The Big Reno Has Begun…

It’s been more than 2 years since we put our plan on paper – and I started my own demo.  It has been a year since we finally consulted a neighbor architect to finalize the plans we had been debating and to mediate/make the final decisions on some things that Tad and I still didn’t quite agree on. Last fall, we definitely decided to hire the vast majority of this project out. This spring, the contractor got on board and put us on his schedule.  A month ago things got started and it is moving fast!

Here is the quick and crazy catch up of the last month.

Day One – demo of a little baseboard and door/window trim.  It took about an hour.


Next day – some prep got done to protect the windows, window trim we want to keep, and the fireplace.

Protection during demo

They also built a temporary wall to protect the kitchen from the construction zone.



Then, the serious demo got started. Walls went first. This is the view from the front door with the walls gone – looking through the entryway, through an old door opening we didn’t know about, into the front bedroom, through the old bathroom, and into the back bedroom.


The old bathroom was kind of a demo day all by itself.


The old bathroom gone and all cleaned up.


Sorry to the neighbors that first weekend – this was their view. Tad wanted to keep it as yard art. Um – No.


The ceiling was next. At this point, I was nervous – it was a buyer’s remorse kind of thing.


Open to the attic. No going back now.


Weirdly, they left the entryway walls and ceiling until last.  Maybe, the orange walls and the light fixture made the place feel less like a disaster area?


Nonetheless, it is done. All the old plaster and lath is gone. The contractor has vowed to never take on another project that involves this kind of demo.  I don’t blame him…


The final phase of demo was the old flooring.  This was a discussion to the very end.  We all agreed that the old flooring was in bad shape and was not salvageable as the finished flooring.  However, I wanted to patch the bad spots and keep it as a subfloor.  I argued that the old flooring should stay as an homage to the old house.  In addition, removing the old flooring meant that the radiant floor heat tubes had to come down. I was not excited at all about that. Everybody was against me on the flooring issue. There was plenty of discussion about level floors, structurally sound this and that, strong plywood subfloors, and the list went on and on.  I finally gave in. It was decided that the old floors would need to come out entirely.  In preparation, Tad and I took the radiant heat tubes and insulation down in the basement.

Radiant Floor Heat Art...

Tad thought it looked like some sort of modern art.


I was thinking more fun house – or haunted house.


The floors started coming out. I was at peace with it. I was even kind of excited about nice, smooth, flat, new floors.


Then, I saw this. A pile of perfectly good, old flooring in the dumpster.


I freaked out. I called Tad and insisted we try to salvage it – he was like, “Ok”. I was formulating plans in my head for reuse – benches, table tops, accent walls, etc. I called a salvage company to see if they wanted to come pick it up – they were closed for the week. I went for a walk.  I got back from my walk and decided to sort the good pieces of flooring out of the pile for reuse.  I searched for a half an hour without success. There were no reusable pieces. It was rotted, warped, and/or splintery. I texted Tad and the contractor to say the old flooring was crap and that I had moved on. I gave them permission to ignore my craziness over the flooring.  This time, I really was at peace with the flooring situation.

The next day the new subfloor went in. I was good with it.  I am still good with it. I like it.


Though, there is a small strip of old flooring hiding in the back. It couldn’t be removed because the closet wall that isn’t part of this project is sitting on old flooring. One small victory for me – and for the old flooring. Now, I really have moved on.


Next was framing. The new bathroom lay out was contemplated…


New, taller openings were framed – to the bedrooms


and the entry way.


Back to the bedroom opening. The old bathroom window/new bedroom window was supposed to be enlarged to match the other window in the room.  I was looking forward to this larger window.  Then, Tad nixed the larger window thing. Tad has spent many a conversation trying to convince me that it is going to be just fine.  I am not sure.  I fear it is going to be similar to the studor vent situation. The studor vent situation still annoys me.


Tad insisted on using these engineered studs


to create a perfectly straight center wall – for the television.


New ceiling joists were next, since the old ones were sagging and cracked.


The attic decking went in as soon as the new joists were installed. Electrical started the next day.


Plumbing is in process, rough electrical is finished, and the structural work in the attic has been completed for now. Weirdly, the attic will get it’s own story in the future. Tad has a vision.


The tub has now been delivered twice. The first time it was the wrong tub.


The second time, yesterday, it was damaged.


Despite not having an actual tub to install, they went ahead and framed in the tub opening to try to keep this thing on schedule.


The door sizes were finally confirmed and ordered. We are hoping to match the doors we have in the rest of the house – solid fir, 5 panel.


It required some research on Tad’s part. Initially, the contractor’s source said it would be 8 weeks to get the doors because they were a non standard size. That wouldn’t work with the schedule. Tad did some research and found a source that is less expensive and quicker. So, they were able to get the pocket doors framed yesterday. Good job Tad!


Now we wait.  Apparently, the tub needs to be installed so the plumber can get the plumbing rough in finished before we can get the first round of inspections.

In the meantime, we have ordered and received the bathroom fan,


the bathroom vanity sconces (you don’t get to see the actual sconce yet – you have to wait until it is in the room),


and the bedroom bedside sconces (again, you don’t get to see the actual fixture until it is installed – the anticipation…),


the toilet (yes, it is one of those weird half tank toilets – we will talk about that decision later),


the sink (it is the same sink that we have in our other bathroom – we searched, but couldn’t find anything we liked better), Ronbow-24-W-Ceramic-Bathroom-Single-Hole-White-Sink-217724-1-WH

the faucet,


and the shower fixtures.



We have decided on the bathroom wall tile – a handmade accent mosaic for the vanity area and tub apron (I knew immediately that this was the tile when I saw it),


and an artsy field tile for the shower and toilet areas.


The hardwood flooring for the bedrooms and living/dining areas will be the same that we have in the rest of the house – engineered, character maple, random length and width. So, that decision was easy. We were going to go with the same company that we previously hired, but their pricing was 50% higher than it was 6 years ago. Tad shopped around and we will save a couple of thousand dollars. It pays to shop around! Again, good job Tad!


We are preparing for the air conditioning installation.  Yes, we are getting air conditioning!  It wasn’t initially in the plans, but we decided this was the easiest time to install since the walls are all open. Instead of a concrete pad, we went with a stone pad.  The stone pad was Tad’s idea. I set it in place today. Most people wouldn’t even care that it is stone rather than concrete.  We care. We like stone. We think it looks better and it will last longer – because it is stone.  It was also less expensive than concrete.  Again, good call Tad!


The front door was removed to protect it.  I wasn’t even thinking that I was going to do anything with it, but then realized it needs some help if it is going to last another 100 years. So, I tracked down a craftsman to restore this original door. Hopefully, he will pick it up this week and get started. I am still debating whether or not it needs new hardware as well…


It probably needs new hardware.  Yes, I have added that to my list – new front door hardware.

Next on the list – bathroom flooring and, now, front door hardware.

Oh, and, the vanity mirror.  I was thinking we were going to just reuse the old bathroom mirror. However, I went to Restoration Hardware today – just to look around.  Their vanity displays have really tall, skinny mirrors.  I want this in our new bathroom.


Totally cool, right?

Project Planning…

Since we are planning the renovation of our main floor rooms, I pulled out my notes from years of reading and researching the whole “living small” thing. A lot of my notes and ideas are taken from architect/author Sarah Susanka books.


Here are my favorite principles from the Not So Big books:

  1. Choose quality over quantity – less square footage – better quality materials and fixtures – more beauty with unique and inspired details.
  2. Nine foot ceilings make spaces feel good/roomy.
  3. Flexible spaces allow for changing lifestyle demands.
  4. Open living spaces offer shared views and daylight – and allow living spaces to expand as needed.
  5. Adequate storage space relieves the burden on main living areas, enabling those spaces to remain open and free of clutter.
  6. Access to outdoor living areas increases the perception of space and improves comfort.
  7. The combination of warm, natural materials and modern fixtures/details creates an inviting mix of styles that appeals to both modern and traditional sensibilities.
  8. Natural light is the best – optimize it whenever possible.
  9. A consistent/uniform design element carried throughout the entire house will create nice flow and pull together all the spaces. In our house, we have chosen the woodwork (baseboards and window/door/opening trim) as our uniform design element – it is the same in every room.
  10. Utilize creative people who take pride in their work – buy stuff from these craftspeople and artisans.

I try to implement these ideas with all my projects – as applicable to the project – and no matter how small the project.

These principles seem pretty common sense. The principles also seem easy to implement. However, past experience has taught me that it isn’t as easy to implement as one would think. It feels like the planners and builders all want go cheap and easy – because, I think, they think we all want cheap and easy. I think that is a bummer.

Higher ceiling heights, more windows, larger windows, pocket doors, and unpainted woodwork and cabinetry all translate to higher labor and supply costs. As a result, planners and builders tend to want to minimize windows, put in regular swing doors even when there isn’t enough space, and slap up painted trim/baseboard/cabinetry.

I have been to a number of houses owned by planners and builders. They don’t preach what they practice. Most have great windows, pocket doors everywhere, beautiful unpainted woodwork and cabinetry – AND a bunch of other nice stuff like quartz countertops, walls without knockdown texture, recessed lighting in every room, exposed brick walls, accordion patio doors, etc. Let’s all take a lesson from this!

Ok. Time to step off my soapbox.

On to the actual planning for our project…

As you might recall from almost a year ago, we got started on the planning of our main level renovation. Then, Tad and I had a few conflicting thoughts on the project. I honestly thought we would have actually been done with the project by now.  Ha Ha!

Finally, we hired an architect because we thought we had made all the major decisions and we just needed some construction drawings – so we could get a permit – and get started. We don’t have any construction drawings yet. This isn’t the architect’s fault. This is our fault. The architect presented some alternate ideas. Some of these ideas have been great. Some of them not so great. Despite not implementing all his ideas, I have mostly appreciated the process. I think it will make the outcome of our project much better.

We thought we had debated all the new bathroom layouts and decided on the final one. Lo and behold, the architect offered some other options for our redo that we didn’t completely consider with the initial debate. After some discussion, we ended up liking some of his ideas. 

This is the layout we had previously settled on…Scan 14

Now we have decided this is a better use of the space after considering the architect’s suggestions.


This layout moves the vanity from a niche to the outside wall next to the tub/ shower area. This allows a more comfortably sized vanity – from 27″ wide to 38″ wide. That is pretty significant when you are talking about maximizing storage.

This new layout also spurred a discussion about the bedroom closet space (and how it wasn’t all that useful with the previous layout). This new layout eliminates the initial vanity bump back into the bedroom closet space so we can create a bedroom built in with drawers in addition to hanging space.

Main floor revision


Closet storage goes from 40″ to 63″. Again, the additional 23″ is pretty significant since I was wanting to maximize storage. About half of that will be hanging space and the other half will be a built in with drawer space. This will be beneficial since the room is small and eliminating the need for a dresser will be important in allowing for decent circulation around the room.

The drawing below is the elevation of the guest bedroom closet wall. I am pretty excited about the way it is going to look. The door on the left is the pocket door into the bathroom. The center is obviously the built in with drawers and a spot for the television (because you know we can’t have a room without a television in this house). Behind the door on the right is the hanging clothes part of the closet. We talked about a barn door for the closet – because I love barn doors.  Instead, I was talked into going with a regular sliding closet door. I like how organized and well thought out this looks. And – I already have a barn door in the house – I don’t really need another one if it doesn’t make sense…


The bathroom storage was moved from a separate shallow wall cabinet to below the vanity in the form of drawers. The drawing below shows 3 drawers – I think 2 deeper drawers will be more useful.  So, we will go with 2 deep drawers. The storage space will be about the same amount as previously planned – just more useful – I think – I hope.

The architect tried to talk us into a corner shower and no tub. Tad and I both agree that a tub shower combo seems more comfortable and visually appealing in this space. We also felt like we wanted a tub somewhere in the house – just in case – even though we aren’t tub people.

You might notice that the drawing below shows a 10″ soffit above the vanity and shower. Initially, the architect had an even larger soffit. He says that this saves money on tile and is kind of a standard design detail. Interesting thought, but Tad and I weren’t convinced. We will spend a little extra money on tile in exchange for higher ceilings and the feel of a larger space. We will have 9 foot ceilings in the bathroom – and no soffit.


During one of our meetings with the architect we were trying to brainstorm what to do in our living room to add some type of architectural detail. We talked about beams. We talked about a vaulted ceiling. We talked about different ceiling treatments. We talked about crown moulding. We talked about a lot stuff. Eventually, Tad came up with the idea to mimic the post and beam detail of our existing kitchen opening…



along the long living room that has the entryway and bedroom openings. Instead of two small doorway openings,


we will have a long beam with simple trim detail that will highlight the high ceilings – and hopefully, create the illusion of greater space in the entryway and tiny vestibule/hallway to the bedrooms. I think I am more excited about this than any other thing associated with the project – even if it was Tad’s idea :)


In summary…

  • We thought we had thought of everything. Come to find out, there were additional fresh ideas out there that we hadn’t considered.  The money spent on the architect has been well worth it. The additional ideas and suggestions have been greatly appreciated.
  • The principles from the Not So Big books are tried and true. These principles have guided us through a number of successful projects. I am pretty sure the principles won’t lead us astray this time either.
  • More to come as we actually get into the project – like the pocket door vs. swing door debate. I think pocket doors get a bad rap. In fact, I used to be a non-believer. I am now pro pocket door.

Planning for our “Main Level Project” – all because of a toilet…

We’ve been talking about our next big project for a little over a year. I am ready to get a move on this thing. In fact, I’ve got a free day on Friday – as in tomorrow. I’ve got no work, no plans, no distractions, nada. I am thinking I may start a little demo for this project – just don’t tell Tad…

I’ve done measurements and a few sketches with our tentative plans.

The highlighted pink area is what I have officially labeled as our “Main Level Project”.

Scan 13

Here is the new space plan proposal – up close…

Scan 14

We will be moving an existing bathroom to a new location – what is now a small walk in closet. I think this will be the most extensive and problem solving part of the project. We’ve got to get all the plumbing to the new location. I don’t see that being an easy part of the project.


We will move this entryway wall a few inches – like 4ish inches or so – towards the front door. I realize 4 inches doesn’t seem like much, but it is necessary if we want to be able to include a toilet in the new bathroom.


We will also move this existing bedroom wall out about 27 inches. The bathroom entrance will stay near where the current closet entrance is – it’s on the left in the photo below. We will also create a reach in closet for this room along this wall. This room will become a guest room so we feel like a reach in closet is more than adequate.


There will be one slightly odd thing in the room – the existing window will be in the corner of the room. The new bathroom wall will end up about 6 inches from the right side of that window. I am trying to decide if that is going to be ok with me.  I like asymmetry so I think it will work for me. It might not work for our symmetrically oriented guests though. I guess we will just have to see.


This is the view from our dining room. It annoys Tad that you can see the toilet from the dining room. That is why we are moving the bathroom elsewhere.  Yes, this toilet is the reason for this whole entire project!


We will expand the guest room by about 2 feet into the current bathroom space. This wall on the right will move left – over past the edge of the existing cabinetry.


This purple wall will move back into the existing bathroom area. The bathroom window and all the space in front of it and to the left of it will be added to the new future master bedroom – about three additional feet. Again, three additional feet doesn’t sound like much, but in an older house like ours, three feet is huge. Three feet will potentially allow a king sized bed – if we feel the need for a king sized bed.


As a result of all this space reallocation, we will need to replace two windows. One window is currently a frosted bathroom/shower window. This will be replaced with a regular non frosted window – and I am now wondering if we should enlarge the opening and make it the same size as the other window in the room – that would involve adding some saw cutting and/or masonry work to the project. I will need to give that some more thought.



The other window is a small clear window that looks onto the front porch from the current closet – which will become the new bathroom. That window will need to be replaced with a frosted window. Nobody wants to be seen from the front porch or see out to the front porch while using this new little room. One might be a bit exposed if we kept it clear glass.



We will replace plaster and lath walls/ceilings with drywall pretty much everywhere. All the wall movement will make it difficult to salvage the plaster walls/ceiling in the bedrooms. The ceiling in the living room and dining room is on the verge of failing – we’ve got a serious sag. And – Tad has a serious dislike of plaster and lath. I like it but it is pretty difficult to repair. Oh – and – have a good laugh at my faux paint treatment on the living room /dining room ceiling. I never actually finished the treatment – not that it would look any better than it does now. I will say the one good thing that the faux treatment has done is hide all the sagging and cracks up there. We are looking forward to flat, nice, bright, white ceilings.




While the ceilings are open in all these areas, we will reinforce the ceiling joists – like we did in the kitchen. Actually, in the kitchen, Tad insisted on removing and replacing all the ceiling joists in there. I hope we can just reinforce the joists in the rest of the house. Tad also feels like this is a good opportunity to repair the roof rafters in the attic – while the ceilings are open – and the joists are strong enough to be walked on. It is one of those things that I’m not completely excited about doing, but it does need to be done. We have a few cracked rafters up there. We really don’t want the roof caving in. That would not be great.


We will add insulation in the ceiling/attic space – like we did in the kitchen. We liked the denim insulation we used in the kitchen so we will use it in the rest of the house as well. Tad hopes to also add sound proofing between the interior walls.


Some recessed lighting will be added in the new bathroom, the living room, the dining room, and maybe the bedrooms. I like recessed lighting – as you already probably know.


We will also install new hardwood flooring throughout. I would like to keep our existing original floors and just have them refinished, but they are in really rough shape. There are multiple bad patches (from previous owners),

DSCN4052           DSCN4053

a few weak/maybe rotted spots,


and several heat registers/air returns that need to be patched in (since we now have radiant floor heat – we no longer need the forced air vents).

DSCN4054        DSCN4055

We will also need to patch where walls will be moved. So, it does seem that the obstacles are too great to overcome.


Despite all these old flooring issues, I would like to at least keep the old floors as a subfloor and install the new stuff over the top. Tad doesn’t agree – he wants to rip out all the old stuff and put in a plywood subfloor. I plan on standing firm on this issue. I think we should keep something of the original house intact. I believe it should be the floors!

Then, comes all the finish work – woodwork, tiling, paint, decorating. This stuff is all still in my head – not yet on paper or out there for discussion yet.

Prior to formally starting the project, here are a few things we are needing to work out…

  1. I think we would both love to hire this out – get it all done in a few weeks. On the other hand, I don’t want to hand over all my money for work that I feel we could do ourselves.
  2. Do we need architectural drawings? I’m not sure. It seems pretty straightforward so I am leaning towards no. Tad says yes.
  3. I want to do this project in phases – create the new bathroom first, then demo and fix the bedrooms, then do the living room/dining room. Tad wants to do it all at once.
  4. The flooring situation. As I already mentioned, I want to keep the old floors. Tad does not. Actually, I’m not sure why this is on the list to work out – we are keeping the old floors :)