Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Table for Big Parties

Dean and I are hosting my family for Xmas this year. It is not a big whoop: just seven people.  Other than our apartment being under construction, the only catch is that our table only seats four people.
The X-Pand: our dream table

The Portica Table from Room and Board

We looked around for a bigger table and only found a couple that we really liked. The X-Pand table from Propeller Modern was what we really wanted. It does not have a leaf, but a built in accordion-like function that allows you to pull the table out to be 18” longer. Super cool. Also $3,500. We debated splurging on it, but decided that we have been splurging on quite a few things lately and have to draw the line somewhere.

Another one that we really liked was the Portica table from Room and Board, with a white stone top. This one was $2,400 in the size and finish we wanted.  We liked the idea of a stone top because, like many city dwellers, we have one table where every meal goes down. That table has to be durable and look nice despite heavy use.

In the end we could not decide on an expensive table under time pressure. So I turned to craigslist. It is my numero uno favorite hobby to troll craigslist for furniture, so I was fine with this solution.

The spindled legs that sold me on the antique table. We plan on buying white, modern chairs for the
table, and set rid of the current mismash of chairs.
The table I choose was $200, an antique from someone’s great aunt’s house in Staten Island. I really loved the spindle legs, which is what propelled me to reserve a City Car Share truck on a Tuesday night and drive 35 miles to Los Gatos, after work, to pick up this very heavy behemoth.  Dean was not super charmed by this situation or the table, but he was a sport and acknowledged its attractive economic qualities.

We forgot to take a "before" picture, but the
mismatched leaf was as garrish as this one.
The table’s big flaw was that the leaf was obviously not original to the table. The leaf was a different color wood, and the grain ran in a different direction than the wood on the table. Which makes no sense to me: if you are going to have a custom leaf made, shouldn’t it match the existing table? Or maybe the granny who owned the table always used tablecloths, as grannies do. Who knows.

Our solution was to paint the table top a dark brown, to complement our dining room walls, and then put 3 coats of polyurethane lacquer on the top. 

It was pretty simple, as long as you remember to let it dry for 6 hours between coats. The “self-leveling” polyurethane did not dry to be glassine smooth, like a still lake, but they are good enough for me (except one paintbrush bristle is fossilized in the lacquer on the north end of the table. I choose to sit on the south end because it is bothering me).  

The table and reflecting tree!

The best part is the shiny surface reflects the architecture of the apartment beautifully. Depending on where I sit I see the built-in china cabinet, the lights from our Christmas  tree, or the amazing front windows reflected on my table.

The reflecting table with our new window coverings from Ikea. Another recent accomplishment: we took
down all of the metal mini blinds throughout the house and replaced them with better window treatments.

David's bum, and our table.
This week Dean and I also hired a cleaning lady for the first time in our lives. The construction dust has gotten the best of us. Ernestina, our amazing new cleaning professional, walked into our house, pointed to the shiny table, and said “me gusta!” Excellent first review!


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Powder Room in Under 1,100 Words, Not Including Footnotes

Well, it’s been a long time. Not because we haven’t been involved in any home improvements[1], but mostly because I’ve been busy (Andi’s Note: lazy) and haven’t had (AN: taken) the time to write a new blog (AN: it’s his turn).  Andi and I are on vacay in Michigan for the Thanksgiving holiday and, at the moment, we’re sitting on Rocco’s couch in The D watching Eat, Pray, Love so I figure I have about 140 minutes to write a blog entry[2].

Where to start… about six weeks ago we began the powder room renovation. And when I say “began” I mean I called a couple of plumbers and scheduled some times for a free estimate. That snowballed into demo of some of the interior walls of the existing closet that is being changed into the powder room[3], demo of the existing disgusting vinyl floor, removal of the existing door and frame for reuse in a different location (we’re moving the door—see the new plans), new framing for a new ceiling[4], and the beginnings of some new wall framing to extend the room about 8” so that we achieve the full 24” of clearance required by the city from the front edge of the toilet to any obstruction directly in front of the toilet (read: sink).[5]

Is this door demo or has there been a nuclear fall-out?
Framing the wall that extends the bathroom 8".
Then we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbors. From upstairs. They heard the pounding and the cutting and the demolition and read the note that we left for all of the tenants in the building outlining our renovation. They wanted in. They are updating their apartment as well and will eventually add a powder room to their unit. They wanted to split the cost of the rough plumbing and extend it to their apartment so that it’s A) cheaper as a package deal and B) less of a disturbance to us at a later date.  We agreed.

So we started the bid process over again. I quickly (AN: not so quickly) revised our floor plan, drew one up for our neighbor’s apartment, and sent the two new plans back to the plumbers for review and update their quote if needed[6]. Then I headed to the San Francisco Department of Building Inspections to get a permit for our plumbing and electrical work where I was told 1) that the licensed plumbing and electrical contractor must pull the permit for the work if I am not a licensed contractor myself, 2) that I need a architectural permit since I am changing the Use of the space from a Closet to a Bathroom, and 3) that I need a stamp and signature from a licensed Architect in the state of California on the drawings since I am moving the door from one wall to another and that wall might be a Structural Wall. That was the biggest kick in the jewels. I am an architect—by effort and trade, not officially by title since I need to pass 9 national registration exams (which I have) and 1 additional statewide exam (which I have not) to become a licensed Architect in the state of California. If I were in Michigan, I would be a delinquent paying member of the AIA. So I can’t even stamp and sign my own drawings. Ugh.

Luckily for me, I know a lot of Architects with a capital ‘A’. I spammed them all with the following email:

“Help! I’m officially not an Architect in the state of California and I can’t stamp and sign my own drawings, as required by the city of San Francisco, for a powder room renovation in my own apartment. Which one of you is willing to risk their professional reputation and registration for my silly little renovation?”

Two people responded. One favorably; one asking, “why in the hell are you not licensed ~?!~” (Don’t ask about the punctuation.) My boss asks me the same question at work every day. I tell him the world has enough Architects.

In all seriousness, thanks to my friend Paul for stepping up and offering to help us out with the permit. He graciously stopped by the apartment, reviewed the plans, observed the construction site, listened to my non-sensical babbling about door framing, and agreed to stamp and sign the drawings for permit with minimal fee.

With Paul’s blessing I felt comfortable continuing with the renovation. Andi and I selected a plumber, Professor Plumb, and scheduled them for their first available slot. Unfortunately that slot is not for two weeks. (It’s amazing that the world does not revolve around my powder room.) In the meantime there is much work to be done before the plumbers arrive: get an architectural permit, rough frame the new door, finish the framing of the alcove ceiling, and frame a new soffit for the toilet alcove. My friend and old roommate Steve offered his muscle for a day and we pounded out items 2 and 3 in the previous sentence while battling power shortages (we had to juggle rechargeable batteries all day because neither of my batteries were fully charged even though they were in the recharging dock for the last 10 days), broken tools (Steve sheered one side of my #2 Phillips head screw driver bit off completely while screwing our boxed header together and we wore down the teeth of the reciprocating saw so badly that we basically burned the studs in half until we trudged down to our Local Hardware Store and bought new blades), and general scratch-our-head-because-we-were-not-really-sure-what-to-do-next-itus (a tough thing to overcome, kind of like writer’s block or ED—we used pizza and alcohol). But the rough opening for the door is framed[7]. And the alcove ceiling too. And a question was raised for our plumbing contractor: do I need to demo the plaster on the entire wall with the wall-hung sink in order to install the plumbing waste and vent pipes or can they install the pipes with minimal demo?

The magnificent door header.

Steve and me and our semi-handy work.
So that’s where we are. Our schedule remains somewhat in tact. The next step is to call the plumber and ask him about the plaster demo. If he requires additional space to install his rough plumbing, I will demo the existing plaster in the wall with the wall-hung sink. Then frame the soffit in the toilet alcove. Then hang the door and frame (after I purchase new/used hinges and re-rout the door and frame for the hinges). Then drywall. Then paint, floor finishes, plumbing and electrical finishes, and finally trim.


[1] We’ve purchased and installed translucent blinds for the windows around the lightwell; we’ve purchased floor tiles for the powder room; we’ve purchased and received the sink, light fixture, and ductless exhaust fan for the powder room; we’ve tendered bids for the electrical work for the powder room, office, and living room as well as a bid for the custom shelving and desk in the office; we’ve purchased, received, and partially installed blinds for the bedrooms and kitchen; we’ve purchased and received the wall mount for our tv; we purchased rug(s) for our living room; and we’ve purchased, picked up, disassembled, moved in, reassembled, and partially painted our new/used dining room table.

[2] I actually didn’t finish this blog during the movie. I got too wrapped up in Julia Robert’s quest for balance.

[3] Interesting discovery while demo-ing the plaster walls—the wall between the closet and the hallway is actually two stud walls with three layers of plaster (finish on exterior side of outer wall, finish on exterior side of inner wall, and finish on interior side of inner wall—if that makes sense). The REALLY interesting find was that the exterior finish on the interior wall actually had a wainscot, which means that the inner wall was the original wall and the outer wall was added at a later date, most likely when the electricity was added to the unit. In addition, I found an old gas line capped and sticking out of the inner wall. I’m guessing this was for a gas lamp back in the olden days.

A sample cut of the inner wall wainscot.
[4] This went poorly until I bought joist hangers from our Local Hardware Store.

Framing the ceiling. I desperately needed joist hangers. You can still see the back of the exterior finish
of the inner wall on the right side of the pic.
[5] Both plumbers donated this little junket of info in their free estimate.

[6] In the process of revising the plan for our powder room I realized that I could not reuse the existing door from the closet because of two reasons. First, I wanted to keep plaster damage to a minimum in the hallway since plaster repair is difficult and expensive to do correctly, especially when the plaster dates to the turn of the 20th century. Therefore I wanted to limit the amount of studs I removed from the outer layer of the powder room wall to one stud (that stud would be interior to the opening of the door frame). Since the existing studs are spaced at approximately 16” on-center, the spacing between the first and third studs is exactly 30 ½”. After adding 2x4 king studs inside the remaining existing studs for the door framing, the rough opening is 27 ½”. As a rule, the rough opening for a door is 2” greater than the width of the door. The existing door is a 28” door. For a 28” door I need a rough opening of 30”. Secondly, the existing door is 8’-2” tall. 8’-2”! That is a tall door (although 9” shorter than the tallest man in the world) and the tallest in our apartment. (For a closet? Really?) When I lowered the ceiling from 9’-6” to 8’-4” (one of the plumbers mentioned that high ceilings in small spaces accentual sound in the space—not desirable in a bathroom, if you know what I mean), I inadvertently made framing an 8’-2” door almost impossible without removing some of the ceiling framing already in place. In addition, and 8’-2” door in a room with an 8’-4” ceiling height would look weird. After much discussion, and convincing, we bought a new/used 24” wide, 6’-7” tall, 4-panel Victorian door from Building REsources for $75 for our powder room door. Rough opening dimension required: 26” x 6’-10”.

[7] Our biggest challenge came from the removal of the existing wall sill and baseboard trim. The sill was nailed to the floor with humungous nails and the baseboard trim was difficult to cut through without damaging the floors. We had to pry the sill off the floor with a pry bar and we used the reciprocating saw to cut the baseboard to the floor. Carefully.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Clustering Paintings

Visually, there is a lot going in our living room (zig-zag sofa, donut painting, cheerful yellow walls, “spider” chandelier). Consequently we decided to only hang pictures on one additional wall in the room (besides the donut painting wall).

I clipped these images from Vogue eons ago—they are designer Kate Spade’s Park Avenue apartment. I love how Kate mixes artwork of different mediums and framing styles on one wall. It is such a great way to display your treasured pieces.

Kate Spade's guest bedroom.

Kate Spade's sitting room.
I also recently read an article on NY Times about a professional art installer, David Kassel, who helped a woman display an extensive photography collection in an 800-square foot apartment. His client said, “I have such an eclectic mix of stuff — flea market pictures, fine art photographs and old mirrors. If I put it up in the wrong way or don’t group it well, it would be a mess.” I thought he did an inspiring job.

David Kassel and his client, in her 800 sf Jersey City apartment.
Because I do watercolor and oil paintings, and also have a soft spot for collecting artwork, Dean and I decided to attempt something similar. We had seen an HGTV episode of “The Antonio Treatment” where Antonio organized his framed artwork on a giant piece of butcher paper on the floor, just as he would like them to hang on the wall. Then he traced the frames, taped the paper to the wall, and knew exactly where to drive all of the nails. This seems like a very precise and proper way to hang pictures. Knowing that this was the best way to do it, Dean and I threw method to the wind and just eyeballed it!

And it turned out beautifully! Over time we may add one or two more pieces to our art wall, which gives us room to collect (my fav activity). Because the art wall is very representative of my artwork and my “finds”, I was happy to have a little room for Dean to add to it when he finds something that strikes his fancy.
Our clustered paintings wall.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Welcome Home, Mr. Eero Saarinen

Being an architect, Dean appreciates modern designers and their product. So he is thrilled to have one of Eero Saarinen’s vintage pieces in our home!  This week I scored a 1960s Saarinen tulip side table on craigslist for $350, with the original Knoll sticker on the bottom.

The marble top has both gray and tan marbelized lines. Which makes it easy to match to stuff. Ignore
the unfinished loveseat!
It has a sturdy iron base and weighs about 50 lbs. The marble top and lines of the base give it a floating sensation. It is so pretty that I am hesitant to put anything on it. Maybe that is why the modernists have clutter-less interiors—their furniture is too beautiful to cover with books and lamps and miniature dog figurines.  

Also note our new Ikea nesting coffee tables: KLUBBO. $69.99.
Eero was a mid-century Finnish American designer known for his “machine-like rationalism,” according to Wikipedia.  Like Dean, Eero grew up in Michigan.  Unlike Dean, Eero hung out with kids like Ray and Charles Eames and Florence Knoll.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Meet Our Garden

Mark Twain famously said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” It’s true—the summers are foooogggy, and the tourists all look miserable on their double-decker buses. But the fall is glorious. This week it has been around 75 degrees and sunny every day.

This weather is thrilling because about a month ago I decided to do a second planting of vegetables in our garden, hoping to harvest by early November. We planted radishes, turnips, butter lettuce, red leaf lettuce, kale, spinach, and more carrots.

Last time we planted seedlings I unwittingly confused many of the sprouts for weeds and yanked them. So this time I drew a garden map for our plot, which is about 4 by 15 feet.
The turnips and butter lettuce are coming up rapidly, as is the kale. Stay tuned to see how those turn out. Tonight Dean made homemade mint chip ice cream (his specialty) with mint from our garden. We will eat it this weekend when we have friends over to enjoy it with us.

Giant chard! Though we are not huge chard fans we have figured out how to make chard & sausage fritatta,
halibut fillets wrapped in chard, and chard risotto.

Dean really wanted to try growing corn. All in all, the stalks produced two very sweet ears of corn.
Yummy, but not a big yield in the foggy Inner Richmond.

Our baby kale is sprouting! Notice the summer broccoli behind it, which has been picked and sauteed
already, with some red pepper flakes and olive oil.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Color Schemes for Victorians

The paint on our building is chipping and old. Unfortunately there are 14 different paint colors on our building, and estimates range from $60,000 - $100,000 to repaint! Who knew it was so expensive?

Our building. There are greens, purples, blues, whites, creams, golds. It all adds up to 14 colors.
Luckily there are four apartment owners, so we get to split the cost four ways. Consensus is that if we are going to drop $100K, we might as well pick a color that we like. One of my neighbors identifies the current color as “blue-green-gray” and another said we need to “bring the building color out of the early 90s.” Dean and I agree.

Because Victorian homes have so many colors, and painting is so expensive, it behooves everyone involved to hire a color consultant. These people help pick your color palette and painting plan, preventing a $100,000 disaster. I have heard that color consultants charge a one-time fee of about $500. Seems like a bargain, but I guess we will find out!

A few weekends ago Dean and I took a walk in our neighborhood to look at other Victorians and see how they are painted. We identified some that we like.
This home is a simple seafoam green with white trim and gold accents. I like.
A light gray house with lots of white and ivory trim, and a navy blue crown. Very tasteful.
Simple whites and creams. A timeless way to go.
Yellow with coral accents is so cheerful. But I worry that I would grow tired of it. Maybe in lighter shades
it would have more longevity?
Navy blue seems to be the only dark color I gravitate toward.
Everyone likes light blue.
Tan, red, brown and white is attractive. But this is the road to 14 colors on your home!
What colors do you like on ornate Victorian homes? If you have pictures, send them our way!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Beta Project Complete!

Our utility room is complete! We removed the old vinyl floor, laid the new Chartreuse Marmoleum tile, painted the room (Drizzle and Heirloom Silver), attached a new fiberboard baseboard, and installed a new metal threshold for the exterior door. Total project cost: $2,650.00 (including appliances) over 6 weeks (mostly weekends).

The completed utility room.
After we found out the bathroom washstand was on hold until January, we decided to make the utility room our beta-project for our home renovations. In all, we learned many lessons regarding DIY renovations and we thought we’d share them with you all.
Utility Room Lessons Learned:

1.     Understand the process. When installing the Marmoleum, I wasn’t totally aware of how much adhesive I would need to lay the linoleum tile. The adhesive tub was professional-grade so there were no "directions" on the container. So I slapped it on like it was mortar on a CMU block. After I laid a couple of tiles, I was terribly frustrated because they wouldn’t stay in place. And I couldn’t step on them unless I wanted to tile surf across the utility room. I realized then that I used too much adhesive, so I pulled them up, one at a time, scraped off most of the excess, and laid them down a second time. When I was about 75% done with the floor, I glanced at the tub of adhesive and read that the tub offered enough adhesive for 1,000 sf of flooring. Well, I had used half of the tub on about 50 sf. Needless to say, I used way too much even after I toned it down. It wasn’t until weeks later while watching The Antonio Treatment episode “Design Club” on HGTV did I understand how much adhesive you need—not a lot. Basically a skim coat. I used enough to be considered a thin-set grout. For days after completion we cleaned e xtra adhesive that squeezed out of the seams.
2.     Understand your materials. During our transport of materials from Home Depot to our new apartment, one of the baseboard trim pieces went missing. For the life of us we couldn’t figure out where. So I had to go back to Home Depot (another day) and buy another piece of baseboard. I forgot to bring a sample piece with me, but how similar can baseboard be? Answer—very similar. I bought a piece that I thought was correct until I got it home and held it up to a piece of baseboard already installed. (I bought this baseboard instead of this one. Can you see how I messed that one up?) Needless to say I made a third trip to Home Depot to purchase the correct baseboard so I could finish the trim. On a side note, don’t trust the hardware store. On my third visit, I couldn’t find the baseboard that matched my sample. I searched and searched, checked product numbers, and asked employees for help and still couldn’t find the right baseboard even though I was told they had them in stock. After about 45 minutes of tearing my hair out I realized that since the Vintage and Sierra baseboards were so similar, even Home Depot confused them and stocked them together. I found the Vintage baseboard stacked behind the Sierra baseboard.
3.     Understand your tools. I bought a miter saw with a 7.25” blade thinking that it would cut through 5.25” baseboard trim. After I tried to make one cut, I realized I was totally wrong. 7.25” blades are made for 4” trim and 2x4 studs. Luckily for me Home Depot allowed me to return the once-used miter saw and exchange it for a bigger one with a 10” blade.
4.     Understand your appliances. We trusted the experts at Home Depot to inform us as to the correct accessories we needed for our new washer and dryer. We were told that the delivery and installation guys would have everything required to correctly hook up and stack our new appliances—everything except a dryer vent. So we bought an 8-foot flexible dryer vent duct that they recommended. When the dryer arrived and was getting installed, the installers took one look at our flexible dryer vent duct and told us that the manufacturer of our dryer, LG, did not warranty the dryer with the type of duct that we bought. Lucky for us, the installers had the correct duct and they installed it for us and I returned the flexible duct.

The completed utility room from the other side. Note the storage solutions!
Our first renovation project was certainly an experience. We made many mistakes along the way but we feel we’re more experienced for the next project.

The new threshold.
The troublesome baseboard.
The new shelves with a hanging bar.
Again, since the bathroom renovation looks to be in the first quarter of 2011, our next project might be a new powder room and office nook. We’re also painting the main public spaces so look out for potential blog post about that!


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Help! Ugly Chandeliers

Our living and dining room have matching, unattractive chandeliers. The fixtures are old—circa the discovery of light bulbs. Despite their heritage, they are undeniably ugly.

Our friend Julie suggested spray painting them for a more modern look.  Has anyone ever done this? If I spray paint the living room chandelier white, it might blend into the ceiling. And I am contemplating a darker hue of sea green, to match the upper walls, for the dining room chandelier.

What do you think of this idea? Or do you think the chandeliers are too unattractive to salvage, and should be replaced with something better?

Living Room with chandelier. Maybe the chandelier is too small for the space in addition to being ugly?
Dining room chandelier. We are in the process of painting to room. This chandelier is identical to the one in the living room, and is hung too high, compounding its innate aesthetic problems.


Example of a white spray-painted chandelier from the Internet.

Pink spray-painted chandelier from the Internet.

Blue spray-painted chandelier from the Internet.
Let us know what you think! Are our chandeliers salvagable? Or should they be sold to an antique store and replaced?


Monday, September 6, 2010

Loving the Loveseat

My loveseat upholstery project is moving along. Thank you, Labor Day!

A few weeks ago the loveseat was stripped, springs were tied to a tight base and back of webbing, and I covered the whole shebang with burlap. I then took pause to debate fabric.

Thank you to all who offered input on fabric. I ended up choosing the dark horse, a zig-zag linen that I found on for $7 per yard! The price was a big draw—the other fabrics I considered were $30-$40 per yard. I have always had a thing for zig-zags, ignited by an early love of Charlie Brown’s yellow tunic. My total fabric purchase was $41, including shipping, which was unbelievable. In my mind, this almost makes up for the $200 custom cushion.

In the past few weeks I embalmed the loveseat’s arms in cotton batting and tightly stapled a white cotton fabric over the whole situation. I cut a piece of foam to the camelback shape and stapled it to the seat back, then repeated the cotton/ fabric process.  The cotton pads the loveseat frame and the white fabric keeps the cotton contained, providing a clean tight surface for the final layer—the upholstery fabric.

Process shot. Right arm covered in cotton, foam on seat back. Note all of the paint tests on
our living room wall!
Cotton gets covered in fabric
After a day at the beach, I came home and covered the arms and seat back in the zigs. This involves
cutting the fabric in a few key spots, and stapling like a banshee.
Today I started stapling down the zig-zag faric on the arms and seat back. I am thrilled to say that the whole project is visually en fuego. Very graphic and fun, like my inspiration loveseat from Domino.

Loveseat in the "Domino Book of Decorating"
that inspired me.
Next weekend I am going to take the cushion to my upholstery teacher Gina’s studio in Alameda. She lets me use her professional-grade sewing machine to make cushion covers.  Summary: On the upholstery front we are cookin’ with grease.

Pale Moon is second from left. I don't know how great the color rendition is on your monitor, but mine sucks.
Pale Moon is brighter in real life.
Dean and I have decided to paint the living room in Benjamin Moore’s Pale Moon. It is a yellow that simply glows at night under our chandelier—in every way it reminds me of the elegant halo around the moon. In the natural morning light, however, Pale Moon is cheerful. Between this zig-zag sofa, our famous donut painting, and the yellow walls, we might not need to drink coffee in the morning—we can just walk into the living room for a jolt of energy. I am going to keep everything else in the room extremely neutral so it does not become a travelling circus for the eyes.

Mr. and Mrs. Chow have their first dance.
On another note, this weekend was a great poster child for a renovation/life balance. We were so happy to attend our dear friends’ Wilson and Erin’s wedding at the Golden Gate Club at the Presidio. Wilson and Erin are our true mutual friends—they introduced Dean and me two years ago! Congratulations to the Chows!

We also managed to go to Baker Beach to enjoy the gorgeous weather, paint up a storm, organize the storage room, got to yoga, and watch about 8 hours of college football (like I said, Wilson is in town). Hooray for three day weekends!

Dean is putting the finishing touches on our gorgeous new laundry room. He will write about that soon.