Sunday, October 13, 2013

The problem with countertops

I was impatient to get the countertops installed, as we had to wait a few weeks after the cabinets were completed.  In the meantime, Mark topped the countertops with plywood that we covered with a tacky wood-veneer Contact paper.  We figured that if we were going to have plywood for countertops, we might as well go all-in on the tackiness factor.

The installation of the countertops revealed some flaws in our construction that would require some ingenuity and adaptation of the custom pre-cut Silestone.  Namely, the wall that was built to divide the kitchen from the dining room was not quite square.  This dilemma also affected our cabinet installers, but they found a way to get the cabinets to fit the space.

The majority of the countertop installation was done in a day, but the piece that was to go across the top of the half-wall between kitchen and dining room (yes, the one that wasn't quite square) couldn't go in that day.

Some miscommunication had one person returning on a different day to complete that section, for a job that required two.  I wasn't able to offer my assistance in lifting that heavy piece of quartz composite, so the resourceful man found some guys doing some painting across the street and asked one of them to kindly stop over and help him lift the slab into place.  Thank you, random painter across the street, for helping out our countertop installer!

View of our kitchen, without countertops or dishwasher installed.

Another view of the kitchen, with island in foreground.

Countertops are nearly finished.  Now when can we get that dishwasher?
The piece went in, but there was a 1/4 inch opening on one side.  The countertop was cut straight across.  So, our contractor used some polymer glue to fill in the gap.  I wasn't loving the look, but he assured me that it wouldn't be noticeable.  I notice it, but I don't think others do.

The other issue was that he should have moved it further toward the dining room before setting it into place, as our stove has to be pulled out about two inches from the wall to accommodate the countertop. Again, it's likely not noticeable to anyone except Mark and myself.  And observant guests who notice these types of things.

Aside from these minor annoyances, we were very happy with our functional kitchen and I enjoyed unpacking dishes, cooking tools and small appliances.  I found new joy in washing dishes while standing upright, not leaning over a bathtub, though I was still looking forward to that dishwasher!

We lived exclusively on the main level of the house for a long period of time, while construction continued on bedrooms, bathrooms and living space upstairs.  When our daughter was an infant, her bedroom doubled as a home office for my husband.  There was no cute mural on the wall, matching nursery furniture, or closet organizers to organize our newborn's clothes, toys and gear.  As someone who has been referred to as "one of the most organized people I know," this life stage was extremely stressful for me. Having a newborn is challenging enough without being given the added stressor of living in a house that's under construction.  I wouldn't recommend it.

Add to that stress the fact that my husband, our primary contractor, has a job that requires regular travel.  Mark traveled two full weeks of each month during the year after our daughter was born and our house was a dusty construction zone.  But we lived to tell the tale!

What's the next installment in our adventure?  How about the radiant heat installation project on our second level?  

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The new house painted blue

The installation of the siding and windows went late into the fall, so we decided to wait until spring to get the house painted.  You never know when frost will wreak havoc on a painting project in the fall here in Minnesota, so we opted to be cautious.  This extra caution gave us a few more months to decide on our color scheme.

Homes in our neighborhood are generally some shade of beige, taupe or grey, with trim being painted the standout color.  Mark and I opted to go with the reverse.  We chose a muted blue with a dark taupe trim.

Our painter obtained samples of a few shades of blue and of taupe to test on our house so that we could be sure of our decision.  You see below the options that were painted on the back of our home.  We selected the second blue and the second taupe.

Several of our neighbors weighed in on the decision.  One neighbor was surprised once the house was painted; she thought we'd be using the blue for the trim, as is typical in our neighborhood.  Nope!

Our painter worked with us to decide on the exact shades of blue and taupe to choose.

Here's the house after it was painted blue.
 We were really pleased with how the colors coordinated when it was finished.  Even now, years later, I really like the way the colors work together.

Our freshly-painted front entrance.  Home sweet home.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The road to a functioning kitchen

Our baby girl was born in February on the coldest day I'd experienced in years.  The temperature in the morning was minus 18 degrees.  I didn't care; I was just glad that we were moved back into our house before I went into labor.

We brought our daughter home to a house without a functioning kitchen and without a carefully decorated nursery to call her own.  These things that others take for granted wouldn't come for several months.

Only a week or two after Z was born, we had contractors come in to build our kitchen cabinets.  Prior to her birth, the cabinets had arrived and been inspected by these contractors.  There were two broken cabinets to be replaced and several missing pieces to be ordered before the kitchen could be assembled.  The parts arrived, but in our sleep-deprived state, we neglected to take a look at them before we scheduled the guys to come back and put together our kitchen.

Big mistake.

At the same time that we ordered our kitchen cabinets, we ordered bathroom cabinets in a different style and finish.  When the replacement kitchen cabinets arrived, they were not the same look as the rest of the kitchen cabinets.  The manufacturer had used the bathroom cabinet finish and style.  Oops.

The guys were disappointed, as the very cabinets that they couldn't install were the ones that they would generally install first to ensure that everything was straight and even.  But if they didn't work that day at our house, they wouldn't get paid.  So, they asked me if it was ok if they did as much as they could that day and come back when the correct order of cabinets had arrived.  I agreed.

Our baby must have gotten used to the noise of power tools while in utero because she didn't seem to be bothered by the work being done 20 feet from her crib.  I remember feeling her startle in my belly when she heard the nail gun as Mark was installing the hardwood floors in our kitchen and dining room.

The island in our kitchen is triangular, with the shortest side featuring three doors.  The middle door has a glass front, and three shelves to use in displaying dishes.  The two other doors were included for looks only and did not feature shelves.  Why? I asked our designer at Home Depot.  Can't we put shelves in there to make it useful?  She said that she didn't know how it was possible to build shelves into those spaces.  But can't we just order some boards and have the installers cut them to size?  I tried arguing with her, to no avail.

When our installation experts went over the plans with me, they asked me why there weren't shelves built into those two extra doors.  Wouldn't it be more useful to have some shelves in there?  We can just order some extra boards and cut them to fit the space.   I could have hugged them.

So, our kitchen now had cabinets.  Next on the list:  dishwasher installation, sink fitting and countertops.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to sand and seal your floor in one week

Maybe Mark felt a little pressure from me to quickly finish the flooring project given how soon we'd be welcoming our first child into our home.  My pregnancy-induced nesting instincts and hormones could have made me a little emotional about needing to have things finished before the baby arrived.  Also, my predisposition toward planning.

But, imagine yourself in my shoes.  While others in our prenatal classes were discussing nursery colors and washing onesies, I was moving all our belongings to our unfinished basement, keeping shower gifts protected from dust in plastic bins, and packing a bag.  Not for the hospital, but for a week's stay with friends so our floor could be sanded and sealed.  Would you be completely rational and unemotional in this situation?  I didn't think so.

So, Mark and I agreed to divide up tasks, enlist the help of friends, and try to have our floor finished and livable within a week.  Ambitious?  Yes.  Achievable?  Well. . .

I was in charge of ensuring that all the necessary tools and materials were ready and waiting when needed.  Once again, I relied on my favorite hardware store for advice and a referral for a business that rented out sanding machines.  They haven't let me down yet.  All was ready and waiting for Mark and a few buddies to get to work.

I realize that it was January and we live in Minnesota, but did we really have to have a snowstorm during this critical week?  No, not flurries or a few inches of fluffy, snowman-friendly snow.  A real storm with high winds, limited visibility and weather-related travel advisories.  Yes, a snowstorm.

Just how did that affect us?  Well, for one, our friend Nick, who had graciously agreed to give up most of his weekend to push a sanding machine around our living room and kitchen, lives about 45 minutes away from us.  That's on a good day, with no snow-related travel advisories.

Nick's wife, understandably, didn't want him traveling alone in the dark with the bad weather.  So he stayed later than he planned, and Mark drove him home and came back to our house to do more work.   He spent the night on the couch in the basement one of the nights, after having worked until 3 AM to finish some sanding.  Thankfully, our neighbors didn't hear the loud machine (Mark asked later and was relieved at their answers).

The long and the short of it is that the work got done, though a lot of sweat, tears and stress went into this project.  I am not sure Mike and Deb saw me in the same light after that week.  I hope I'm forgiven.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hardwood floors and the race against time

Now that we finally had painted walls, it was time to lay the hardwood flooring on the main level.  Yes, Mark did that himself, too.  To prepare for this project, he read a book, borrowed a nail gun and got to work.  I wasn't sure  his self-confidence and commitment to doing the majority of the work on this project himself was warranted.  But the finished floors proved me wrong.

We had a family gathering at our house before Mark began work on the flooring to say thank you to our painters and enjoy some food and wine (being pregnant, I obediently drank sparkling juice instead).  The subfloor was covered in black felt paper to prepare for the hardwood flooring.  I remember little about that night, but I do recall that one family member spilled red wine in the kitchen.  We were relieved that this spill happened on the felt paper and not newly-laid floorboards that were not yet sealed.

Because we had extended the house to the side, Mark would need to join new floor boards to the existing floor in the kitchen and dining room.  This task proved intimidating for a few reasons.  First, the walls weren't straight, so the existing flooring wasn't laid straight.  The new flooring would have to feather in the existing floorboards in a creative fashion to make the layout work.  Next, to make the new boards blend into the existing flooring (and avoid a clean break between rooms) he'd have to tear out some of the original boards.

The first row of boards that Mark laid in our dining room took several hours.  He snapped chalk lines and did a lot of measuring to make sure the first board was at the right angle to match in with the existing flooring and the flooring around the staircase to the basement.  I worried that this project would take weeks at this rate, but once Mark felt comfortable that the boards would line up, the installation sped up considerably.

I did find a way to help with the flooring installation.  I got to choose the layout of the floor boards, making sure to vary the lengths from row to row.  Mark then just had to slide each board in place, thump it with a mallet, then nail it in.

Once the floorboards were laid, it was time to sand and seal the floor.  We chose a water-based sealant because it was winter and we would have a newborn shortly after the floors were finished.  We were very conscious of using materials with a low VOC and other chemicals to minimize exposure to our baby.  It wasn't easy!  A lot of better options have come along since 2006.

The week that Mark sanded and sealed the floors on our main level was the only time we moved out of the house during the entire project.  We stayed with Mike and Deb, who worked with Mark.  I was very uncomfortable that week, as I was 37 weeks pregnant and would have been mortified if I had gone into labor while staying at their home.  My doula, Emme, reassured me that my body wouldn't let me go into labor at their house because I wouldn't be comfortable enough.  She was right, thank goodness!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

We have walls!

Our second floor linen closet, lounge room and a peek into the baby's room prior to the installation of drywall.
A view of our kitchen and breakfast nook from the dining room, with sheetrock installed.

The sheetrock was installed in our kitchen, dining room and throughout our upper level by Juan, who had worked with our electrician friend, and some of his friends.  This contractor landed on our list of those we do not recommend.  The nicest thing I can say about them is that they were inexpensive.  We learned the hard way that generally it's worth the money to hire a contractor who is known for dependability, communication and attention to detail.

Mark had to finish the framing of our pantry, master bedroom closet and other places before we could have the sheetrock installed.  We had planned to have our contractor work the weekend of Thanksgiving, while we were visiting my parents, so we could avoid the dust.  Unfortunately, the pieces that Mark needed to finish before we headed to my hometown of Pierre didn't get done.  He notified Juan that we'd have to push the project out another couple weeks.

Because Juan did this work with some friends as a side business, he found it more challenging to line up enough help to work on the project on the weekend that we were ready for him.  On that Saturday, they arrived later than we were expecting and left earlier.  They returned the next day, but again, it was later than we'd hoped and fewer people were able to work.  The house was a dusty mess.  We weren't happy.

This task was taking longer than we had hoped, which started to cause me and my eight-months-pregnant belly some serious stress.  My goal was to have a functional kitchen before we brought home our newborn.  For that to happen, the sheetrock needed to be installed and painted; and hardwood floors, cabinets, countertops and appliances all needed to be installed.  I was beginning to lose hope that any of these projects would be completed, much less all of them.

After the sheetrock was installed,  the equally-messy job of mudding and sanding began.  Juan and his buddies came over on a couple of weeknights and again on the weekend.  The compound had to dry, then be sanded, then another layer had to be applied and sanded.

On that Saturday, Mark and I made plans to be out of the house for the full day to avoid the dust.  But first our contractor needed to arrive.  We waited, called Juan, waited some more, called again, saw a car pull up, then saw it leave again.  It was Noon.  I was furious.  We called again and finally Juan arrived, alone, at 3 PM to work.  I was still furious.

Once the sheetrock was installed, I called in reinforcements to help with painting.  We owe a huge debt to my Uncle Mark and Aunt Kathy and cousins Emily and Katie for painting the main level of the house and to my mom and sister for traveling here from South Dakota to  paint the upstairs.  Because I was pregnant, I didn't want to be exposed to paint fumes, so I babysat Emily's son Adam and stayed out of the house.  We couldn't have done it without all of you!  Thank you so much!

My Aunt Kathy and cousin Emily putting primer on the walls in the kitchen.

My mom painting our baby's room green, the safe color we chose because we didn't know the baby's gender. 
My cousin Katie painting walls in the master bedroom. 
My sister Elizabeth working on walls in the master bedroom.

Uncle Mark working in the dining room.

When the painting was completed, Mark was able to begin installing the hardwood flooring in the new dining room and kitchen areas.  Two projects down, four to go before our baby was born.  Would it happen?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What's been happening inside the house?

While the framing, windows and siding were being done on the outside of the house, internally we had professionals working on plumbing and electrical.  These tasks ordinarily wouldn't be of much interest to report - running pipes and wires isn't very exciting.  But our contractors managed to give me some material for this blog anyway.

The electrical wiring in the existing house was not safe when we first moved in.  There were exposed wires, old two-pronged outlets throughout the house, no grounded outlets and an inadequate electrical box to manage the power through the house.  Mark worked with our friend Micha, a licensed electrician, to get our electrical wiring up to date and safe.  When the time came to hire a company to add electricity to our addition, we were happy to use the company that Micha worked for, and he was happy to serve as the primary electrician for the job.

Micha's work brought him to our neighborhood often, so when Mark was on leave from his job to build the house, Micha often dropped by for a cup of coffee and a chat before he went off to his job for the day.  He's the kind of friend who has no qualms about heading straight to your fridge and checking out what's there.  We kept Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches on hand primarily for him.  For a few weeks and off and on throughout the next several months, he'd be installing wiring, fixtures and switches at our place.

I was assigned the task of selecting all of our light fixtures.  It was a big job.  I bought most of them at a lighting outlet store in Golden Valley.  The building was cylindrical with no internal walls and an all-glass exterior.  It was the perfect way to display hundreds of light fixtures and lamps.  I marveled at the number of choices as I circled around and around that little shop.

One fixture I found online was perfect for our breakfast nook.  I showed it to Mark, who promptly vetoed it.  Disappointed, I kept looking for something else.  But a few days later I looked at that fixture again and found that the price had dropped by $10.  I decided to take that as a sign that I should buy it anyway.  Until it was installed, Mark maintained that he didn't like it.  Once he saw it hung in our breakfast nook, he changed his mind.

Our plumber, Al, was a hardworking, meticulous German man who thought his work through carefully to ensure that the job was done right.  Some nights he would stay to 7:00 PM or even later to finish up a task he was working on.  A few times we had to kick him out so we could go to bed.

He did make one major mistake, which made for a big mess and a good story.  He was installing pipes in an upstairs bathroom.  To do this work, he had to walk or crawl around on the joists; the subfloor would be put down afterwards.  One afternoon, when Mark and I happened to be home, we heard a big commotion.  We ran to the bathroom on the main level and found Al standing like a cat, holding a glass shelf.  He had fallen through the ceiling and brought a lot of loose insulation with him.

We were shocked that Al survived this fall unhurt and even managed to land on his feet and catch our glass shelf on the way down.  Mark ordered me to go outside, since I was pregnant and shouldn't breathe in the insulation particles swirling around the room.  He did a quick cleanup of the mess while Al apologized repeatedly and told him that he always knew he would fall through a floor like that.  He was just glad it happened at a house with such nice people.

The hole in our bathroom ceiling was covered with a piece of plywood for about four years before Mark replaced the ceiling and walls in that room.  A part of me thinks Mark wanted to keep that piece of plywood there to keep the story alive.