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!

Yo-Yo Renovating – The Ups and Downs of Remodeling a Mod House

Summer is upon us, and what should be a more carefree, relaxed few months of the year, has taken a different turn in my little world.  No trips yet to the lake for me.  No m’am/sir!   More likely, my summer day includes a trip to Menard’s and Home Depot.  What about gardening and planting flowers?  Fuh-gid-a-bad-it!  Anything within 100 feet of the house is in the work zone, and sure to get trampled.  Ah, the joys of remodeling!

Okay, I am being a bit dramatic… It’s not like this house project has been forced on me.  I chose to take it on, and happily so!  (Why didn’t somebody stop me???)  Anyway, it has been quite the challenge with many ups and, to be fair, many downs.  I wonder if there is such a thing as “renovation therapy” to get people through the tougher legs of the house-improvement-journey?  I swear I have developed multiple personalities since this all began…I’m only kind of kidding!

What’s the back-story for this woe-is-me attitude?  It has been a slow week on the ‘ole pra-jay.  I have been crazy frustrated, as the weather has been cooperating, but not the workmen!  There have been various excuses made for the guys to not be on my job, like incorrect weather forecasts, and my not being cool with the carpenter’s 7-year old kid coming to “work” with his dad all day….But I know these guys have other jobs going, and you know what that means.  My project was being stalled.

Of course, I complained.  A lot.  Called, texted, emailed.  Lots of negativity (by me).  I put my foot down!  No more Mrs. Nice Gal!  You might even say I was being just ever-so-slightly bitchy (no doubt)….

So this is the craziest part:  James, the builder/remodeler/owner, had a way of talking me through the frustration and helping me understand the situations.  His response to each complaint seemed genuine, and he always pledged to try to resolve the problems.  One point that has been made is that our project is different than most.  It’s residential, but has a lot of commercial-type details like the flat roof.  Mod houses like ours come with unique challenges, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of dudes around who are super comfortable with this type of residential design.  Many of the subs primarily work on commercial projects, so there’s a few things that get “lost in translation”, in dealing with me and my house.   Anyway, James most definitely has talent when it comes to calming down a client in a tizzy (Now, if he could just promise his guys will come to work each day…)!

So, here’s where we are at:


The main roof has been insulated, pitched, and has its fully adhered rubber membrane glued. The raised part is the top of the soffit that goes around the whole house.


With the main roof mostly complete, things got going on the garage. Here, you see the new soffit getting built. It will only be on the front side. Other sides will be flush with the walls.


Roofers take over, giving the garage the same treatment as the main house.


The garage roof all done (except for finishing touches on the parapet). Isn’t it pretty?


Close-up of the scupper, where the water drains from the garage roof into a future downspout/gutter.


The guys are adding the strip vent and the underside of the soffit. It’s the same stuff (Hardie Cement Board) as the siding and will be painted along with the house.

Today I am feeling positive, even optimistic, that the project is en route to completion.  I won’t get my hopes up too high, as I know there’s lots left to do, and surely a few roadblocks to come.  But, I will take this “up” mental state for now, and when the “down” surfaces, I know James (aka “The Remodeling-Client Whisperer”) is just a phone call away.

p.s.  Dear Friends,  I promise to get back inside for future posts!  Sure, I will continue to share the progress on the exterior, but I know it’s a bit technical/boring, if it’s not your thing.  Have been saving up some goodies like how my stairs turned out, and yesterday, I finally got my island counter top replaced!  Sooo exciting!  (I am really not that exclamatory in person, but it sure is fun here!)

This Mod House Exterior Remodel Begins!

After some unanticipated delays (having to find another builder and weather conditions (darn Minnesota!)), we finally have lift-off on the exterior work.  And as we wrap up the first week of this much-awaited phase of our renovation, I thought I should post and get you updated!  Here’s a photo montage of week #1:


Back side of the house, basically pre-reno. The guys begin by removing all of the batten trim covering the seams of the Hardie Board siding.


Battens carefully removed. We will be reusing some of this material.


In addition to the batten removal, the guys started demo on the rotten decking of the two smaller decks.


Decking off daughter’s bedroom and upstairs loft on the front and side of house.


This deck is totally rotten and getting totally removed.

On day #3 (this past Monday), the crew of two became three.  I got them to stay still for a minute.


Introducing the exterior crew: Chris, Nathaniel, and Forrest

These guys worked all day tackling the master bedroom deck and then went way up to get familiar with the awnings….


One thing these guys are not, is afraid of heights.


As you can imagine, taking apart the awnings from above is slow and dangerous, at best.


Dismantling the awning over the garage.DSC_0602

The awnings on the second floor were too difficult to remove from above, so the next day a lift showed up:


Still dangerous, but so much better. The awnings (all 14 of them) come down much, much faster.


Our two story window wall has lost its visor. The house is taking on a new look without the “diving boards”.


Yesterday a meeting of the minds was taking place on the roof…


They invited me up.


Just hanging with the roofer (far left), James, Mike, and Forrest. James and Mike are the owners of the renovation company we hired for our exterior project.

So here we are, 5 days in.  Things are going well, as far as I can tell.  No big surprises.  The plan is to get rid of all the rotten/rotting icky stuff.  Bye, bye existing decks and canted awnings!  An approx. 2 foot soffit will be added around the entire house to clean up the roof line, and we will be getting a new rubber roof (which is one of those things that cost a lot of money and go unseen–shoot!)  At the time of this post, we have decided to rebuild a mini balcony off our daughter’s room (Shhh! It’s a surprise!), and one off the master.  There are plans for a service door for the garage too.  Other than that, it’s pretty much painting the whole house, and adding some stained cedar accents on select areas.

So glad to be back at it–making this house our home.  And if you are wondering, I have more to talk about regarding the inside, just not more time today.  Plus, I have kept you too long already!  Thank you for reading and have a good one!

Ikea Delivery Drama

Having chosen ikea cabinetry for our remodel has been, how can I say it… a learning experience.  It hasn’t been an easy, straight-forward process, and Monday morning, I was a serious doubter (for about 30 minutes).  An hour later than expected, the truck carrying the contents of our kitchen, couldn’t make it up the incline half-way up our driveway.  The driver made several attempts at a running start, with no luck.  I thought they were close to giving up, and then the truck veered off the cleared drive, and into the deep snow.  They were stuck.  Half-way up.  My heart sank.  I thought we were going to have a delivery truck blocking the driveway until the spring thaw!  Here’s a visual for you:


My kitchen project depends on getting this truck up the driveway. The tree miraculously was unharmed. That would have been a bummer!

Here’s another view of the truck’s location:


You can see headlights reflecting on the glare ice.  We can’t leave to get some sand, so we search the garage for something that could help provide some traction.

And one more photo for ya:


Yay! After about 30 minutes of shoveling, snow-blowing, and the traction from a large piece of plywood, the truck breaks free of the snow! Oh, yeah, we also sacrificed a West Elm jute rug, and here you see it on a second mission to cover the iciest portion. It was only a 5×8, and dirty anyway, so no tears involved. Just glad it got my kitchen to its destination!!

I applaud the delivery guys for never giving up.  I seriously thought they were just going to back up, and get the heck outta there, leaving me high and dry.  Had they not made it up the ice, it would have been a huge undertaking to cart the boxes the rest of the way on foot.  You could barely walk!  So, it all turned out okay, and my kitchen install commenced as soon as the truck pulled away!  Here’s what that looked like:


Ikea kitchen delivered. Whoo-hoo!

A little side note about the planned installation:

I was not satisfied with the Ikea installation company (out of Chicago) who bid the project over $5,000, and could not accommodate my requested dates.  So, I searched online, and found a guy who advertised installing ikea kitchens, and called him up.  He came the next day, and prepared a bid that night.  He appeared confident and said he had done something like 25 ikea kitchens, even having worked a stint with Ikea, until he started his own business.  And!  He could start work my preferred week.  Jay, our builder, just suggested I make sure he is insured, and he promptly provided that information.  Sweet!  His name is John J. and he and his partner have been doing a fantastic job!

Here’s how things were shaping up on the first day of the install:


John and Brendan at the end of Install Day #1. Great start!

Yesterday, John (architect) and Jay (builder), spent time addressing a few minor issues that came up during the install.


Install Day #2:  Sharing ideas…


Early afternoon of Day #3 (today). It’s really taking shape! I think it’s going to be awesome!

I know I have probably exhausted you with all these photos, but here’s just three more:


This is Brendan, working on the few base cabinets we are installing in the basement. (See that painted floor? I did that last week!)


And this has been my project this week. Removing staples left from the carpeting on the stairs is not a job for the faint-at-heart. About an hour per step, with a screwdriver and pliers. It basically sucks (as my 9-year-old would say).


Here’s the back side, where the tiny staples (a real bear to get out) were used on 2+ carpeting forays.

Thanks for taking a look at some of the highlights of the week.  So much is happening, and we have unofficially set a move-in date of March 8.  Yowza!  It’s going to be busy!

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!