everything up to me so there was no fighting, no do you/don’t you on color or carpet or paint or fixtures or anything else. He left it all up to me because, three years before, we remodeled our kitchen at our previous house and although I drew everything out, measured, brought home colors and swatches and what-have-you, he still did a few things on his own. Each one was a disaster. Not as big a disaster as what we were replacing (orange formica countertops, a brown/green/yellow mosaic linoleum and a coat closet that wasn’t wide enough to hold a normal width (shoulder to shoulder) size) but still, a few disasters.

    It wasn’t the arguing that ensued. It was the cost to fix things. When we were done, had we had more before photos, it would have been a featured kitchen in BH&G, but we learned our lesson.

    I did ask if he liked this or that while we were building, but ultimately, the house was my decision, the 24 X 36 heated/AC pole barn with running water, was his. Because I told him, if he got too involved in trying to override me again on things in the house, he could put a bed in the barn. It all worked out 😉

  33. Toni & Deborah (and maybe Deborah’s sister),
    I am so glad you’re both here. I need someone to tell me if I’m crazy for wanting to move my kitchen.
    Here’s the deal: small kitchen, not nearly enough counter space, small old sunroom converted into space we’re using as a family room (all before we moved in)
    My kitchen, I swear, has green cabinets, orange countertops and bright yellow walls, in addition to being too small. Even my cheap husband agrees we need a new kitchen. And a bigger family room.
    Contractors came and said, add on a family room, expand kitchen into existing family room and have new eat-in area ink part of old family room space. Roughly 300 new square feet of space. Huge price tag, without renovating and expanding the kitchen.
    But we have a beautiful, big living room with a gorgeous view out a picture window that we don’t use. I want to enjoy that view. So I think, why not move the kitchen there, free up space for existing family room to be much bigger. Add no space. Surely that has to be cheaper — moving kitchen, instead of adding all new space for family room. Plus, I spend my money getting a new kitchen, not just a new family room.
    Am I crazy?
    When I ask, people cringe at the cost of moving a kitchen. If it helps, kitchen is on far side of the house. New kitchen space is closer to electrical box and where plumbing goes to the street. On the other side of one wall of new kitchen is a bathroom, so plumbing is right there.

  34. Been there, done that, long ago. Arrived at house we were buying (when nearly finished being built) and the hideous yellow was shining through the windows, practically lighting up the neighborhood. Before I’d even parked the car, I thought, “OMG, what have I done?”

  35. Jessie says:

    There are so many of us living with housing disasters.

    I live in an 88 year old Spanish revival house with stucco exterior and no eaves in a rainy climate (not a good choice) but the one thing everyone says about it is “Wow. Curb appeal!!” And for the last 30 years it has been one continual project. Some of this is necessity (what do you mean there are only 2 plug-ins. This room is 20 x 14. I need to be able to plug in lights. ) but some of it is my husband the engineer who said this place needs earthquake tie-downs on the foundation (that one got done right away) and oh by the way, we need to install footings on the west side of the house, it doesn’t have any and the house is on a hillside.

    We have in this time period stripped the woodwork in the entire house because it turned out to be gumwood under all that paint and repapered, rewired and re-plumbed the main bath which is original to the house. Replaced and rebuild the roof, rewired, tiled, refinished floors, put a new foundation on one side of the house, re-plaster the old lathe and plaster walls, rebuilt and replaced windows and the list goes on. And most of it we did ourselves while living with the mess.

    As part of an update on the plumbing of that bath, we had to rip out a section of the kitchen ceiling so for 3 years now I have had a big hole in my kitchen ceiling and one wall torn open. I have top-of-the-line kitchen appliances, a 60 year old disaster of a kitchen and a hole in my ceiling. Right now I have scaled back my expectations (no ripping out walls and remodeling the kitchen and the breakfast room into one large room, which would be expensive and difficult) but perhaps repairing the kitchen ceiling and getting new cabinets and replacing the vinyl floor that 30 years ago we promised ourselves would be the first thing to go.

    We once build a new house because I was tired of living with housing projects but we ended up having to finish it ourselves because our contractor went belly-up and did his best to take us with him. And I thought when we moved here there would be no more projects in my future. But I have since decided that we are unable to leave well-enough alone and we will always have something under construction.

    And on that depressing note, I shall go take my morning walk and look around our neighborhood, which is truly beautiful with large old trees and and beautifully maintained old houses with almost perfect yards and lawns in full spring flowering glory and remember that despite the disasters in my house, this is a wonderful place to live.

  36. Toni,
    My father worked in commercial construction his whole life, and I always tell people I grew up in sawdust. Because he spent my childhood renovating and adding onto our tiny box of a house. I was chief carpenter’s helper to the whole thing. We redid everything. Put in two bedrooms in the attic, added a carport, then turned carport into a kitchen. Added master bedroom and bath and closet. Then put field stone around the whole thing. Those are just the highlights.
    When I say field stone, I mean, we went out into fields and picked up stone until we had enough. Hardest job we ever did.
    He and mom have built two houses from the ground up and even with all his experience, they ran into mistakes. The first plan they bought from a commercial home site claimed the house was 1800 square feet or so, and they kept thinking… Wow, that looks big. But they trusted the plan. Acted as contractors themselves and hired out much of the work, because Daddy was older then.
    They went to dig out the crawlspace and had to go so deep to get… whatever they needed, they ended up putting in a full basement, so… okay, they’d have about 2700 square feet, bigger than they wanted, but okay.
    Only later did they realize the plans calculated the wrong square footage and with the basement, they ended up with 3500 square feet!

  37. The last house I owned was a bank repo and the previous owners had trashed it up a bit before leaving. Plus, no one had put the right stuff behind the bathroom tile, so it was rotted out to the exterior joists. When my contractor friend had removed everything, the bathroom looked like a meteor had hit it! Plus, I had to remove all the carpeting, replace several windows, replace some of the small room heaters, and turn my fireplace into a furnace-rated gas fireplace because there was no room for a whole-house furnace (the fireplace pretty much heated the whole house). I did the tile work around the shower and the floor in the “sun room”. My mom and I painted (I chose a bunch of different colors of greens and yellows and painted them in strips on the walls in the different rooms to see how they looked in different light). I designed the bathroom and painted it. I helped put in a couple of the windows. I put in some of the laminate flooring with the help of friends. I lived in the house once there was a working toilet and sink. It was fun, it was difficult, and I am still so proud of what I did there. I would definitely do some of it again. Of course, I only had to please myself, so there was no fighting/disagreeing with a partner!

    Toni, I look forward to the rest of your pictures! I love remodeling stories and pictures!

  38. Carol says:

    I live in a 77-year-old Spanish bungalow, which had an original 30s bathroom with ugly tile, and a kitchen with a bad 70s remodel. Bad 70s remodel included avocado green paneling not only on the walls, but covering the cabinets. When we moved in we just painted everything white. A few years later we took down all the paneling, including on the cabinets, and discovered the original 30s cabinets underneath, so we had new doors and drawer fronts made (the originals had been replaced with paneling), and discovered that underneath the painted tile (not by us!) was the original tile (pretty) from the 30s, including a gorgeous fully tiled stove nook.

    Fast forward a few years, and we decide to move the laundry room and turn that space into a half bath, which went relatively smoothly, so then we decided to gut the kitchen, but we didn’t want to touch the stove nook, so our contractor found us a place that duplicated old tile, and they took ours on. Yellow. In a glaze that can’t be duplicated these days because of lead laws. We signed a contract that said they would make 6 attempts to duplicate, and we’d pick the best. Well, our guy wound up taking it on as a challenge, and wound up doing about 30 different ones of the course of a few weeks – he’d call every morning and say, “I think this one’s close” until he had it right. Today, no one can tell which is old tile and which is new, which pleases me greatly.

    Then the shower pan gave out in the big bathroom, and there was no way we were going to duplicate the ugly tile, so that became a full gut as well. We found beautiful Malibu-style tiles, and the bathroom looks like it should have in the 30s, except for the very modern Toto toilet (with a remote!) that we splurged on after our trip to Japan, because we were inspired.

    And through it all we’ve stayed married.

  39. Deborah — first, I am cracking up on the pipes for the kitchen. That reminds me of something I did that was such a disaster (I plead pregnancy brain)… I’ll have to blog that one on a future Thursday.

    On the mice… we ended up having a problem with field mice coming into our house while we were out of town. Turned out, the sub-contractor forgot to put the dryer vent in, so it was free range. I *freaked* out the first night back home and, after catching four in a row, told I was out of there until he fixed it.

    He figured out where they were coming in, so that solved it, but he also bought these electrical zapper things which chases them out. Best to use them while they *have* a way out, but it can get rid of them pretty fast:

    You have to be sure that the rats have a way out, but they won’t be able to stand these. It’s worth putting in two or three of them, and, if you can leave the house when you do it, leave. Give them a day to be gone. I think you’ll see a significant decrease, and then you can safely start blocking however it is that they’re coming in.

    These worked extremely well for us. You mileage may vary. 🙂

    (And thanks for the book buy! I hope you enjoy it. Beware that that first book was renamed by the publisher and re-released, so it’s new name is Charmed and Dangerous.)

  40. Just had the “yellow” discussion with my contractor. The yellow I picked for the venetian glaze base coat for my kitchen looks too frosty to me. However, Tim promises that he’ll make it look exactly right when he puts on the glaze…I’ve trusted him so far and it hasn’t bitten me in the butt. I’m going to trust him on this one…I’m going for Tuscany, Provence, not Miami…hold a good thought!

  41. Where are you? I love my guy and he’s helped with color choices and planning. If you’re central Indiana, I’ve got a guy… 😉

  42. LOL. Yep. I don’t have calving to blame, but when we land a big job, if Carl was in the middle of something, like, oh, say, fixing the garage, it might sit like that for another two years because he’s not going to go out there and work on it on the one day a week he has home. I can’t really blame him for that. It does tend to drive me batshit, though, and I’ve gotten pretty good at doing most of the stuff myself, like floating/sanding sheetrock, some minor tile work, minor trim, etc., and painting. He loathes painting. Usually, if I volunteer for that part, he’ll finish the other part pretty fast.

  43. Oh crap…I just realized Patndixie means you’re probably somewhere south of the Mason/Dixon line, right? Duh!!

  44. Lola, that cracks me up. That beats the time I saw a guy take one of those fancy pieces of furniture and, instead of just explaining to the homeowner that what she bought was too tall, just whacked off the legs and stuck the fancy (curved) piece on a plain plywood base. Luckily, it wasn’t us/our subs, because honestly, I thought she was going to kill him when she saw it.

  45. This is a good point… I will blog one of the Thursdays on how to go about picking out paint so that you know if it’s what you want. There are a few good tricks to that.

    But mostly, what Jenny said below–paint is cheap, and easy to fix. And really, even professionals end up having to re-think colors, because what looks great in the store and terrific in the daylight hours when they’re on site… can look horrible at night, just because of the way the light slants in and what’s reflecting on that color. So don’t worry about mistakes at that level–tile, sure, that’s expensive, but changing colors is pretty cheap and easy to do. When you get the right combination, you’re gonna love it, and it’ll inspire you for other stuff around those rooms.

  46. We just had this problem in our master bedroom. The yellow in there is incredibly soft (softer than this wallpaper background on the site), and yet… when the lights were on, it looked harsh/banana-neon yellow. Ticked me off, because it was the lights, not the paint color causing the problem. Unfortunately, the stupid light fixture I’d bought at the time had these stupid new-fangled bulbs that only came in “soft white”… but last year, they finally came out with new bulbs, a “daylight” and when we switched bulbs, it solved the problem. If that hadn’t solved it, I was going to replace that damned light, because I loved the wall color.

  47. Our first house was a hideous disaster. Absolutely everything that could be wrong with it, was wrong. We bought it because it was across the street from my husband’s grandmother, whom I absolutely adored, and she was going to help babysit our first son. We were so young (20 and 23), and thought all those fixes would be “easy”. I cannot tell you how many tears I shed over all of the things we’d never ever be able to get fixed in that house.

  48. KellyR says:

    patndixie try Angies list. It is a subscription service, but totally worth it. Only consumer reviews, contractors and other service providers can’t pay to have reviews done. I love it!

  49. Water damage is the worst. It gets in everything, everywhere, and the repairs are like dominoes… they just never stop. My heart goes out to you for this! But you’ve done a brilliant job solving the problems thus far, so give yourself some kudos there. The rest will get done. I had to keep telling myself (when I was just absolutely sick of the house), “It’s not a race. It’s not a race. It’s not a race.” 🙂

  50. Plaque, hell. Y’all need Gold Medals. And your photo as evidence for every contractor out there that it can be a positive experience! 🙂

  51. No, there are no dumb questions in construction. In fact, the more questions, the better, because then there’s little chance of confusion or miscommunication.

    There are a lot of contractors who will help you figure out what will work, design-wise. Some will advertise themselves as design-build (which means that they–or a partner–is either an architect, or a good draftsman with enough years experience to handle typical house design issues). Others won’t bother to advertise that, but they may have so much experience in doing design, they’re better than hiring an architect.

    Architects are, typically, fairly expensive. They can sometimes save you money (show you things that you or a contractor may not have thought of which makes the space better/more efficient), but they may not. I’ve dealt with architects who thought they were all that and a bag of chips, and they were, to put it bluntly, idiots, not worth the paper they drew the plans on. I’ve dealt with others who were brilliant and who saved their clients a lot of heartache.

    I typically recommend architects for ground-up type of builds, or major renovations. Smaller add-ons, a contractor may be able to do more for you, but you definitely want to find one who will *draw up the plans* and let you see what you’re getting ahead of time. Don’t just go off of verbal discussions. Most CAD (computer aided design) programs are easy to use and if the contractor is so small that he isn’t familiar with how to use one or won’t draw one up himself and refuses to give you a set of plans, then move on and find someone else. If you’re adding onto a house, you’ll need some definite knowledge in making sure those load bearing exterior walls–which will now be interior walls when you expand beyond that footprint–are handled correctly. As well as the electrical load / number of breakers needed, whether or not your A/C can handle the extra square footage, etc.

    Most contractors can do this… but not all.

    As for where to find them… every state has a Home Builders Association. Ask them for a list of contractors who handle your area. That’ll give you a master list. If you don’t know anyone in your area who has had work done that you can ask if they liked their contractor, this is a good way to get a good list. Then call the contractors on the list up–talk to them about how many clients they typically handle a month. How do they like to work? Do they draw up plans or expect you to have them already? [And I suggest working from this list because if a contractor is not in good-standing… if they haven’t been paying their bills and/or their are liens against the properties where he’s been working, he will be taken off this list until he fixes his problems and makes the Association happy.]

    Do not, under any circumstances, fail to ask for referrals. EVERY good contractor expects you to ask. They will have clients who won’t mind showing you their work (clients often like to show off their new stuff, anyway). Beware the contractor who won’t give you referrals OR, whose referrals are more than a year old. Because… what was he doing this last year? pissing someone off?

    ASK TO SEE HIS CURRENT JOB SITE. You’ll see a work-in-progress, and this will tell you if he’s organized, if he hires good sub-contractors, if the owner is pleased with the progress or not. If he refuses to tell you this, to me, this is a giant red flag.

  52. This is a really good suggestion. There are also ways around some of the costs — as Office Wench Cherry above pointed out. Look for sales, and then at those sales, look at the floor models. Sometimes, you can get those lower than even the sale price. Also, don’t forget ebay. I have seen people who were in the middle of a remodel decide to not finish–maybe due to a divorce or health issue… and they have the appliances and want to unload them. You can often find something you really like, a lot cheaper. You won’t get the warranty, but if it’s new or close to new, the difference in price can be so good, it’s worth it.

    Also, don’t bite off anything big. Pick the smallest project of all, and do that, first. You’ll kinda get the hang of what you can and cannot do on your own, and the next project won’t be so intimidating.

  53. Oh, the earthquake tie-downs and that footing really was smart to do (which you know). We are doing a big remodel in the Quarter right now, and one of the things my husband has been extremely anal about is hurricane reinforcement and tie-downs for the rooftop addition. Lots and lots of overkill there, but it’s making him happy and I just ignore it, because pretty soon, I can do the fun stuff.

    But yeah, I’ve lived in the middle of projects (sometimes for years) because we got started and never had the time/money to get finished right then. Drives you nuts. But if you love the neighborhood, and you know you’re improving the property (eventually), it’s all good. Maybe a little slow, but good.

  54. Wow, it sounds like you did great! And isn’t it cool to look back on that and see what you accomplished? Every time I feel like I can’t do something, I think of some project we did that should never have worked out, except that it did. Keeps me going some days.

  55. Maryanne says:

    My dad liked to remodel the house, too. Teresa. Give him a sledge hammer and he was a happy man. I spent my formative years wiping drywall dust off everything and watching my mom wash dishes in the bath tub. But I have to say, everything Dad did came out awesome.

    My hubby’s handy, it just takes us forever to finish anything.

  56. I love stories like your tile guy. People like that are worth their weight in gold, because they care so much about their craft and they love a challenge. When we find those people, I try to send them all the work I can.

    This remodel sounds beautiful!

  57. They didn’t keep the house long. Mom got transferred. But it really brought home what Daddy had always said, that building is complicated, even if you know what you’re doing.

  58. Maryanne,
    I think of those as very good times, despite breathing in all the sawdust. I’d hold boards in place while he nailed them. Sit on them while he sawed them. Hold the other end of the chalk line or the measuring. Be on the ground handing him tools when he was up on ladders. All good times with Daddy.

    My husband is completely non-handy. 🙁 Very painful after the father I had.

  59. I just kept my mother from buying paint because I told her she had to take the paint chips home and look at them in the light of the rooms she wanted to paint.

    Never thought how changing light fixtures could lead to problems. Or even light bulbs. No wonder this is so hard.

  60. Kim, totally have been there. Had so many projects, and at the time, just managing to hang onto the house was a major coup. In this economy, that’s something to be damned proud of. Everything else is gravy.

  61. Teresa — yep. I’ve suggested to people (in the past) that before they repaint an entire room, try just changing the type of bulb and see if that doesn’t fix the problem. Soft-white bulbs cast an entirely different spectrum of light than, say, “daylight” bulbs. Fluorescent (of course) are different, and LED lights (while supposedly the same as regular bulbs) can be different, still.

    Also, another good technique is to thumbtack a white sheet up against a wall (if the wall isn’t already white) and then safety-pin your color choices there. Cheaper than buying paint (white and other samples), and you need that white background to judge the colors correctly. I’ve made the mistake of painting swatches of colors on a cream-colored wall, thinking it was “white enough” — and I didn’t realize that the reflection of that creamy-color on my color choices was affecting the color my eye perceived. So when I painted the entire room… it looked very different from what I thought I was going to get.

    If, at this stage (the sheet/sample), she still isn’t sure, it’s worth buying those small samples, painting a poster board, and thumbtacking that up against the sheet. This way, once the decision is made, she can take it down and it’s not like having a bunch of samples painted on the wall. (Which I’ve done, numerous times, but I happen to like living with colors and I know I’m going to get the painting done. Other people prefer not to have their rooms messed up, if they can help it.)

  62. romney says:

    I have a hole in my bath/shower. Its been stabilised but after all the work we had done 4 years ago I can’t face dealing with a plumber now – maybe next week…

  63. Ya know, I am sure there are professionals out there who don’t make many–if any–mistakes, but I have yet to meet them. Mostly, they know how to fix them before the client sees them, or hide them really well, or dump them off on something they “couldn’t have known” so that the client pays for them, or bury them in change-orders, so that they don’t eat the costs. If I were in the business of doing this for others, you’d see the before, and the after, and you wouldn’t hear of the mistakes. 🙂 Kinda like writing – first draft vs. final galley. Whole lotta ugly can go on in that middle area, but the real pros don’t show you those middle drafts.

  64. That’s what I keep thinking. Someday I’ll be able to make this house look like exactly what I want. The to-do list is enormous (even without the floor issue) but I’m not going anywhere. Not that I could now. LOL! I’ve dropped the value too much to sell it anyway.

  65. Jill says:

    No more remodeling for us. We have lived in this house for 35 years and have done at least 4 major remodeling jobs. The previous owners had added on a family room and master suite to the basic 3 bedroom ranch. The family room had gold shag carpet , panneled walls , panneled ceiling, one small window. Our carpenter was a gentleman who had been doing carpenter work all his life. We told him what we wanted, he made suggestions and it was done. For the last few years our carpenter has been a guy we have known since he was 2 years old. When he and I get together ideas fly. When I ask my husband what do you think of this or that he always says I don’t care. When I ask him how he likes the finished product he says it’s ok, how do you like it ? The only time he put a stop to things was when our daughter’s mother in law started decorating the sunroom/library and I did not blame him. Most expensive area carpet ever. We live in a small town so we never have strangers working in our house. I am glad that our days of living in dust are over.
    Now Joe buys houses and fixes them up for rentals and he gets what he wants . 🙂

  66. Mitchiewitch says:

    So do I – our kitchen went from Funky Fruit (the color of a nice ripe cantaloupe)to Sunny Yellow when we redid it 2 years ago. It needs bright colors because it faces north with big trees near by & doesn’t get a lot of real sunlight.

  67. patndixie says:

    Nan, I’m in South Carolina so a little too far away. Kelly R., I will check Angie’s List. Toni, thank you so much. Every time we’ve talked about getting started, I get overwhelmed. That is great advice.

  68. Yeah, our contractor rocks. His crew even worked on our roof a couple of times later–and our house is built into the side of a cliff overlooking river & rocks on one side & roof is metal (hot & slippy). Many harnesses are involved–wrapped around strong men then around ancient trees for security.

    And for our major renos listed above, we were on very limited budget too. Plus, there were things I forgot to list, like the kitchen sink & faucet & new toilet. And the fact that they had to work with allergy-friendly materials they weren’t used to because of my allergies. Seriously, there’s a reason these guys get called Master Electricians and Master tile guys–they’re amazing. We hear about contractors who are less than ideal on things like Holmes on Homes, but good contractors are out there too and deserve their own gold medals:)

  69. I remodel a room at a time and do a bigger project every year or so. My kitchen, hall bathroom, master bedroom and porch are fab. I love them. Now I’m torn between redoing the master bathroom or redoing the walls of the living room/dining room space.

    My house is a modular home. The walls are paneling that I painted over when I moved down 12 years ago. Now some paneling is warped or otherwise ick. The problem is that when I take down the walls I’ll need to replace some studs, upgrade the insulation and probably redo some wiring. So, what’s holding me back? Estimating how long I’ll have to be inconvenienced by the mess.

    On the other hand, my contractor who does all my remodeling is a friend. Maybe I could schedule the job for when I’m in vacation in August. The rooms aren’t huge. He could probably have the messiest part done while I’m out of the house and away.

  70. Maryanne says:

    I loved being daddy’s little helper, even though he’d always tell me I hammered like a girl. Still do. lol

  71. Teresa, I just saw this… I hope I didn’t simply miss it earlier.

    No, you’re not crazy. Think-outside-the-box ideas are often great solutions, especially since you have plumbing right there, and the electrical is close by. Without seeing the plans, though, I can’t tell you that it would necessarily be cheaper, but if you have that gorgeous view that you aren’t using when it’s been a family room, then I’d say to go for it. Obviously, get pricing. (But get more than one price. I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard of contractors elevating a price just because they either didn’t agree with the changes because it wasn’t a traditional solution, or they didn’t want to do it because it was too outside-the-box…or it was the woman’s idea. Get a couple of prices so you know if someone says it’s really expensive to do, they’re telling the truth. Or not.

  72. Micki says:

    Toni, this is fabulous (-:. I love hearing construction stories — we have several friends who built their houses (varying degrees of sweat equity), and my husband’s uncle is a professional. My husband has “construction block” and the finishing of our log house has stalled for the past . . . oh, dear, is it 15 years already? We started 17 years ago . . . .

    I think I have to pitch in. One babystep I can do is masking-tape off the floor and ceiling in the hallway, and paint the plywood there before June 1. Or paint some paper or fabric, and put it up as wallpaper. LOL, “dither” is a lifestyle for us.

  73. Mary Stella, that sounds like a great plan (the while-you’re-on-vacation-start). If you go over everything with him ahead of time, and he has access to you in case of last-minute-decisions for unforeseen items, I’d say go for it.

  74. I’m late to the party, so I’ll just say to anyone who’s building or re-building: please remember your family and friends with mobility issues, either existing already or possibly having them in the future. Watch for uneven surfaces and changes in levels (like living rooms that are a step lower than the rest of the house) and lack of railings.

    Consider following Universal Design recommendations for hallway widths and railings and grab bars and outlet heights and so on. It generally doesn’t cost significantly more to do these things if you plan ahead (at least in new construction; I know a lot of these things can’t be done with renovations, but some can), and you never know when you (or a friend or family member) will need these accommodations.

    It makes me crazy every time I drive past new construction, and there’s a front porch with steps and no railing. If I had a friend or family member living thee, I wouldn’t be able to get inside the house to visit. And I’m not in a wheelchair, just have difficulty with stairs and I have a huge terror of falling down them without a railing.

    There’s one house near me, built in the last five years, that I can’t figure out how it got an occupancy permit, because it’s built with a garage underneath it, but it’s got a high water table, so they couldn’t dig a basement, and essentially the garage is the first floor, at ground level (not built into the side of a hill), and the main floor of the house is essentially ten or twelve feet off the ground, so there’s this huge and really quite beautiful in a Scarlett O’Hara sweeping stairs kind of way, but just looking it gives me a combination of vertigo and panic attacks at the thought of falling. Because there’s NO RAILING. In a ten-foot-plus flight of stairs. In New England, where we have ice ten months out of the year. (Okay, not ten months, but lots.)

    Don’t do that, please.

  75. Sorry — missing phrase — there’s this huge FRONT ENTRANCE SET OF STAIRS that’s beautiful … but scary.

  76. Toni,
    Thanks. I’m going to get some quotes. So far, I’ve had one contractor say casually, No, you don’t want to move a kitchen. And another say, Yes, this could be great, but you’re going to spend $20,000 on cabinets.
    I said, No, I’m not.
    He said, Yes, you will.
    I thought, Okay, you’re not doing my kitchen.
    I’ve priced cabinets. I know I’m not spending that kind of money. We’re not crazy or pretentious. I’ve lived with an orange/green/yellow kitchen for three years, after all.
    I just need some counter space and want to enjoy the view, and as I see it, I can spend my money on adding on for a new family room and still need to pay to renovate the kitchen. Or I can spend that same money to move the kitchen and then have a new kitchen and space for a family room.
    Thanks for that.

  77. Oh, that would make me shudder and flinch, too.

    We’re doing this (as much as possible) in the new remodel–planning ahead, having universal design where we can. Definitely for all entrances and any floor changes. Since I’m the one who’s fallen (three times, now) and have had broken bones to go with that, I really really appreciate railings. Big time. And ramps. Ramps are your friends. 🙂

  78. Deborah Blake says:

    My mudroom is painted yellow (one of the few areas of the house where there is something other than cream). It is both pale and bright at the same time, and very welcoming. Sadly, it is also in serious need of a touch-up, and that’s not going to happen any time soon…

  79. Deborah Blake says:

    Teresa, I’m no expert, but I’d say that sounds like a damned good idea, as long as the plumbing and electrical issues are workable. If it helps, I can tell you that a few months after I moved into my house (a 100+ year old farmhouse that is more add-on than original), a woman stopped by with her kids. She said she grew up in the house, and asked if she could show them the outside. Of course, I said, “Hell, come on in.” And she walked into the kitchen, through the dining room, and into the living room…and said, “You know, this used to be our kitchen.”

    So there.

  80. Deborah Blake says:

    Someone was telling me about the EMF emitters the other day. I may invest in a couple after I er…dispose of the current batch with slightly more lethal means.

    [Rats, we hates them, Precious.]

    Maybe it will also drive away the mice as a bonus.

    And I can’t wait to read the book! Sierra already warned me about the title change, which made me laugh, because my friend Candace Havens had a book out a bunch of years ago with exactly the same name. I think your original title is a lot better!

    Oh, and those pipes were in the bathroom sink. The kitchen ones all got completely replaced along with everything else in the room during the remodel.

  81. Laura says:

    Two things. I am so bad at color. I bought ten quarts of paint before I decided on the kitchen. It’s worth the money Showers/tubs, put in a handle, no matter your age.

  82. Okay, so here’s a question on that:

    The back porch here is enclosed and is going to be my master suite. There’s a ten inch step down into it, and that’s got to change (I’m not getting any younger or more graceful). My option are to put in 2x6s and have 7’9″ ceilings with a shallow 4″ step down, or put in 2x10s and have 7’6″ ceilings and (fingers crossed) a flat floor. I’m tall, so I was going with 2x6s and a four inch step down. Now I’m thinking lower ceilings and a flat floor might be better. The catch: it’s windows on three sides and they’re 30″ up from the floor. If I put in 10″ floors, the bed and the chairs will all be above the window sill height, the reason I’d decided on 2×6’s to begin with. So now I don’t know. Help.

  83. jinx says:

    What is gumwood and is it a good thing or a bad thing? (You’ve got my curiosity going!)

  84. How deep is that room? (from the door where you’d enter it, across to the wall / window) — because a third option would be a shallow sloping step. That would only work if there’s enough depth across the room to make that slope comfortable, though.

    Meaning, one idea is to do the 2 x 6s, which keeps the ceiling height a little better, but instead of a 4″ step-down, do a slope. Since it’s a shallow 4″ that you have to account for, you sholdn’t have to go very deep into the room for the angle to work, and then you have the best of both worlds.

    If, however, you aren’t comfortable with the slope, I think the 3″ difference in the ceiling height would be less irksome (with the shorter height) than tripping and falling in the middle of the night. I’m short, though–so I’m not sure what that height will do for you, psychologically. Taller ceilings would be my preference and a slope there.

    Also, I can see how the lower floor would be better for furniture placement.

    If you don’t mind giving me that measurement, I’ll ask Carl. He may have another (better) idea. He loves that sort of thing, so it’ll be fun for him to think about.

  85. ruthie says:

    I want to get those big, dark vanities out of all the bathrooms — pedestal sinks for the two smaller bathrooms with a light colored, or rattan thingie (what do you call those???) to put the stuff in that is now under the vanity and a bummer to get to.

    Problem (1) is what do I do with the vanities if I take them out? More custom cabinetry I can’t bear to throw away.
    (2) The floors will have to be redone because the vanities were put in before the floors. And the downstairs one has rubber flooring which extends in to the laundry area and adjoining hallway — so, ripping all that out and replacing it! And it was expensive and will be even moreso now. The house is on a well and septic system. I put in the rubber flooring for when there’s a backup to, or in, the septic tank and the downstairs toilet barfs sewage. Shudder. Makes cleanup easier and somewhat less repugnant than having to clean the grout between tiles or something. Somewhat.

  86. The room is 7’3″ by 30′.

    Yes, less than eight feet wide. It was a porch. I’m going to put a queen size bed at one end–it’ll just fit with an old mantel I have as a headboard–and a 7′ couch at the other end. In between, a very skinny library table as a work surface.

  87. Micki says:

    Wow, I would love to put field stone around the foundation of the house (and we’ve got plenty of stony fields, so not a problem for materials). It does seem like it would be quite the exercise program, though. Do you have to choose kind of flat ones that can be stuck on the foundation? (Obviously, I must google.)I bet I could get the edges of the concrete stairs done this summer . . . .

  88. Okay, talked with Carl. He said you absolutely do not want a lower ceiling–you’ll regret that. There are a couple of ways to do the ramp. (He is annoyed I called it a “slope.” Writer’s prerogative.) Anyway, to do a true Universal Design (i.e., code) ramp, for every 1″ of drop, you go out 1 foot. So technically, (for a wheelchair access), you would have to have a 4′ ramp there. That would be a very gentle slope (ha), but it could take up half your room width. If you’re not going to have anything directly in front of that door, that might be feasible.

    However, he said, if it were him, he’d just let there be a 4″ step, and then later on, if you need the assistance stepping down, have someone build you a smaller ramp that you just set in place. That way, you do not have to go out 4 feet – you could do a slightly steeper (and really, barely noticeable) 2″ drop per foot, and make that a 2′ step, which could make your life easier. The nice thing is, you wouldn’t have to make that choice now. The ceiling, though, is permanent.

    Also, he said if you’re using 2x6s, to keep in mind that they are not as strong as the 2x10s. Typical joists are usually put 2′ on center (2′ o.c.), which means two feet apart from center of one to the center of the next one. But for 2 x 6s, he recommends 1′ o.c. — this will keep the floor from bowing and creaking and will last a lot longer. Minor costs up front, good benefit down the line. He also mentioned that all wood is bowed, even slightly — make sure you turn the crowns up. This puts the stronger curve at the top.

    (He asked if you were going to insulate those walls, too. He is ever the contractor.)

  89. ruthie says:

    Can you do the greatroom (is that one word or two) thing and knock out the wall to the living room? Moving plumbing is a bear — hard, messy and expensive, and one of the things that’s kept me from doing a lot of the stuff I want to do. My friends did that (greatroom) in the house they bought. She can get the view through the windows (and what a view!) and doesn’t feel so oppressed when she has to cook for guests because she can still interact with them. 😉

  90. Poor Carl. Little did he know when you started blogging on ReFab that he’d be getting questions from all over the world. “Hey, Carl, I’m in Japan . . .”

  91. Nah, he loves it. All our neighbors know he loves it and he’s the go-to guy for advice. (They also know he doesn’t want to do it, so they know he likes giving the advice part, or checking to see if they’re getting their money’s worth. It’s like being a grandparent and being able to give the kids back at the end of the day. All of the fun, none of the actual responsibility.)

  92. Kelly S. says:

    Hubby and I have redone 2 bathrooms and are piecemeal working on the kitchen. We often each like separate items (faucet, lighting, handles, etc.) but typically there is also a version of the item we both like, so we go with that.

    In the first house we bought together, we started making it ours right away. Painted all the rooms, redid the two bathrooms… Then we moved after 3 years. I still miss the master bathroom. It was so wonderful! DH did most of the work but for the mudding (it needed like a 3″ blending) and the vinyl floor install. I do the edging when we paint.

    This house we waited to do anything because we weren’t planning on staying. After 5.5 years here we painted the kitchen because we had chosen to replace the countertops & the new ones didn’t have as high backsplash. After painting it, I kicked myself for waiting so long. Any future houses, we are making it ours ASAP! That way we can enjoy it as much as possible.

    I’d have to say, I think my hubby and I actually enjoy doing home improvements together.

    I have to also share, when we started dating, he had an 100+ year old house that he was renovating. It was awful! I helped him remove a cast iron vent stack, install insulation, sweat pipes, and paint inside and out. I was an amazing girlfriend and am an equally amazing wife! Hah!

    I am procrastinating on painting a wall in the master bedroom and getting the carpet replaced. First one will get done when weather is stable and nice and I have time. Second after returning from vacation. I suspect both being done in June.

  93. Hi,
    Wish we could do that, but the configuration is wrong. What I have is an L shape, upside down and backwards. Let me see if I can draw it here.

    door view
    big window
    Dining Living
    | Room Room


    ———-door ———————

    existing | wall

    | wall
    family door


  94. JulieB/Julie Spahn says:

    Oh my gosh! I love everyone’s yellow stories! I just got back from my kids’ last band concert and was telling my mom about this post and had to laugh when I saw all the comments. Now if I could just get you all together for a consultation here we could have this whole house finally painted!

  95. Jessie says:

    Gumwood or Sweetgum (liquidamber stracidlua) is a hardwood that looks very similar to teak. The name liquid amber is really right on: amber base with medium to dark brown wavy grain – Very pretty stuff. In the good old days, at least in Portland, Or, it was very popular as a trim. Some builders stained it green then put a coat of amber shellac on it to fake walnut then covered the resulting mess with varnish (not really effectively, it was always too green or the amber shellac greyed it so much it looked like a muddy walnut).

    Before you run out to your local lumber specialist (yes, it is still available) because it really is pretty, it is a real s.o.b. to work with. It warps and cups like no ones business and the grain makes it very squirrelly once it is cut and shaped. If you have to refinish it, leave it nailed in place. Once it is free of restraint, it is a major pain to try to force back into true.

  96. Jessie says:

    Does the porch have a separate roof, so you wouldn’t have to replace the roof on the whole side of the house? Our sun porch is at the top floor of the house and had inadequate, well – no, insulatation and my husband felt that roof was substandard too. Since this part of the roof was lower than the main pitch of the roof, he raised the roof and redesigned it. The ceiling is now raised 10 inches and is open beamed. It is probably my favorite room in the house. Plus we put low-e double paned glass in and ramped up the insulation to R-38. Oh, and insulated shades that are controlled electronically.

    Truth in advertising forces me to admit, I lived for two years with no roof but tarps over that room and every time it rained, we were up every two hours to make sure the jury-rigging for water run-off had not collapse. I am sure that I previously mentioned we live in a rainy climate.

  97. The roof is new and newly insulated. But Toni and Carl are talking me into just putting in two steps, I think. Because then I wouldn’t have to deal with putting in a new floor which would be FABULOUS.
    Of course, when I fall down the two steps, I’m going to be sending bad thoughts south, but . . .

  98. ruthie, you can donate those vanities to your local Habitat for Humanity. What they do is re-sell anything donated and use the proceeds to help build homes. It’s a fabulous organization, and when you’re remodeling, it’s a great place to find stuff. (I will mention this again in another post since this is coming in so late tonight and most will miss it.)

    As for the flooring, I have fallen in love with the old-fashioned linoleum (not the vinyl based stuff you’ve seen in the stores, but the old stuff, where the color went all the way through the material). This is available in sheets or in tiles, and it’s so durable, repairable, and long-lasting, it’s a great option. I had priced it out about a year ago and I think it was highly competitive as compared to tile (especially when you considered the grouting), but you’d need to check into that. Here’s a website explaining some of the pros/cons and the color choices now are phenomenal:

    The black-and-white checkerboard one is one look I loved. I also loved the red. 🙂 But whatever color you pick, it’s probably going to be perfect for that application.

  99. Any woman who will help a man remove a cast-iron vent pipe is a keeper. Those things can get really filthy.

    I love hearing stories like this, when couples work well together. Carl and I do, too, and we tend to balance each other. He does what I hate to do, and vice versa. Good luck with the rest of the projects!

  100. One day I will quit using parentheticals. It’s such a bad habit, and I always forget to close the damned things.

    That said, you won’t fall off the stairs. We’re gonna solve that so that safety is factored in. I have an idea tonight, but he’s the one with the real carpentry skills, so I want to run it by him tomorrow and see if it can be done the way I’m thinking.

  101. Hi Toni! Oh boy, did this ever ring some bells with me. The first house we ever bought was in England. It was over 100 years old and what sold me on it (besides the really cheap price) was the (falling down) greenhouse in the little strip of a backyard and the outdoor loo. Sadly, my husband and I are NOT good at building or decorating and this house had to be basically gutted – new flooring throughout, new electrical wiring throughout, new kitchen fixtures, new light switches, and every square inch needed to be painted.

    What we didn’t need was new gutters, because I came home from work one day to find the big ugly iron gutters had been replaced by modern gutters, presumably by a Gutter Fairy. Turned out our very helpful next-door-neighbor was the king of getting the job done – even if his methods weren’t exactly legal.

    After fixing up that house, we swore we’d never buy an old house again, forgetting that the reason we didn’t buy a new house is that they cost more.

    We’ve just moved to Chicago after living in Cincinnati for 20 years. In that time, we replaced the roof, the A/C, the carpets, water heater and even the bathrooms, but for the most part the money we spent was on necessary upgrades, such as when the A/C died on a day in the 90s.

    When we got ready to put our house on the market, we realized how long our wallpaper had been up, how much we hated the ivory formica countertop (we’d hated it ever since we moved in, but never got around to changing it), and so on. We had the wood floors sanded, had a granite countertop installed, painted every inch of the house, and by the time we were finished it looked great! And then we moved out, wondering why we hadn’t done all those cosmetic improvements years before. I guess we could justify spending the money in order to sell it, but fixing it up for our own enjoyment reeked of decadence.

    Our new place already had purple walls in the hallway and a kitchen I actually like. It only has two bedrooms (one of which is now my office), but it’s less to clean! And if I never see a paint brush again, it will be too soon!

  102. Cath G says:

    Bobby Faye is one of the funniest books I have read in years. Keep up the good stories, please.

  103. Danielle says:

    Hi Theresa,

    No brainer: move the kitchen. If you don’t, you will spend the rest of your days thinking “Oh, this kitchen is ok, but I still wonder what it would have been like if we’d moved it over there…”

    As you say, the plumbing is right there, already. You’re already talking about new cabinets, new faucets and all that mess. If you’re going to do it, do it right (and do it ONCE).

    Also, let’s be real: a new family room you didn’t really want in the first place? No. Why heat/cool a space you don’t need?

  104. Danielle says:

    Well, plus the time/effort, but as my mother says: “Painting is hard work. But it’s cheaper than a gym membership.”

  105. toni says:

    oh. man. Our old master shower had a huge crack down one wall of the shower where Carl slipped and fell when we first bought the house. We only just last year finally got that stupid thing fixed. We kept wanting to enlarge the shower, which Carl insisted meant having to move it, and I insisted the little closet in the way could be taken out and we could use that space. We finally did that, and it’s gorgeous. Of course, we moved out and have used it exactly zero times. Never again. I’m going to make sure we get to enjoy our surroundings instead of fixing them up for someone else to love.

  106. The way I look at it, people didn’t used to have family rooms, they had living rooms they lived in. Then they added the family room to keep the living room looking nice and nobody lived in the living room anymore. So if you move the living room to the family room, you’re just righting a wrong.

  107. Terrie says:

    My kitchen is a disaster — a house built in the 70’s, so the cabinets doors are dark particle board and there are plenty of places where it’s chipped and the particle-ish stuff shows. And the floor? As I said, 70’s. (Shudder).

    What it needs is for everything to come out and all new things to go in. That is not happening any time soon. But, here’s the happy thing: what we did do is tear out the carpeting and put in wood floors in our living room and dining area and my office last year. And we bought a few new end tables and I am now so happy with my living room area, I no longer mind that the kitchen is an eyesore.

    So, someday it will get done. Though, for all I know, that someday may be after my own true love and I have kicked the bucket and our kids need to put the house on the market. Though, hey, I wouldn’t mind sooner rather than later. Perhaps Renovation Thursdays will provide (cheap) inspiration!

  108. This is timely (even though I’m a little late to the party). I’ve been putting off a scary cleaning project for two days now – I have to deal with MOTHS and I’m overwhelmed and freaked out. I found clothes moths in my studio / guest bedroom. They ate a couple small wool sculptures (mock ups fortunately, not anything I was super attached to) – luckily they don’t seem to have eaten anything else, yet, but I found evidence of them throughout my studio. So now, I have boxes and boxes of fabric and roving and yarn and misc art supplies to wash / vacuum / put through the dryer and it just makes me want to curl up and hide.

  109. ruthie says:

    Thanks, Toni, I will follow that link. Thanks also on the info re: Habitat for Humanity. Several years ago when we tried to donate stuff before remodeling in another house, they wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t new. Glad to hear they’ve changed their policy. It’s a shame to send stuff to landfills when it’s expensive and in great condition, just not to your taste.

  110. Wow, I had never heard that (the new thing) with HoH. I know of others who’ve donated here (Louisiana)… I hope it’s the same in your area.

    If they don’t, try Goodwill, or a local church.

  111. Kieran says:

    If you plan to be there a long time, try for the flat floor. A step down or a slope will cause you grief.

    I’d also put on my to-do list: raise the roof and the windows. You deserve it–it’s your master suite.

    Meanwhile, you can play around with that low window sill by installing 1′- or 2″-wide plantation shutters on the lower half and attach “sills” to the top of each half of those shutters. Just be aware that when you open them, whatever’s on them will slide off unless tacked down. You can tack down straw bowls, epoxy plant pots, etc.

  112. It’s not so much my to-do list as it is my can-afford list. I have a new septic system and a new furnace in my future; raising the roof and putting in new windows is years away, and then probably just the windows. The idea is small in scope and cheap in price.
    Now Toni is doing the big stuff . . .

  113. Kieran says:

    Write that frickin’ bestseller we’re all dying to read!!! I want you to have your roof and windows raised sooner rather than later!!!

  114. I don’t actually want the roof raised. I’m going for cosy. But new windows would be good. These are single pane.

  115. Danielle says:

    Exactly. We all make fun of the Victorians for having pokey little parlours they never used and yet, we’ve essentially done the same thing with our “living” rooms. Only we supersized them and now we can’t afford the homes we live in. Oy.

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