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!)

Exterior Progress – Start of Week #4

Rain is expected most of today (it’s pouring now), so there won’t be much going on with our project.  So!  I will take advantage of this little break in the action to catch you up on our progress!  There haven’t been that many actual work days since my last post due to the long holiday weekend, but the guys have been putting in long hours, and fortunately, the weather has cooperated (until today).  I will let the photos tell the story:


Last week, framing the soffit on the front of the house. It’s deeper over the front entry, as that area is recessed back from the rest of the facade. Like that it will provide some protection at the front door!


Here’s what you see on the ride up in the basket of the lift…. cool perspective!


The roofing crew, getting a start on the north end of the house. That’s an insulation product stacked and cut to create better pitch and swells to the planned scuppers/gutters. The black rubber membrane is glued on top.


A look at the garage roof from above.

Earlier this morning, I took some photos of the exterior in its current state:


The roofers have glued rubber membrane on 2/3 of the house. They have been working on it in sections, in conjunction with the carpenters.  I have been told it will be one more day (hopefully tomorrow!) to tear up the old stuff and put down the layers of insulation/pitch and rubber on the remaining 1/3. Our roof should be watertight at that point. Yay!


The backside.

By my next post, we should be pretty well wrapped up with the new roof, and moving on to the siding work.  There will be some decisions to be made concerning the paint color and cedar accents.  Looking forward to it!

Awning Removal + Severe Weather = Damage Control

Well!  I think I jinxed myself last post when I said everything was going smoothly.  “No big surprises”, I think I may have said.  The night of my last post, the Twin Cities were hit with the first of several major storms.  High winds and torrential rains battered our house for hours, and unfortunately, water found its way in nearly every single window frame.  We first heard dripping in our bedroom, and then ventured out and were horrified to find soaked carpet and puddles (Our new wood floors!) at each and every window.  We used every absorbent thing we could find to dry up as much as possible.  No towel, bathmat or old t-shirt was spared.  It was a 3am-6am nightmare!

How could this have happened?  You may remember that all 14 awnings on our house’s roofline were removed the week before the storms.  The old rubber roofing was flapped over to cover the exposed areas, but it was simply not enough protection.  Our home has fairly new windows, and with some investigating, it was determined they were not flashed properly.  So, with large amounts of water running down the siding, it came in.  We had never had problems with previous rains, because with the awnings, the water was diverted away from the house, and the windows were protected.  We were hit with the trifecta of exposed walls, lots of water down the side of the house, and improperly flashed windows.  Booo!


I took a second to photograph what was happening at just about every window in the house…..

The morning after the first storm, our builder was apologetic about not foreseeing this “situation”, and made every effort to help it.  A drying service came out to survey the damage, and set up at least a dozen fans and 3 huge dehumidifiers.


Not only did we have to dodge the many fans and dehumidifiers, we had to go outside to talk. These machines are LOUD. It was like living in a 7-47.

Window trim was removed as well as drywall in the worst areas.  Wet carpet was pulled up.  It’s wool and only a few months old, so the smell was noticeable, but not terrible.  Think “wet (but clean) sheep.”

Outside, the roofer spent the day properly covering the awning-less spaces with a green neoprene to divert water away from the windows.


Preparing for more rain…


With the temporary neoprene coverings, there were waterfalls like this one outside every window. They saved us during several more heavy rains from more damage inside.

The sun did finally come out again, and construction of the new soffit took place.


Framing the soffit.


Liking this new look, so far!

Week #2 of our exterior renovation was more about damage control than forging ahead.  Seeing the soffit framing has been a positive, and the roofer was able to get some permanent stuff over the mudroom.


Looking out an upstairs room to the mudroom roof, which connects the garage to the house. Here, the rubber membrane is getting glued down.

I will breathe much easier when the whole house has its new roof.  Roofers are scheduled for July 1 (today), but because it’s a short week, this baby won’t be fully water-tight until the following one.  Until then, let’s hope for sunny skies (but, I will keep my old towel/t-shirt bin close at hand!).

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!

Renovation Marathon

Hi Guys!  I have been thinking about posting for the better part of this past week, and I am finally sitting down at our dining table with a pot of my favorite tea to power me through.  Why have I been dragging my toes?  The month of April was a strange one, and I have not been sure if I have too much to talk about or too little.  Our interior remodel has been begging to get wrapped up, but since we moved in mid-March, the workmen have been largely unavailable.  It has taken mini-meltdowns on my part to get their attention and come over to finish things that could have been done weeks earlier.  This past month, various work has been done, but nothing terribly exciting.  Just plugging along…

I really like the analogy of remodeling a house and running a marathon.  I would compare the point we are at with our reno to mile 13.   We’ve come so far, but still have a long way to go!  (Haven’t even touched the exterior yet–Hello!)  At this half-way point, there’s some doubt and definitely more than a little pain.  You ask yourself why you even thought this was a good idea in the first place…And then you remember all of the work you have put in and decide there’s no turning back.  One foot in front of the other.  We will get there, eventually!   Hats off to those of you blogging about your renovations that have lasted many months, even years!  I know you are doing a lot of the labor yourselves in your spare time and love the process.  Unfortunately, we are not talented (or brave) enough!  Painting is about as involved as I get…

So, let’s get to it.  Here’s a recap of the month of April:


We had to remove the lower horizontal cabinet over the range (which was originally designed to house the vent), due to it being too low. The range requires 30″ clearance. To fix the problem, our builder is locating it in the upper horizontal instead.


Here you see the vent in place with the cut to the outside.


The vent installed.  There’s some tweaking left to do…Our plan is to have a stainless steel backsplash to finish the wall above the range.


My back-painted (by Yours Truly) glass backsplash getting installed.




It’s very blue-green. After I painted the smaller piece to the left of the range, I noticed the dramatic color of the glass itself appear, despite using white paint. I was unsure I liked it at first, so I sent a photo to the architect. He loves the color, and said we should claim to have chosen it on purpose. But, just between you and me, it was a complete accident!


Floor guys back to sand the wood stairs in preparation for staining.


Here’s how they look all cleaned up.


Sanded stair close-up. Guess who’s planning on staining these puppies? Yeah, it’s me!

Thanks for sticking with me here!  Going to leave you with a photo of the newest light fixture put up a couple weeks ago:


One more little step to the finish!