Monday, November 27, 2006

Weekend Recap

As previously reported, Steve installed the stairway railing this weekend. Nothing fancy, but we improved on what was there in that he made the railing in two pieces instead of four (what was there) and we used all oak rather than a mix of pine and oak. And we used better hardware.

Unfortunately the metal angles Steve was planning to also use to reinforce the connection on the angles did not want to cooperate. Suffice it to say, there was some cursing and crabbiness and ultimately the railing went up without them. At one point I said to Steve, "Can you lower your standards maybe a little?"

And here is Steve buffing out the grout haze. This buffing pad worked but it was still a tiring job.

While Steve was fighting with the railing on Friday, I was busy on my holiday decorations. It was about 60 degrees outside and I thought that was a good time to be outside stringing some lights. It's hard to get a good photo though.

I love the oversize more old fashioned bulbs. I used to be an all white light gal, but not anymore.

And what do dogs do on Thanksgiving? Why, they sit and wait for the turkey to be done of course.

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I have been somewhat remiss on blogging lately. It's probably due to the change in seasons and having such an all-involving project as the 2nd floor winding down to completion. Believe it or not, we still have a few things to do up there.

Steve installed the stairway railing this weekend and it was a real bear of a project. We used a drill attachment with a buffing pad to buff the grout haze off the bathroom tile. One of those things our contractor should have done, but we didn't notice it until he was gone. It was kind of a "rats!" moment when we realized that and as you can see we procrastinated it for a while.

I worked on cleaning up the basement more and various small and sundry tasks. All that remains to be done upstairs is to clean and wax the bathroom floor and replace the broken mirror in the medicine cabinet. Oh, and we still need to break down the drying rack in the garage.

It's amazing how many little things we had on our punch list. Everything from polyurethaning window sills and shelving to caulking the holes around the radiator pipes to installing a paper towel holder to installing a dimmer switch and on and on. Steve kept adding to it. He's really a perfectionist and he sometimes suffers for it. I know he's really glad to be done with this project. I was over it 3 weeks ago!

Anyway, I have some great news to report and that is that we have found our tenants and they signed the lease on Tuesday! They will be moving in mid-December. They really seem to appreciate the apartment and we are hoping it will work out well. I have a good feeling and I suspect that karma-wise we are due for a better experience than the last one.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Angie's List Membership Pays Off

Not only were we able to source some good contractors through the list, but I submitted 15+ reports in October and qualified for a free camera!

Since I already have a digital camera, I'm planning to gift this one for x-mas. One less gift to buy and to think home improvement paid for it!

Now if only I would win that Plasma TV they are giving away... I really think I deserve it big time don't you?

On another note, my review of Chicago Woodstripping was featured in their monthly email newsletter.

Description of Work:
We hired Darrell to strip 100 years accumulation of paint off 1800 linear feet of wood trim from the 2nd floor of our 2-flat as well as 3 window frames and 9 two panel oak doors.

Member Comments: We were extremely happy with the job Darrell did. His price was reasonable and he finished this tedious and time consuming work on time for our project. In fact, we were so pleased with the job, we gave him a $300 bonus when he was done. All of the wood had not one speck of paint on it when returned. Due to dip stripping (the method he uses) we did have some boards get a bit warped and some joints on doors were loosened, but this is to be expected with this method. He will also strip wood in place in your home as well. Darrell is a good guy and he is doing a huge service by helping save old architectural elements from the garbage heap! Perhaps best of all, we were able to put back the original coffered ceiling beams (see photo).

So, overall we are happy with Angie's List. We didn't get any BAD contractors off the site. Things were not perfect with all of the one's we hired, and we won't rehire some of them, but overall we did pretty well. I'm going to add them as a resource on my sidebar, because we really do use them and I've shared information with others successfully as well.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Getting Back to Normal

At the end of May, we moved Steve's office from the basement to our dining room for the post replacement. Truth be told, I never liked him working down there. We have asbestos piping still and I felt relieved having him out of there.

The dining room got even more cluttered when we moved everything out of our den (for gutting) and into it as well. It was one of those cases where you kind of have a pathway through a room and no longer have a room. It was kind of embarrassing to me so I never posted a photo of the mess. The picture here was taken on a good day, when our dining room table was clear of any clutter.

This weekend we got our dining room back. We kind of need it for Thanksgiving, it was just in time. The table in the corner is only a temporary side table for Thanksgiving. We had to keep my desk there also because of limited space in the den. Eventually, we are hoping to build a longer desk in the den and fit my workstation there also. Or maybe I'll get a laptop and we won't need this desk anymore!

We moved Steve's office into the den. We still need to install picture molding and hang pictures in there and some of the furniture etc... is only temporary, but it's not too bad for a temporary solution.

Things feel alot more organized now and I'm breathing easier.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Update on 2nd floor etc...

Last weekend, Steve & I worked on installing the stairwell railing. He used manual Jorgenson miter saw to cut the angles. And he installed the hardware. He stained it today and will poly the railing tomorrow.

I cleaned the front entry floor(see left) with an abrasive disc attachment on a drill and Comet. I got up the stains and paint residue, but I didn't want it too clean. After all, it's 100 years old and it shouldn't look brand new.

The only trick to this project was that I had to paper off all the walls and doors because the stuff splatters everywhere.

We also showed the apartment to a couple of youngsters and they absolutely loved it. It's a guy and girl and they've been friends since high school and now are out of college and 23 years old and moving to the city from the burbs.

I had my "quiet building" talk with them and told them some about some of our previous tenants bad behavior. Their eyes got very wide and they were sympathetic. They said they are computer nerds and the only noise they might make would be video games and they would turn them down if asked. I liked them.

We were trying to avoid younger people because they can be more loud we think, but they seem okay and we are willing to give them a try.

They haven't signed a lease yet, but probably will soon. I will be so relieved to have this task accomplished and am hoping for the best.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On living in a two-flat

The whole experience of renovating the 2nd floor has been an interesting one. While some are drained of all energy during a remodeling project, others are energized and inspired. We, for the most part, fall into the energized category.

Something about making a vision come true motivates me. And I've learned that I really enjoy working with my hands and working with wood. I didn't really know this about myself until this summer.

The whole idea behind remodeling the 2nd floor was so we could attract a better tenant- not so we could move upstairs. Of course, seeing it look so lovely makes me want to live in it, but I can't live in the whole building. We need the rental to help with the mortgage. These are the facts of our life.

The comments I've gotten about this project have made me think about what it means (or can mean) to live in a 2-flat. I've mentioned before that my childhood home was a 2-flat (see b/w photo) on a block that reminds me alot of Aaron & Jeannie's- very neighborhoody and filled with kids my little sister and I played with outside all summer long. Our one block seemed like a mile to us. So much took place there. So many games of Statues, Dracula, War, visits to "The Jungle", which was the overgrown area between our building and the one next store. It all took place on Washtenaw.

One summer, we deforested "The Jungle" to grow a vegetable garden. Boys came and trampled our lettuce, but we perservered. It was too shady really to grow much but hostas or ferns in there, but it makes a nice memory.

We had a family that lived in the 2nd floor and their son Max was a good friend. He was a daredevil kind of boy who threw himself off the 2nd floor porch into a snow bank thinking it would be neat to jump into a bank of snow and broke his arm in the process. I think he put his head through a glass window at least twice. Like I said, he was a wild one. He had the world's best scream too. I can still remember it.

We loved him and his parents Margaret & Tom. Margaret grew vegetables in the back yard and was a vegetarian. We used to sneak Max our forbidden candy. They made some noise, but it never bothered us. It was pretty harmonius that I remember. Perhaps because I had such a happy childhood in our 2-flat, I feel so at home in ours.

I'd like to create that situation here. Call me an idealist (I've been called this before), but I'm putting it out there. We're trying to create a nice place in our building and in our community too.

We learned an important lesson with our last tenants. That is is better to wait for the right tenant, then just take the first available. In the end, it will cost us less money because the apartment will be better cared for and it will most certainly bring us less headaches.

And quite frankly, I do believe we can make our dreams come true. I'm seeing it happen all over houseblogs every day- step by step by step!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bare Naked Wood

Okay, now bring on the weird google search results! I'm really tempting fate with this post name.

Anyway, I thought I'd post what I've been up to lately. I actually got a chance to finish the closet doors in our den and bedroom.

Here you see the room and door pre-stripping and refinishing.

And here it is after.

And here's the bedroom pre-refinishing. We still have that lone light bulb for a ceiling fixture. But, I ordered a new ceiling fixture from our friends at Rejuvenation. In a few weeks we'll have it. It's funny how much that bare light bulb doesn't bother me- really funny. It's amazing how accustomed I am to having unfinished things around me.

Here's the door refinished. The only trim in the entire building that has not been stripped is in this room. Unless we buy another building and start over (NEVER), my stripping life will be coming to an end soon. No more woman stripping here at the 2-flat.

How many of you are near finishing your stripping careers? Are you wistful? Glad to be finished? Ready to buy and start anew? Do tell!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Medicine Cabinet & Bathroom

It's been a long time coming, but Steve finally has the medicine cabinet installed. As you can see from the photos, the mirror cracked while Steve was putting it in, so we have to go get another one today.

Just another example of how nothing ever goes perfectly- or very rarely anyway. But that's okay, we're in synch with that really!

I think it turned out beautifully. This piece is made with 5/4 (1 & 1/16") rift sawn oak, which has a straighter grain than plain sawn lumber. The design mimics the existing woodwork throughour the house. He even used a spare crown piece for the cap. The door is made with mortise and tenon construction. To save time, the frame was screwed together.

The hinges are Japanese butterfly hinges and are nickel plated. He could not get the hinges he really wanted (traditional nickel plated ball-type hinges) because they were out of stock. The Japanese butterfly hinges do not have a pin that is removed and they just lift right off.

Here is the inside. He used 3/8" beveled tempered glass. It is not cheap either, but it looks nice and is quite sturdy.

Here's a photo of the bathroom pre-renovation. The tile was in especially bad shape as you can see in the next photo.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Last Call for Gardening

Today was fairly mild and so I decided to dig up my canna bulbs for the season. It had been unseasonable cold and so all the foliage had pretty much died, so it was time. These plants are so very prolific- I always end up with more bulbs to give away in the Spring.

I've posted about planting the cannas in Spring, so I thought I'd cover the end of season work too. They are great plants that produce lots of nice foliage and flowers, but they do require some work. They have to be planted and dug up every spring and fall and they like an inch of water a week and fertilizer a few times a season. I used Miracle Grow and that seems to satisfy them. Oh, and they like full sun.

They are definitely a Chicago plant even though they are semi-tropical. The spectacular display makes them worth the effort for many people I guess. I look at it this way, it gives me something to do in the yard when most of the gardening is over.

Here's the process. Take a pruner or lopping shears and cut the foliage down to about 6 inches. This gives you a "handle" to pick up the rhizome.

Then, of course, you dig them up and carefully break apart the rhizomes. They tend to clump.

Here is some of the dead foliage. It's very lush and green when alive and it looks like wilted collard greens when dying.

And here is a rhizome, fresh out of the ground. I think I dug up about 50 of these and I only planted maybe half that!