House Love – Getting to the Heart of My Exterior Reno

It’s official.  The honeymoon phase of our relationship is over.  Sooo over!  I’m talking about my 49 year-old modernist house, of course.  (Because every minute with my husband of 18 years has been sublime, and exponentially honeymoony.  Ha!)

It’s nothing I didn’t see coming.  I knew this house needed a lot of work, and eventually the renovation would go from fun and games to a bit of a drag.  But as the saying goes “No pain, no gain”, I am hoping the “gain” manifests itself soon, or I may LOSE MY MARBLES!

Don’t get me wrong, I still love my house.

Our relationship is much too strong to throw in the proverbial towel.  I have seen it at its worst, looked beyond its rotting wood and peeling paint, and fell head-over-heels.  And , inside, it cleaned up really well.  So smitten with its new handsome maple floors and open-plan layout!  Who says they’ll never change?

Outside, the transformation has been slow, and things seem to be going in the wrong direction. What was supposed to take the month of June, start to finish, is now in its 3rd month, with no end in sight.  Why?  This bad-boy of a house has some serious problems, more than first understood.   Hint: That’s where this post is coming from.

And because no one likes a Negative Nelly, I want to assure you I have tons to be grateful for in terms of the house reno:  (45 minutes later…)  Well, I guess “tons” is a bit of a stretch, but I can say that I know in my heart that we will get the results we set out to achieve.  It just might take a lot more time than expected (and our first-born’s projected college tuition – Sorry Kiddo!).

Enough chattering….Here’s the photo scoop from the past couple of weeks:


Guys hard at work installing the soffit material.


You can see the soffit all closed up, with the continuous venting, cut around each and every of the 24 fin walls that enclose the window and door areas.

Just to be clear, the work shown above took about a week, and two of the days included a second “crew” on a second lift.

That Friday morning, there was an unfortunate (but not completely unexpected) discovery.  When starting to replace the worst siding panels, it was determined the wood underneath was rotten in the areas by the fin walls/windows and compounding the problem, the windows were improperly installed and flashed.  A meeting of the minds resulted in an entirely new plan.  The fin walls were to come off.  All of the siding was to come off.  The soffits and venting completed the previous week would have to be redone.  And when that got going, the observation of little/missing insulation in the walls led to upgrading the basic house wrap to a 1″ thick foam board.  Ultimately, this was good for the house.  But bad for the wallet.  Gulp.


Removing the fin walls was a big job. The method of choice involved cutting it and prying it loose, and finally pulling it off the main body of the house using a chain.


The lift supplied the power necessary.


Lowering the top half to the ground.


Temping where the fins are off.

Working in sections, the guys removed the fin walls and put up the insulation panels.


1″ foam board will insulate and bring the wall almost flush to the window framing.


The front of the house. Foam panels are on most of the house by the end of last week. The seams are still being taped today.


Where there once stood a fin wall, a concrete support must be removed to the ground.


Taking down one of 22 cement supports….


Deck boards coming up to get at the concrete supports.


The concrete needs to be taken below deck level.

I bet you may be wondering where we may be going with the design, now that we removed another original architectural element.  Our architect came out and drew up another rendering.  Here it is:


It’s kind of hard to see the details, but we plan to trim out the windows with larger vertical boards to create new, but less dramatic fin walls to contain the stained cedar accents. The decking on the balconies will be cedar, and the railings painted black.  The siding material is still getting figured out, but we like the idea of painting it a dark charcoal.

As much as it’s difficult to be changing things up so late in the game, we know we need to do it right.  In the meantime we will be practicing patience and hope the change-order monster stays away going forward!

Oh, and I wanted to share what we found when we returned from a 5-day vacation!




Sure it’s a broken window….And we still don’t know the cause, but can you see the glass shattered away leaving the shape of a heart? I am taking it as a sign that our house loves us back.


Mid-Century Modern Stairs Makeover

We are in the thick of renovating the exterior of our 1964 modernist home, but still tying up some loose ends inside.  One of those being the stairwell and its multi-step (ha!) makeover.   Hope you enjoy seeing the transformation!


The Before, in all of its beige poly shag carpet glory. The oak slat-work is cool, but a bit too orange and in rough shape.


Carpet was pulled up, revealing the wood (pine? maybe fir?) risers, with their original stain.  Left behind are remnants of two carpetings – the beige and a very late-70’s green.  Here’s the biggest bummer: Two layers of carpet x 23 stairs = a gazillion embedded staples.


I started to work my way down removing the nasty carpet staples. About a half hour per stair, not including the back side. A screwdriver helped lift them to a point I could grab them with a pliers.


Ended up needing some help. The back of the stairs were brutal and many were out of my reach. Really! They were!


Next, the slats and railings were primed and painted white with a sprayer. Made the job much easier for the painters, but it sure made a mess! The steps were covered with paper, but some paint ended getting through. Luckily the plan was to sand them!


It took two guys a half-day to sand all of the risers (not bad!). One used the sander you see here to do the majority of each step…


And the other used a scrapping tool to take the finish down to the raw wood on the edges and corners.


Cleaning up.

With the stairs sanded, I was taking responsibility for the project from that point on. It may be worth pointing out that the backs of the risers were in such bad shape from the staples, we had a 1/4 inch thick piece of pine cut and nailed on prior to sanding. Also, you may notice the undersides were not sanded. They were in ok shape and because it would have been super challenging to sand them, we decided to leave them alone.


Here’s with two coats of oil-based stain. I attempted to find a color as close as possible to the original stain still on the undersides.  I used a foam brush to apply and wiped it in with a rag.


Doggone painter’s tape! Guess leaving it on for weeks wasn’t the best idea. There was a 6 week delay between the tape job and sanding, plus a couple more until I got the right stain applied. Unfortunate.  Learn from my mistake.

The stairs got two coats of a water-based poly, and then I taped them off to re-paint the skirt boards, where the paint had come off when removing that tape.  Painter’s tape can be friend or foe, and after the new paint seeped under the new tape onto my newly finished steps (still following?), I am banishing it from the house!  Luckily, the paint was still wet and I could wipe most of it away.   Whew!

The After:


Love the look!  Believe me, the stairs aren’t perfect, but they were worth it!

Lighting Decisions and Ikea Trip #3

I know it’s been about a week since you have heard from me, so I hope I haven’t lost your interest in following my renovation project!  You haven’t missed much, as there was a delay (three days) in getting the city inspectors into the house to sign off on the preliminary work of the plumbers, electricians, and the heating/cooling guy.  So it has been a quiet week.  With the inspections complete, the exposed walls were insulated, and prepped for the sheetrock.  That’s what was happening when I popped in this afternoon.



I wonder how many times I will take a pic of this wall during the renovation.  It must be 25 times already…

Mark, the head electrician on the project, was back for a few more adjustments.  Decided to lose a couple of lighting cans (some that were just wired last week) in the new space and a few more old ones in the entry and under the loft in the living room.  I thought a low profile ceiling light would be a much better look for the entry.  The placement of the cans and other ceiling fixtures has been a bit tricky.   John (architect) drew up a lighting plan, and there were a few things obstructing the exact spots specified, so there was some fudging of the plan, and I got talked into adding more cans by Mark and Jay (builder).  Over the weekend I came to the conclusion that I didn’t like the extras.  The ceiling was getting cluttered, some cans were too close to others of another zone, and I didn’t like the “close, but not quite” alignment of the cans and my future pendants.  I know Mark and Jay are skeptical, thinking I will want more light, but John is not concerned.   I think I will be happy with a cleaner looking ceiling, and my white cabinets, counters, and walls will bounce the light around adequately.  We will see (maybe not very well) who had the better advice when the kitchen is complete!


Mark removing one of 2 existing canned lights from the entry. John has suggested an awesome fixture for this space!

Ikea Cabinet Update!

I thought I was going to be purchasing my cabinets on my last (2nd) visit to Ikea two weeks ago.  No, ikea explained, better to purchase when you are two weeks out from the install date.  So, John and I spent some time going over the plan, making a few adjustments, and left.  Yesterday, I was back.  We are roughly two weeks from our target install date, and I was ready and excited to make the purchase.  I approached a nice Ikea employee in the kitchen planning department, and we went over the entire project together.  John had done a great job drawing the kitchen cabinet design using the ikea software, so there wasn’t much to change.  Although, it was comforting to have it all double checked!


Ikea’s kitchen planning department. I know it too well!

More questions were asked as to a timeline, and I said “Two weeks from tomorrow, please.”   Then it got complicated.  “If you purchase today, we have to deliver everything within one week.  Can we put a gazillion boxes to one side of the kitchen?”  (No…next week the new wood floor is being installed throughout.)  “Do you have a garage?”  (It’s already full of stuff.)  ” A basement?”  (It is being worked on.)  “Hmmmm.  We could try to schedule it for further out, but then your cabinets will come from our distribution center in New Jersey.”  (?)  “Or, you can just come back in a week or so, when you are within a week of your install date.”  (Can do!)

From what I understood (it’s still just a bit fuzzy), I just need to bring my cabinet “shopping list” back, and we will be ready to rock.  Set the date for delivery, which could be as soon as the next day, and pay.  Done!

We are saving our builder Jay (who normally builds custom kitchens) the headache of assembling the cabinets and installing them, by having ikea arrange that work for us.  This was Jay’s idea.  Our kitchen will arrive in 246 packages, and unless you do it often, putting ikea stuff together can be more than challenging!  The assembly/install portion is done by a local independent contractor who does ikea kitchens exclusively, so I think it is definitely the way to go.  Now, if scheduling that work has as many restrictions and is as confusing as the cabinet purchase, it may be a few days before I know what’s up.

Behind the Scenes (and Walls)


Old ceiling totally gone.

It’s mid-week, and I have some updating to do!  Our little project is moving along quite nicely.  The demo phase was so fun!  Every day last week, there was such dramatic change.  And this week, I arrive to see some wiring in the walls, and the next day, some more wiring with a few other thingamijigs in the walls/ceiling.  The plumber, electrician, and heating guy have all been amazing, but I admit, the important stuff in the wall and ceiling cavities are a bit boring.  There were discussions on Monday between the electrician, me, Jay and John about size and number of recessed lights, and when proposed locations of lighting and switches couldn’t be accommodated, there were more hemming and hawing sessions (mostly by me).  A remodel inherently has some challenges, as new stuff has to be located around old stuff.  It’s kind of like a game to choose the next best option, when the ideal won’t work.   That being said, it’s great to have moved on from the demo to the “build”.  You saw the sub-floor in last week, and now we have new wiring, pipes, and vents!  I guess we are now ready for all of the inspections that need to happen before the sheet rockers take over, closing up the ceilings and walls, and bathing the house in the thickest layer of dust yet.


Kitchen wall exposed.


Housing for 4″ spotlights and one over-the-table fixture.  Fun stuff!


Adios (today) to the last of the demo debris!

Good People.

Having embarked on this remodeling adventure, I am feeling so fortunate to be working with a great “team”.  John (our architect) has been wonderful in providing the expertise concerning the changes we are making on the house.  He is creative and thoughtful in his designs.  He is also attentive to my wishes and input, and when I have been indecisive, he offers that professional opinion I need.  He’s happy to email or call me back when I have had questions, and has even assisted me (willingly) on various shopping trips for the new spaces.  (These were trips for appliances and cabinets, which are time-consuming and would have been torturous for my husband!)  The best part is that John seems to be genuinely interested in our modest project.  This is a guy who has done some pretty cool stuff in terms of architecture, furniture design, and even ongoing architectural humanitarian efforts in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina.  You must check out his website to see his work!

My other fav person is Jay Middelstaedt, our builder.  Liked him the moment we met, and like him even more since work has started!  He is everything you would want in a builder, plus a smile.  Things have been moving along really well with no big surprises.  Here’s a pic of the main space as of yesterday:


Two sub-foors were laid to bring it to the correct level.

Today, I met Jay and Dan from Sela Roofing for a roofing bid and to take a look at the hole in the roof from the chimney we had removed.  Here are a few photos from that experience…Yes, even I climbed the ladder!


Gotta meet the electrician early tomorrow am.  Need to verify all the right spots for the wiring of ceiling fixtures, switches and outlets. Exciting stuff!

Demolition Slide Show.

Last week, demolition of the kitchen and dining spaces began…


The wall between dining room and kitchen.


Other side of the wall.


Wall is gone!


Other view.


As of yesterday morning, this monster was still hanging around. With the stack, it was over 1.5 tons!


Here’s what the stack looked like coming up through the second story (master bedroom). Once gone, we get a bigger closet. Yeah!



Sometimes you need a crane to do the heavy lifting!



Jay appears to have everything under control. The house feels sooo much better having shed the 1500 pounds of fireplace, and 4 dumpsters of concrete-set tile!

Just want to tell you all that I appreciate the interest you have taken in reading my blog.  Thanks so much, and I will do my best to keep you informed!  Off to ikea to purchase the cabinets.  Wish me luck!

Builders and other revelations.

As you may have suspected, the previous posts are playing catch-up to what’s happening in “real time” on our renovation.  I am feeling a bit guilty keeping you in the dark, and need to come clean:  We are into the second week of demolition (of the interior)!  THIS MORNING THERE WAS A CRANE LIFTING THE MASSIVE CHIMNEY INSERT THROUGH THE ROOF!  There, I said it.  Now we can all relax…Yes, of course you will get a photo update as well, but all in due time, all. in. due. time.

There’s just a few more things to talk about before the demolition slide-show.  You still haven’t heard about our finding a builder, and how that process influenced the project!  Okay, so back when we felt comfortable with the “generous” floor plan, as well as with floor plans noting changes made to the basement and upper level, AND totally revamped exterior, we needed to move to the next step.  Find a builder to bid the work.  John, our architect, has worked with various builders on other projects, so we met with two he recommended.  They were both knowledgeable and thorough in their preparation, spending hours to best understand the house and the work to be done.  It took awhile, but when the numbers started to roll in, it was a major reality check.  Both builders knew our target budget of 100k (no more secrets!).  Builder #1 was annoyed, and got hung up on little things, like us not having decided on the exact puck-light placement under the cabinets, or baseboards with or without base shoe.  Without those things figured out, how could he provide us with an accurate bid?  Builder #2 was courteous and understanding of our hope to keep costs down.  Where Builder #1 had a furrowed brow, Builder #2 had a smile and the confidence to work things out.  It came down to the fact that I basically really liked Builder #2.  It was an easy decision.  His name is Jay.

Budget woes.  With bid information, we had to get more creative.  We nixed a bunch of cabinets and built-ins, and decided to shop for the necessary ones at ikea.  We had originally planned on an ikea kitchen, which suits the house, but the island was first planned in custom walnut cabinetry.  Now, it too would be built from ikea cabinets, and only faced in walnut on the sides facing out.  The range was first planned in the island, but relocated on the wall with the sink to save costs associated with an island hood and the extra venting.  We nixed other “wants” like the basement bathroom and new storage, cabinet refacing in the upper baths and fancy sliding doors separating the laundry  and loft areas.  We also decided to hold off a bit on the exterior improvements, which can wait until later in the spring.  Decisions continue to be made.  Just yesterday, John, Jay, and I finally found the perfect flooring for the entire main level:


From left, premium maple, #2 grade maple, #3 grade maple. We all like the #2 grade, with some variation, and overall lighter tones.



John (left), and Jay.

You now know our architect, our builder and our budget.  All three play a big part in this adventure!