Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Envelope Pillow Covers for Christmas

One of the things I wanted to do last year was re-cover all the throw pillows for Christmas, but the fabric I ordered didn't arrive in time. This year, with the fabric in hand, I finally got my chance. I spent a Saturday afternoon slowly cutting, pinning and sewing while watching movies. Of course, the tv is downstairs and the sewing machine is upstairs, so I'm only catching like every other half-hour of the movies.

Step 1. Measure, Cut and Prep Fabric
First up, I quickly wash and dry my fabric to preshrink, and quickly iron it flat. Then, I remove the first pillow cover and measure it: an 18" x 18" square. Next, I cut my fabric into three pieces: one square (Piece B- will be the front of the pillow) that is 19"x 19" (should be 1" more on both sides than the previous pillow cover), and two rectangles (Pieces A and C) that are 19" x 13" (same height as square piece, 6 inches shorter on the length).

cutting fabric is more difficult with playful monsters.

Step 2. Hem Long Edge of Both Rectangles
I fold a half-inch seam on the long each of each rectangle pieces, pin and sew closed.

Step 3. Layer and Sew Top, Bottom and Side Seams
I start with Piece B, right side up. I take Piece A (wrong-side up, with hemmed edge to the right) and place it on top of Piece B. Then I take piece C (which is wrong-side up, with hemmed edge to the left) and place it on top of Piece A. So now we have a pile of all three pieces, with all the right-sides of the fabric inside and only wrong-sides of fabric on the outside. Then, I pin half-inch seams and sew along both vertical edges, and then both the top and bottom edges.

Step 4. Open and Stuff
Last up, I flip out the pillow cover through the envelope opening, and stuff in my pillow.

Step 5. Repeat
I did the same thing for my other pillows, slowly working through all the fabric. After just a few bad movies, I was all done, with six new pillows to festive-up the living room.

two new christmas pillows

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Heat and Bad Luck

Ok, so right before Thanksgiving, a friend of mine came to stay with us. Just before she arrived, we heard a loud grinding noise coming from the basement. We went down to check and quickly determined that something was horribly wrong with the boiler, so we turned it off and called the plumbers. They couldn't come immediately, but advised that we should keep it off until they could get out to inspect it. When she arrived at the door, the house was already getting chilly. "Welcome to our house, hope you don't like heat."

Over the next couple days, the crew came out to inspect and determined it was definitely broken. Turns out, when our contractors were replacing pipes in the basement over the summer, at some point the water was shut off, and the boiler system went dry. This somehow broke our circulating motor- the thing that pumps the hot water through the radiators in the house- and now it needed to be replaced. Because radiators are awesome - the house held on to its heat for pretty long while we waited for them to get all the right parts and complete the work. But by the second and third day, we were all getting a little annoyed and tired of walking around under blankets.

Once the pump was fixed, we went on our merry way, and the house was warm and comfy again.

everyone likes a toasty radiator

Then, maybe two weeks after all that, we noticed that the house seemed to be getting slightly cooler. The thermostat noticeably showed that the temperature of the house was at least 5 degrees cooler than it was set to be. So we called the plumbers out again.

Turns out that the work they did to the pump, somehow affected the boiler itself, and ...wait for it... now the whole boiler needed to be replaced. Of course, when we bought the house and saw that the boiler was something like 50 years old, we assumed we would eventually need to replace it. We just didn't expect to have to do it only a few weeks after having a crew come work on the system and swear that the boiler would be fine.

So, after another couple days of wearing blankets, toasting ourselves by the fire, and whining about cold feet - the plumbers finally got the parts and gave us a new boiler. At this point, everything about it is new, so I don't see how anything else could break. Of course, we're about to get more house guests, so everyone should consider themselves warned.

The only good news I can see is that all this work is annoying and disruptive - so it's handy that it's happening now, and not after a new tenant moves into the basement. Hopefully this insures us that no more work will need to happen down there for quite a while. Plus, the new unit is more efficient than the old one, so that's always nice.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Finishing Touches in the Basement

We thought our basement was finished when the contractors left almost two months ago, but there were a couple things that still needed to be fixed.

1. Iron Gates
Both the front and back doors to the basement are protected with iron gates. Those gates both have locks that require you to use a key to exit - which always seemed like a huge fire risk to me. (I like the idea that you can get all the way out of your house without keys if you need to). So, we wanted to replace the locks so that you can get out without a key. The problem is that the bars of the gates are wide enough that you can just reach through, so you could easily unlock the gate by hand, which is a security risk. To solve the problem, we had an iron company come out to replace the locks and add mesh so that you can't reach through. It fixes both the safety and security concerns, even though it's a bit uglier to look at.

new iron gate is safer but definitely uglier

2. Mail box & Doorbell
We ran to the depot to grab a new mailbox, some stickers, and a wireless doorbell for the basement. Just small finishing touches to make for a complete unit.

3. Leaky pipes
Ok, so do you remember this picture from before the renovation got started? We ripped out the wall and part of the carpet, trying to find the source of a leak. We found that not only was water just pouring into the wall where the downspout from the roof hits the ground, but that the wall was completely rotted away. The contractors replaced all the framing and put up new sheetrock, but never did anything about the leak. Similarly, we found that both the front and back doors were pouring in water when it rained, because the drains would overflow.

original basement - destroyed in search of the source of a leak

huge hole to dig up the clogged pipe

crosscut of the removed pipe- more than half-full of cement

We finally called a plumber to come snake all the drains. Two of them were easily fixed, but the third by the back door turned out to be full of construction debris and cement (potentially from the contractors washing their tools off). So we had to get plumbers to come back, dig up the drain, remove the part that was full of cement, and replace. Finally, it is all done, and all drains appear to be flowing nicely (course it's hard to really tell...).

4. Get a Tenant
The contractors were supposed to finish in August, which would have been great for getting a renter in September. They got behind schedule, and didn't finish until October. With all these final projects, we weren't ready for a renter until November, which is a really bad time to be on the market with a rental unit. We posted online, and had a small stream of people come through to check it out. Finally, it looks like we finally found a good tenant who will start moving in before the end of the year! Almost a year after we started this project, our basement is finally done. We are now moving on to other projects!!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Unexpected Upgrades

So, I revealed the final renovation over a month ago.  We've mostly been distracted by other stuff, like the spouso running another marathon, work getting busy, weddings and other stuff, and we've not been working much on the house. It was a much-needed break from renovations after a long summer of constant construction, but we are finally getting back to work, and putting our house back together. We knew when the renovation was done, we would be left with a bunch of half-done projects that needed to be finished, but we didn't expect other parts of the house that weren't getting renovated to need work. As the workers moved through the house, there were four unfortunate side effects that had to be addressed.

1. Shower Faucet
We didn't have a particularly nice one to start with, but as the renovation continued, our shower faucet got worse and worse. By replacing the galvanized pipes in the basement, our contractors dislodged some gunk, that then moved through the pipes until it got stuck elsewhere. As gunk slowly collected in our shower faucet, it completely blocked the cold water, and also blocked most of the holes in the shower head. The result was all of the water pressure building up, and shooting out super hot water from the few remaining holes that were open - sort of like being angrily spat on by a dragon. We tried removing the shower head, shaking bits loose and soaking overnight- but nothing really worked. So, first up, we grabbed a replacement head and switched out our shower faucet for a more peaceful showering experience. It was really quick to just twist off the old one, and twist on the new one.
new shower faucet- much nicer than the old one

2. Kitchen Faucet
Similarly, the gunk got stuck in the kitchen faucet, minimizing the water pressure to a mere dribble, and completely cutting off the hot water. Then "someone" decided to fix it, completely cutting off all water through the faucet and leaving us to rely on the hand sprayer thing. So, the kitchen faucet got replaced. Nice side effect of this one is that the old kitchen faucet handles were installed unconventionally, so you had to push them back to turn on the water, instead of pulling the normal way. The change-up totally threw me off so that I could never remember which way was right, and often failed to turn on any faucets at all. The new one is better. Installation was slightly more difficult, just because getting sink faucets and handles off is tricky, but it was done in about an hour.

the old one with backwards handles that didn't work

new kitchen faucet that turns on the normal way

3. Toilet Lid
If you have ever visited our house, you will no doubt remember our toilet lid, which is a lovely mother of pearl piece of art. Tragically, after hundreds of workers came through our house, the lid eventually broke off (I'm actually shocked since they mostly didn't seem to lower the lid or seat). While we like old houses because they have character, this is one of those places where less character is better. So now we have just a plain, normal white one.

old faux-mother-of-pearl lid breaks off...

...and gets replaced by a nice boring white one.

4. Vent Hood & Microwave
During our whirlwind shopping trip to buy new appliances for the basement (which seems like forever ago), we ordered a new microwave/vent hood for the basement. We realized that it would make more sense in the long run to instead move our microwave downstairs, buy a temporary cheapie for ourselves upstairs, and then replace it with a nice vent hood when we redo our kitchen (we can't buy the nice one now because we would need to reconfigure the cabinets). So we canceled the microwave we had ordered, and the contractors moved ours downstairs. Unfortunately, we forgot to get the new cheapies for ourselves. So, we lasted for a while without either a hood or a microwave, and finally broke down and got a cheapie hood vent and installed it and plopped a new microwave on the counter. Unfortunately, the new hood is much smaller than the old microwave/hood, so it exposes a pretty ugly eyesore, and the microwave takes up the last little bit of counter space we had-- but neither of these are permanent.

new tiny microwave takes up the last of our counter space

new white hood is much smaller than the old one

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Big Reveal- Part 3: The Basement Bathroom

So I'm clearly stringing you along. After revealing the upstairs and the rest of the basement apartment, now it's finally time to show you our beautiful baby bathroom. We are so proud of this room, which is almost entirely the product of our work. First, let's have a quick reminder of where we started- with pipes everywhere, cedar planks on the walls, laminate floors, a dinky, nasty corner shower unit, and a generally dark and nasty bathroom. Fun sidenote- the original bathroom had a glass door, because bathrooms are places where glass doors and lots of openness are good ideas.  

a reminder of where we started

So, we demolished everything- taking down several layers of walls and floor and a really thick ceiling. The contractors stepped in and did the framing, rotating the door frame to a different wall and taking care of the termite damage. They also ran new plumbing and electrical through the walls. We picked it back up, built the shower base, added lots of tile, sheetrocked the walls and painted, grouted, and added the trim, fixtures and finishing touches. After all that, here's what it finally looks like:

the view from the newly repositioned bathroom door

in the corner, sits the toilet

across from the toilet, there's a pedestal sink, small medicine cabinet and vanity light

towel rack beside the shower

in the shower...

...there is a lot of beautiful tile

and a fun little accent row

view of the sink from the shower

view of the toilet and new window from the shower

So, after the final scrubbing and last round of paint touchups, we are totally done. Taking a look back, i think this whole project (including the rest of the basement) turned out pretty well. In comparison to where we started, with a dark, nasty basement full of pipes and grossness, this is clearly a lot nicer. It also turned out pretty much like we were planning, light, bright, neutral and open.

the original mood board- pretty similar, right?

I'd say the one thing that really didn't turn out as expected was the degree of doing-it-ourselves vs paying contractors to do the work.  When we first started talking about this project, I imagined that we would do the majority of the work, and just have contractors step in for the difficult parts. Our contractors really weren't interested in that approach, so they ended up doing a lot more than I wanted and we did just most of the work in the bathroom.

Now that everything's finished, I feel like we didn't strike the right balance of work. There are parts of the bathroom that we did that don't look great- namely the sheetrock mudding. In the rest of the basement, there are a lot of little short cuts and sloppy spots like paint drips and leftover grout that they left behind that I could have done better. They did a great job at some of the big stuff (plumbing, electrical, framing, sheetrock), but I think we do a better job at the finishes, which are all little jobs that take patience and diligence that only a picky homeowner has. I think next time, I will leave the big stuff for contractors and insist on doing the finishes ourselves.

But for now,  there are no more contractors or major projects in our future. The last item on our to-do list is to find a tenant, and then we're chilling for a while.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Big Reveal - Part 2: The Basement

Now that the contractors are gone and you've seen the upstairs - let's take a look at the basement.  First, a quick reminder of where we started:

the old front wall- torn up in search of a leak

the corner that became a kitchen (notice the pipes along the ceiling)

everyone's favorite glass-brick bar

the old laundry and once kitchen that become a bedroom

The old, nasty stained carpet came up, and new wood-look tile went down. The tacky and flimsy doors were replaced by new, all-glass ones. The windows were upgraded to ones that can open. Some of the add-on upgrades that we caved on really make the place seem more finished, like moving the pipes into the ceiling and adding a silent minisplit AC and heating unit. There are two big closets, in addition to a laundry closet.

Our one hang up was with the new wall that separates the basement apartment from storage we want to access under the stairs. The wall was up, didn't pass inspections, came down, passed inspections, and then went up again. So now we have access to a lot of extra storage space, as well as a good separator from the tenant. I was worried that the wall would create an awkward, long hallway for the tenant, but it seems fine. And now it all looks like this:

view of the living room and infamous wall from the front

the living room and front door


more kitchen

backsplash and countertops

nook to the side of the pantry- good spot for a little table?

nook to the left of the kitchen - spot for a desk?

one big closet

second closet

the bedroom

bedroom and back door

laundry closet

So, in the end, light, bright and open- just as we were hoping for. Next up, we're going to show you the bathroom!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Big Reveal - Part 1: Upstairs

We have passed our final inspections, and contractors have finally left the house! After over 4 months, we have finally reclaimed our house. We've been doing a lot of cleaning, organizing, and putting things back where they belong, so it's finally time to show you how it all turned out. Prepare yourself for the first of several big reveals. Since you're dying to see the basement, I'm going to start upstairs first.

On the First Floor:
The entryway got a new electrical panel and small wall to cover it. It has now been sheet rocked, but still needs to be painted. The exciting news here is that there is now an outlet, so I can add a lamp to help me open the door when it gets dark. The downside is that the new wall cuts off part of the tile mosaic floor, making it look uneven, so we need to retile. (I'm actually thrilled, because I never liked this tile to start with).

new electrical panel in the entryway

The fireplace room, which held the pantry and numerous boxes, has since been cleaned out and returned to normal. Now that I can see it again, I'm reminded that I want to retile the fireplace.

fireplace room back to normal

The dining room has been a total disaster since this project started, partially due to storing items coming up from the basement and the pantry being emptied out. Then the wall between the dining room and kitchen came down, creating lots of chaos as pipes and cables needed to be relocated. Now, everything is put away and cleaned up. We have a few unfortunate eyesores that we will need to get used to until we save up to renovate the kitchen, but they are still much better than the mess we've gotten used to. So far, the open concept is awesome.

view of the dining room from the kitchen

view of the kitchen from the dining room

Long ago, we had a pantry that was accessible from the kitchen. We emptied it out, closed off that door, and opened a new door into a newly created mudroom. Both spaces have been closed in, insulated and prepped, but this is as far as they go for now. The new back door was installed and one of the old ones came off, opening up this new space to the kitchen. Since it is so close to being a functional half bath, this project might be first on our list to finish up ourselves in the near future. The mudroom is also an easy space to finish up ourselves, since it's just floor and sheetrock (basically).

new temporary pantry in front of the old door to the old pantry

half bath ready for a toilet

half bath ready for a sink

future mudroom and new back door

The back porch used to be accessible by a narrow walkway from the back door. The walkway got closed off when the new half bath was framed in, creating a little isolated porch that can only be reached through the window in the dining room. It finally got cleaned up, but obviously we will want to open the window into a door sometime soon. Breaking through brick is not on my to-do list, so this will be one we hold for the contractors to do.

little patio, only accessible through the dining room window for now.

The back of the house looks awfully different than it used to, with three new windows and siding and no more massive pile of construction debris.

final view of the back of the house

On the Second Floor:
On the spectrum of finished projects, each of the floors of our house got a little less far than the floor below it. The basement went from total disaster to totally finished, the first floor got about halfway done, and the second floor got just a little started. So the results up here aren't as impressive as the other floors, but hopefully you're starting to get an idea of how this will all work in the end.

The closet that R used to use was cleaned out, and its door was relocated to the hallway. With new plumbing and electrical, it became the perfect spot for laundry. Since we will lose access to our basement once a tenant moves in, we had to relocate the laundry anyway. We didn't realize how much better it would be upstairs- no more hauling baskets up and down the stairs. The bad part of this move is that we are now pretty tight on closet space. The next project on our list will be to build a new walk-in master closet, adjacent to the laundry. It is also very high on the must do list. Both the greenroom and the old office are full of junk that has nowhere to go. They will both be hugely improved once the new master closet is built.

the old closet door is closed off- this will be one wall of the new master closet

the fabulous new laundry closet with door opening onto the hallway

green room is full of R's clothes and stuff

office is a total dump

The sleeping porch used to be surrounded on all sides by windows made of strips of glass that were cranked into position. Now, it is closed in, with real windows and siding. The walls are now insulated, so it will be usable space all year long. The plan is to build a new wall, cutting the old porch in half. The half by the bedroom will become a new little office, and the other half will become the shower and tub of our new glorious master bathroom. The plumbing is not yet roughed-in for the new master bath, so it won't be finished until the contractors come back for phase 2. But we can finish the office ourselves, with some floor, sheetrock and paint.

looking to the left - part of the new master bathroom

looking to the right - the new office off the master bedroom

In the Basement:
So I'm going to save the majority of the basement for the next post, but I thought I'd show you our storage space. Just under the stairs, we have lots of room for storing big items. We had trouble with the wall, if you remember, because it wasn't in our original plans so we couldn't get it past inspections. Thankfully, we found a way to put it back up after tearing it down, so that we get access to all this fantastic storage space. 

bright and clean storage in the basement

Next Steps:
So, reading this reveal sounds a lot less like an announcement that major work is finished, and more like the announcement that we have a lot of work to get started. Hm. Neither of us is in a huge hurry to get back to work yet, but it would be great to finish off these smaller projects to dramatically improve the functionality and appearance of our house. I'm really excited about doing work on our house on our own schedule with no contractors or destroyed house to deal with. My goal is to tackle one of these a month until we're done.
  • Retile the entryway
  • Reface the fireplace
  • Finish the half bath
  • Finish the new mudroom
  • Finish the new office
  • Build a master bedroom walk-in closet