Friday, September 29, 2006

Stairway to heaven

The stairwell to the 2nd floor has been drywalled, taped, painted. The trim was stripped by our contractor, stained and reinstalled.

Here you see the door that our contractor re-veneered and completely rebuilt. It is the original door and it looks like new.

Here's a close up shot of the trim work in the stairwell. Now we just need to clean the carpet and wipe down the steps. The stairs themselves are only stained, so if we ever wanted to strip them or have them sanded, it wouldn't be too bad. For now, they are fine.

We used the same paint colors as the front entry to keep a nice flow into the building.

I am at a really weird place with our project. I have this incredible impatience to finish, yet feel completely overwhelmed by all the little stuff I have to do. They say it's the little stuff that always gets to people, and in my experience this is totally true.

I can spend all summer refinishing 1900 feet of wood trim, but give me a list with a bunch of little things and I go insane.

Also, Steve's parents are coming tomorrow and I was trying to clean for them. There is so much dust around, my dust bunnies have dust carrots. I did my best to clean up, but it will take a few good cleanings to really get all the dust out of here.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Night Moves

We're still pretty busy, although things are coming to an end game with the 2nd floor. Steve headed up to the roof to set up his work area. He has grinded out almost all the joints on the parapet wall.

Now he'll have to chip off the mortar on the top pieces because they are looses and will have to be rebuilt.

I say he, but actually I've been recruited as helper.

Steve also glued up the backboard of his medicine cabinet.

Meanwhile, I got out the Easy Off and cleaned the oven. And scrubbed the bathtub. Steve's parents are coming this weekend and I don't want them to feel too sorry for us.

Plus, I just can't face any more sanding right now. What I really should have been doing was sanding the radiator covers, but I just couldn't summon the strength.

I think cleaning the oven was somehting I could complete tonight, which is partially why I wanted to do it.

Anyway, the view from the roof is kind of interesting in a very city neighborhood kind of way. To me, anyway. It was quite beautiful up there on the roof with the soft wind and cooler fall air.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Meet the Renters

Maybe some of you are interested to hear what it's like to be a landlord. If so, read on for anecdotal stories. If not, tune in for another post.

We've shown the apartment a bit. We still haven't found our "prince" yet. The first two sets of people who wanted it seemed "okay" but we want better than just okay. The apartment is better than okay and deserves a tenant that will appreciate it.

We've had a few unusual situations so far...

The Trust Fund guy
He showed up tonight with his "assistant". I smelled alcohol and his voice was scratchy like a smoker. He didn't seem to want to deal with me, but preferred Steve. He had a letter from a bank stating he could pay the rent since he does not work and just lives off a trust fund. His assistant asked questions like, "So there will be an iron railing there, so Mr. A won't fall out the window?" after we had already told her twice that there would be one. Oh, and he wanted to make the room over our bedroom a media room. Can this get funnier?

The Part-Timers
The woman showed up and looked "perfect" (Steve's words). But then she started talking. They only want to live in the apartment 3 nights a week so they can take their 3 year old to a nearby special school. They will barely move in any furniture and want a 6 month lease. They "haven't really thought everything through". Oh and they have 2 dogs, 3 cats, and an infant.

The Distrustful one
To start off, she went to our neighbor's house instead of ours. Then she came in and started asking ALOT of questions about things that tenants usually don't care about. For example, she wanted to go up on the roof and inspect it. She asked the significance of an iron ceiling fan. She asked what brand of refridgerator we were buying. Now that isn't too weird, but the way she asked it sounded like she suspected we'd not put one in or something. In fairness, I think she has some mental issues and maybe even physical ones, but we just don't need that here.

But then, there was....

The Perfect Tenant
She was an older lady in her 40's or 50's, single and she would live by herself. She appreciated and understood what we had done with the apartment. She was a Librarian at a nearby University! She was nice and quiet. She liked the apartment alot. Alas, her funriture was too big for our humble 2-flat. But she gives us hope!

I know you single family home owners are really jealous of all this fun. Try not to hate us too much (kidding).

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dining Room (Money Shots)

The rosin paper was finally removed from the floors this weekend and so you can actually see the entire finished space.

We are taking photos for our apartment ads. So far no takers. Actually, this isn't exactly true. We've had some interested parties- just not anyone we want to rent to.

We are adding one more sconce on the far wall. It's on it's way now from Rejuvenation.

But, please- no more comments that we should move up there. This will hurt the first floor's feelings and I can't have that. The first floor is a true beauty in it's own right and has been very neglected this summer.

This fall & winter, I hope to pay more attention to the first floor. Number one on the list- getting my closet back!

A (belated) Happy Birthday (to me)

Friday was my birthday. It also rained all day.
In fact, it was tornado weather in these parts and trees were downed in the park a few blocks from us. I was worried about our not-complete roof a bit, but we made it okay.

I got lots of flowers this year so I'm sharing here. It smells very nice with 3 big bouquets.

Because it was my birthday and I am just totally beat, I lightened up a bit on the work. This means I slept till 9am and didn't really start working till 10am both days. And I quit before 3pm.

I'm still on birthday break. So I'll post more this week on what was accomplished.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Remember the 1st floor?

Most of the inside work done on our building has been all about the 2nd floor this summer- except for the fact that we had our den/office completely renovated! I'll show you the before photos for reference.

The plaster walls were dingy and lumpy and the ceiling was coated with popcorn plaster and coming loose. The wood work was painted white many many times.

From the dining room, you saw a thermostat, not exactly the most attractive thing that could go on that wall we thought.

Incidentally, my clothes are usually stored in the den closet and I've been without a real closet now since June. I've had these portable wardrobes-one in the kitchen and one in the dining room. The dining room one collapsed today in honor of my birthday I think. (Yes, it really is my birthday-I'm being low key about it)

Anyone who has lived through the displacement of renovation will understand how good it feels to put things back where they belong. I can't wait to put my closet back.

We also added a light to
the closet so I can see my clothes.

I had stripped some of the wood trim before the demo-just because I was ansy.

We gutted the plaster walls and ran new conduit. We had the wood stripped along with the upstairs trim and refinished it.

We moved the thermostat to a more unobtrusive place and added a sconce.

And we stripped and repainted the radiator.

The ceiling light is from Schoolhouse Electric. We are happy with the quality and will most likely buy a similar one for our bedroom.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Radiator Redux

We were thinking of sandblasting the radiators, but when Steve mentioned this to our plumber, he said he had this great industrial strength stripper we could use that would remove the layers of paint lickety split.

It is a highly concentrated methol chloride. It is not for the faint of heart.

At left you see what we started out with. Chipping paint and diminished detail from the layers of paint applied over the years.

Steve set up what I like to call our own personal toxic waste dump and got to work. Apologies to all the environmental purists out there. At least we are contaminating our own land and not someone elses.

As soon as I saw the set up the first thing that I said to Steve was (with sarcasm), "Groundwater contamination....Oh that's just great."

It's pretty damn disgusting. And to think I was thinking of growing vegetables in this little bed. Um, I don't think so. In fact, it's funny because people ask me why I don't grow vegetables because I seem to like gardening so much. I tell them every time that I won't do that until I change out the soil because I've sanded and scraped so much lead paint into our yard, I would not want to eat anything that grew there!

Usually I get a strange look when I say this, but you guys know just how much wood has been handled in my yard. I'm sure you understand.

It took about 6 applications to clean off the majority of the paint.
Here's a close up of the chemical working.

Then we took a drill with a wire brush attachment and ground off the remaining paint build up.

Next we hit it with White primer spray paint. The detail really came back.

We then spray painted it with a charcoal gray. This is the first coat. I am really taken with the results. The improvement is pretty spectacular I think.

A few tips:

Make sure and tape over the valves when stripping, grinding, and spray painting. You don't want anything getting in there.

Wear long chemical proof gloves and safety glasses.

We think that sandblasting or power washing would get the remaining paint and rust off after the stripping, which would mean you wouldn't have to paint them and could leave them au naturale. How cool would that be?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

No rest for the weary...ever!

I had to leave for Miami on Saturday for a Trade Show for work, which is why I haven't been posting. I worked Sunday setting up the booth and then was on my feet all day Monday and Tuesday. After the show, we had parties and dinners so I was "on" almost the entire time. I got home last night at 12:30am.

When I awoke this morning, I found Steve had a "list" made for me of things I should accomplish today. I took today off work because I really needed to. Being gone all weekend kind of set us back a bit.

Here's what he had for me to do today:

1. Call about kitchen faucet (long story...another little problem!)

2. Grind legs and bottom of 2 stripped radiators. Apply rust remover. Spray primer and then paint first coat.

3. For 2 unstripped radiators (we ran out of time), grind legs and bottom of legs and heavy paint build-up. Apply rust remover. Apply deglosser. Prime and paint first coat.

4. Research new welders to make our iron railing (back-up plan).

5. Find shellac flakes in the basement.

6. Sand and stain 4 boards for 1st floor den closet.

I finished everything but the research for the welders. We also started going through all the remaining wood and scrap etc... and figuring out what we'll keep and what we will get rid of.

Anyone in Chicago interested in taking some solid oak trim boards off our hands? They are already stripped and some are stained and we are going to post them on Craig's List because I hate to throw out really good wood. If you're interested, email me at

Tomorrow I'll do a post on the whole radiator project. The ones Steve stripped are looking awesome I must say.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Dogs and Construction

The photo at left is an example of what happened pretty much every day this summer at lunchtime. I was rarely home for it, but Steve dealt with it every day.

You see, our contractors thought it was funny to feed our little dogs. They liked the dogs and have the view that "chicken bones are good for dogs-make them strong."

Please don't call us bad dog owners but in the midst of all the goings on, we let the "dogs don't eat people food rule" slide a bit. As a result, our dogs went a bit mad.

They had a sixth sense to when lunchtime was coming and would start crying and hurling themselves at the gate to get out into the yard where the guys would eat. It really was quite a sight and scene.

Mojo was especially bad about it and would sometimes even try to walk up the stairs to get to his "friends". He's a daschund and they are prone to back problems. Stairs are not good for a dachsie.

So Tuesday night when I picked up my little guy and he squealed in pain, I was alarmed. My first thought was, "Oh my God, he's bleeding internally from a chicken bone splinter and it's all my fault. If he dies, I will have to kill myself to escape the guilt." So I called the emergency vet to see what the signs are of internal bleeding or death by chicken bone.

They suggested it might be his back. This didn't make me feel much better. Again, guilt for neglecting our dogs this summer and working on the house all the time. We keep them company alright. We just are always working. They usually lay outside and watch us all day.

Anyway, he's doing okay now. I will be taking him to the vet soon to have his back checked out and he's due to have his teeth cleaned, which is another thing that scares me. What if they put him under and something goes wrong? As you can see, I'm a little irrational about my dogs. He was attacked by a German Shephard 5 years ago and ever since then I've been like this.

Just part of the chaos of construction that went on this summer. Ah, the memories!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Surprise Project

During construction, the stairwell going to the second floor got a bit trashed. Holes in the plaster walls mainly. We were planning to repair it ourselves, but then we decided to take that project off our plate and give it to our contractor.

The walls were in pretty bad shape to begin with. There was wallpaper with layer upon layer of paint on it. The plaster was dead in areas. Our contractor started to try and patch and it was not holding. He said either the walls would have to be stripped and then repair the plaster or we could cover it with 1/4" drywall. We opted for this because the plaster is pretty bad and this will be less expensive than demoing and reframing.

Originally there was a skylight there, which would be nice. But we are not doing that at this time. It's always on option in the future.

For now we will cover it up.

The stairwell has some wood trim that we will put back. We are not stripping it though.

Regarding everyone's comments on the 2nd floor. Yes it is very nice. Yes it would be nice to live up there.

I don't agree though that one can't find decent God-fearing tenants. We have had tenants that left the apartment virtually as they found it. We have had tenants that did not disturb the peace in the building. We know they exist! We will hold out for them.

Also, the first floor is no ghetto let me tell you. It also has all the original wood trim and coffered ceiling entirely restored. The bathroom is all new as is the kitchen. The 1st floor kitchen has custom wood shelving that Steve made. It's more cozy than the 2nd floor.

Living in the first floor, we have easy access to the yard, where we spend alot of time in warmer weather. And easy access to the basement, where we work on projects. And living in the first floor, we can easily work on cleaning up the basement some more. More projects- mwa-ha-ha-ha! (evil maniacal laughter)...

I didn't mean to get everyone up in arms about it. We deal with a bit of a different scenario than many housebloggers because we are also landlords. Sometimes it's rougher than others, but it pays the mortgage.

You could say living in a 2-flat runs in my family. I grew up in a 2-flat and we lived on the first floor. We never minded hearing our neighbors upstairs. We were quite friendly with them. We were a family and they were too. They had kids close in age to us. I think the key is finding people who have a similar lifestyle so that there is not so much conflict. Also it helps if you like the people a bit also.

Trust me- we are going to be picky. (And Steve polyurethaned the shelving upstairs so water won't hurt it.)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

an Unexpected Romance

It's looking pretty good up there on the 2nd floor.

We're starting to feel like Cinderella down here on the 1st floor with our unfinished wood floors and incomplete pantry. We're even revisiting the idea of moving upstairs and renting out the first floor.

It would solve the noise issue. And there is more room up there. We could have a guest bedroom for Steve's family. I almost cried about it today I felt so overwrought. It's so hard to decide. The main reason we wouldn't is because the 2nd floor will get higher rent and we need the money.

Sconces from Rejuvenation are in and our ceiling fan. Base moldings are done. Picture molding is in.

The chair rail is in in the dining room. If we had planned to live up there, there would be more color believe me.

The granite counter top was installed Saturday. There will be a white tile backsplash with 2 green Motawi tiles for accents.

Now our place is no dump, but can you see why we want to live up there? The light, the space, the fact that we customized everything we could to our liking. Sometimes it's a curse to have such high standards.

I was thinking to myself today as I was hand painting stain on some boards upstairs and doing touchups with an artist's brush, " I didn't mean for this to happen. I spent all summer working on the upstairs apartment. I thought it would just be a summer fling-really. But somewhere along the line, I fell in love with the 2nd floor!!"

I'm doomed.

Problem Update

The electrician did show up on Saturday and finished much of what was needed inside the apartment. He still has to finish the garage and porch lights, smoke detectors, motion detector switches and light for the basement laundry room. He says "we should probably be okay for inspection." He does seem to understand our deadline.

We still don't have tenants yet though. Two sets of people wanted to take it last weekend, but we were not ready to rent it for a few reasons. For one, we didn't have our lease or application ready.

We wrote a new lease that covers all the building rules. One of the building rules is that making holes in any wood trim is not allowed! We are providing wood blinds in one room, nice shades in the bedrooms, and sheer curtains in the living room installed with tension rods.

We added things like no use of laundry facilities after 9:30pm and how to care for the refinished bathtub. For obvious reasons, we are being very picky about who lives up there. We were so burned the last time, we are wanting to be vigilant this time around and get the right person.

We did call back the couple who was interested, but they have not called us back so maybe they opted for another place. It's funny, renting an apartment reminds me of my single days when on occasion I'd be waiting for the phone to ring from some guy I was interested in. It's funny that way.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


I haven't really posted about some of the problems we've been having. Partly because I haven't had time and partly because some of it is related to (surprise surprise) issues with a few of contractors we are still working with. I won't mention their names here. But when this is over, I am going to Angie's list to give them the review they deserve.

Issue #1 The electrician

The project started June 1st. Any delays we've had were caused by the electrican not showing up. In fact, they left us waiting for weeks to run the conduit. Our main contractor was really pissed because they left him hanging also. We have been very patient with them (maybe a mistake).

Recently, they no-showed twice in the past 2 weeks to install the lighting. They finally came yesterday and installed it, but they still have the cable and phone and the garage wiring to do. He told us when he was leaving that, "He is very busy and probably won't be able to come back for a week or two."

In response, I did say that we were hoping to have this wrapped up by October. It's funny how when someone says something to you like that, you can have a delayed reaction. We are both now mad about this. We've been jerked around basically all summer because they have "more important commercial projects" to work on. We are now looking at the possibility of not being able to rent it for October 1st. If they had done everything they were supposed to through this project, we would have had it ready for September 1st. Suffice it to say, Steve will be calling the boss today to discuss this.

Issue #2 The Iron Railing

Steve had been in contact with a welder, who was going to fabricate the railing. He faxed him the design and told him that he would be giving him a to-scale drawing with the exact location of the returns that will bolt to the building. We wanted them to be in the mortar not the brick in case we ever decide to remove it.

Anyway, Steve called the guy this week and imagine his surprise when he found out that he had already fabricated the railing. Steve said he told him like 3 times about the schematics and to wait until he received them. Now we don't know what we are going to do.

I am in favor of having him bring it here and see if it works. (I am wanting to finish this project already). Steve wants to find someone else to make it.

Issue #3 The Budget

Even with careful and detailed planning, we are over budget. We don't want to drain our savings, so we are looking at a home equity loan. Fortunately we obtained one at the start of the project in the event this would happen. We're not terribly over budget, but then it's not over yet.

Anyway, I just thought I'd post these things so no one thinks we had "the perfect project" or something. Here is proof that even when you plan far in advance, organize to the hilt, etc... things can still go wrong.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Kitchen Shelving

Here's a shot of the maple shelving that Steve made for the kitchen. It was small Motawi tiles inset on the backsplash.

We are real big Motawi fans as you can see .

I'm really tired after running around all day (getting supplies etc...) or else I'd say more.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What is it?

Is it a bird? a plane? a hummingbird maybe?

No, it's just Jocelyn sanding and staining closet and pantry shelving by the dim light of a construction lamp into the night.

"Good night you prince (and princesses) of house blogging, kings (and queens) of restoration and renovation..."

Oh, it's all so romantic sometimes isn't it?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Inquiring Minds

So, you want to know how we are cleaning our 100 year old hex tile. No, you cannot power wash indoors I'm sorry to say. That would make life so much easier wouldn't it?

The only power we are using so far I'm afraid is the good old power o' elbows and the other old stand by "hands and knees."

Here you see Steve using his "power washing" technique. He galantly offered to take this job off my hands (and knees) because this solvent our contractor got us is very noxious (worse than denatured alcohol) and I have sensitive sinuses.
One of our little dogs came upstairs and started sniffling within 5 feet of the bathroom poor thing. And yes, I have delicate sinuses and I sanded wood all summer.

So we're trying this nasty solvent Omni MR186.

..and we're also trying this one from Home Depot. We used this for the first floor and it seemed to work pretty well. That and bleach. And Comet.

Steve is also cutting out the grout lines with a razor blade. Boy these tenants better appreciate all this.

But maybe we will look into some kind of power scrubbing tool. There has to be something out there. So many people find themselves in this situation dealing with grime-there must be something out there. If we find it, I'll let you know.

But for now, it's hands and knees.

More Trim In!

The morning light upstairs is quite nice as you can see from these photos. Our building faces east/west so you get good light and a nice crossbreeze off the lake, which is to the east 2 blocks away.

Miro has gotten alot of trim installed. Here is the Pocket Door, which we will have to sand and stain in place.

Here is the trim around the sliding patio doors. Steve is submitting the schematics for the iron railing today, so we should have that soon.

We are putting picture molding where that line is.

If we were living up there, we'd add more color (paint) but since it's an apartment (for now) we want it to be more neutral.

Last night Miro installed the transom window and trimwork. Over the weekend, I sanded and stained the back door that goes here. I expect he'll wait a while to install that door. Not having doors makes moving around very easy.

In some cases Miro had to fabricate new pieces of wood and those are the unstained parts you'll see around. I have to stain those in place.

Here's a view of the trim for the entry to the living room. That unstained piece of coffered ceiling is not new wood. Miro wanted to install it before I could finish staining that piece. Like I've said: pressure.

Tonight I am going to power clean the bathroom floor (white hex tile) so he can install the fixtures in there. The tiling is done and will be finished grouting today.

Okay, now I need to go blow dry my hair so I can go to work! Priorities you know.

Monday, September 04, 2006

First peek at the coffered ceiling

There were only about 4 boards that had to be refabricated. A few boards got a wee bit warped in the (dip) stripping process also. This caused some very small gaps where the boards meet in the inside corners. Our contractor came up with a great solution to add some trim in those areas (consistently of course).

We are really really happy with it. Miro and his Dad are quite the finish carpenters.

Of our list of things to accomplish we did pretty well.
* Selecting the granite slab for the counter top. (done)
* Finishing the remaining new base molding, picture molding & bead board. (done!!)
* Stripping all door hardware. (done)
* More tuckpointing on the roof for Steve. (yep)
* Getting our final drawings for the iron railing to our welder. (not yet)
* Ordering window treatments & some closet hardware. (whoops)
* Starting the assembly of the medicine cabinet. (not)

But we did some things that were not on the list including:
*Assembling the kitchen shelving unit that Steve made.
*Repairing and sanding kitchen door, dining room door, and 1 closet door. We are almost about half way there on the doors I'd say.

Seeing the coffered ceiling back in place: priceless

BTW- here is what the ceiling looked like before...