Finished! The Upstairs Bathroom

When we bought this house I was pretty confident I could make it livable, but the one and only full bathroom gave me, well…nightmares. It was a 50s monstrosity that looked like it belonged in a horror movie. It was so bad, few people would actually enter it, they just looked on in shock from the hallway. Aside from being a general disaster area, the bathroom had a bad layout and no room for both a shower unit and a freestanding tub.





After we gutted the bathroom, along with the rest of the house, we knocked out a closet to expand the bathroom and make room for two sinks, along with a shower and tub. I found a vintage looking tile for the floor, and in doing so discovered the joy ride that is black grout. I thought about doing a vanity with two sinks, but I really wanted the bathroom to look like it could have when the house was nice. Plus, I love the look of furniture in an old bathroom, instead of a modern vanity. Luckily, at the Wood Shack I found a small dresser that fit perfectly. The shelf above the tub and the wood with the hooks for the towels are also from the Wood Shack.

I showed my husband the “after” pictures and said, “Now, if you saw these pictures, wouldn’t you want to live in this house?” “Sure,” he said, “until you told me it was the ONLY finished room in the house.” Sigh…..





Finally…..a post!

Yes, I know it has been a loooong time since I made a post.  I had to take my qualifying exams for my doctoral program and that took up all of my time, for the past few months.  However, the house has been slowly moving along during that time.  We have internet and cable TV!  Amazing how internet makes a house feel like a home.  What we don’t have is enough electricity to move in.  We have a temporary 110 line running into the house, which is enough to run the fridge and any power tools we are using.  It is not enough to run all that plus the hot water heater.  I am pretty sure living in a house without hot water is not something anyone in this family wants to do.  Two months ago we paid over $1,100 to the electric company to come in and run our new line and bury it.  Several times we have been told we were on the schedule, but when we get to the house….no new line.  Our next installation date is tomorrow, but with the storm that just went through, I am not hopeful.

One big exciting development has been the new concrete work.  In the back of the house we had our new walkway and stairs installed, all the old asphalt parking pad taken out, and the slab taken out that ran along the back of the house.  We have way more yard space now, but no more grass!  We have also had the side porch taken out since we took out the entry door on the side of the house.  When we bought the house it had 5 exterior doors, and now we just have a front and a back door, which makes the house feel more like a house, and less like the doctor’s office that it was for many years.  Plus, just try to install kitchen cabinets in a room with 3 exterior doors!  The giant pile of crushed stone in the back yard that has been there for nearly a year is gone, as is all the wood the concrete guys had left to use as forms.  


In the front of the house, we had the front stairs poured and the walkway from the sidewalk to the house installed.  Having front stairs means we can get mail!  Since we have owned the house we have either had a crumbling front walkway, or no walkway at all, so being able to walk right up to the front door is pretty cool.  It does, however, make the sidewalk on the street in front of the house look terrible.  We have plans to replace it, but have to wait until the road repaving in front of the house is finished because there is a chance they would damage it.

Here are some before pictures of the old concrete – it’s hard to believe how bad the house was when we bought it.  What were we thinking?  The old front walkway had brick walls and concrete tops.  Unfortunately, all but one of the tops was destroyed beyond saving.  Someday I would like to put back those brick walls and tops, but right now we just need functional stairs.

Trim and baseboard is being installed in the house and I bought two old columns from the Wood Shack off one of the buildings being torn down to make room for the huge Ash project downtown.  I will be installing them between the kitchen and dining room – nice to be able to save something from an old building.

Yesterday we went to work on the house and also attended the 100th birthday party for the Churubusco Library.  It’s just about a block away from the house and I look forward to taking the kids there.  They had a cake, so the kids were all excited!  houseconcrete7

Wood Floors

Every once in a while (ok, my husband will say all the time) I take on a project that completely overwhelms me. This project in the old house was refinishing the floors. All 9 rooms, a staircase and a hallway. I totally planned to pay someone to do the floors. And then I got the estimates. The best one was nearly $6,000 and that didn’t even include the boy’s bedrooms. Since we are soooo far over budget I thought, how hard could it be to refinish wood floors when there is a $6,000 incentive? Turns out it is hard….very hard. And dirty….very dirty….

Our floors were in basically decent condition, just covered with years of grime and old varnish.

living room
First, I rented a drum sander, had it loaded by the nice tool rental people, got to the house alone with it and discovered it weighed well over 100 pounds. I somehow got it out of the back of the Jeep and into the house. It takes off the top layer of grime and varnish, but is a beast to work with and can easily damage the floors. 75641_10152028497157054_1549354671_n
IMG_4718After 2 full days of sanding I rented an edge sander to get the 6 inches or so around the walls that the drum sander can’t reach. As I was leaving the rental place with it, the guy said to me, “I feel sorry for you. You are going to hate this machine.” Yep….I hated it. It wants to take off on its own and you spend the entire time you are using it wrestling with it. It absolutely kills your back.

Then it was on to 4 solid days of sanding all the places where both sanders missed. I bought a heavy duty hand sander and all went well. At first. Then it was one problem after the other when I couldn’t find sandpaper that fit it and ended up retrofitting it with pieces from another sander. After a day of crawling around on the hard floors, I realized if I didn’t get some really good kneepads, I was looking at a double knee replacement! For the final sanding with the fine sandpaper I rented a square sander, which, while still weighing over 100 pounds, can’t do the type of damage a drum sander can. Through the weeks of endless sanding I also replaced belts on rental equipment and rewired the plug on the square sander. I learned to be prepared to troubleshoot rental equipment. During this whole process we pulled about 10,000 nails and staples from the floors. Judging by the leftover bits of carpet we found, at one time the house was covered in a lovely orange shag. I truly believe that as long as we live int he house, we will continue to find staples in the floors.
Finally, the last wonderful step – applying the three coats of poly. We have pine floors, which don’t take stain well so we decided to just clear coat them.
IMG_4781My favorite rooms are the boy’s bedrooms which had been painted, glued, covered with linoleum and subfloor. They turned out very rustic looking.
IMG_4775The rest of the floors look as good as can be expected for floors from 1860. There are marks and stains that will never come out, but that’s what furniture and throw rugs are for. So, if you visit the house after it’s finished and see an area rug in a rather odd place, you can safely assume it’s covering something up. Really, you can safely assume all rug and furniture placement is strategically done to cover up things.

So, all in all, I am glad I put in the work to save $6,000. The floors make a huge difference in the house and make it look more like a home. So if you ever want to refinish the floors in your own house and need some help, all I can say is……call someone else. While I am happy the job is done, I will never, ever, refinish a house full of old wood floors again!

The kitchen!!




They say the kitchen is the heart of the home, and I have recently come to realize that a house definitely does not feel like a home without a kitchen. This past week my kitchen cabinets were installed! After pricing kitchen cabinets at the big box stores, a friend told me to visit her Amish custom cabinet maker. When I told her there was no way we could afford custom cabinets, she assured me they would cost less than the big box stores and be better quality.

So out to Grabill I drove to meet with John, the owner of JM Woodworking. His shop is amazing, if you love to see cabinets being made like I do. John not only helped with design, but his prices were thousands less. I really wanted a big hood and never thought I would be able to afford one, but John was able to give me the hood, along with a gorgeous island that has a built in bookshelf at the end. We met three times to work on design and paint colors and I had a ball! John has great ideas and he had seen the house so he understood the age of the house and the look we were going for. I wanted the cabinets to look as though they could have been original, had people actually had kitchen cabinets in 1860! Custom cabinets mean everything is made to fit perfectly in the space, without using filler pieces or having to compromise on cabinet sizes.

With all the snow, the installation of the cabinets was delayed, but now they are finally here and the house is starting to look like a place where people could live! My favorite part may be how tall my upper cabinets are, with an extra glass-doored unit at the top. This was John’s idea, since we have 10 foot ceilings and a normal cabinet would look tiny on walls that tall. My island is a contrasting black, with the cabinets a just off-white. The countertops have arrived at Menards – we are doing solid wood countertops, very much like what may have been in the original kitchen.

What’s strange is that with the cabinets installed the kitchen actually looks bigger than it did when it was empty. We flipped the kitchen with the dining room, and we have a pretty large kitchen, especially for an old house. Now that the kitchen is in, a bathroom sure would be nice….

Kitchen Floors


The kitchen in our house was originally in the back of the house, with a room next to it that I imagine was used for a dining room.  However, when I went to lay out the kitchen plan in the existing space, I found that there was no way to put a kitchen in the space when it had the back door, pantry door, and basement door in it.  So, we flipped the spaces and put the kitchen in what was the dining room.  Since we were running all new plumbing and electric, this wasn’t that big of a deal. 

There was a step up to a new subfloor in the old kitchen which we had to pull out when we knocked out the wall between the kitchen and dining room.  When we pulled up the subfloor we found it had been installed to cover up a big sag in the floor.  A bunch of Amish guys and I trudged into the basement holding our cell phone flashlights in front of us to find out why the floor was sagging.  Hello, rotted floor joists.  We replaced the floor joists, but some of the sag remained, along with a hump where the pantry starts.  A few gallons of floor leveler fixed most, but not all of the problem.  I had wanted to lay tile in the kitchen/dining area but I really worried about the tile cracking because the floor wasn’t totally level.  Sheet vinyl flooring is the answer for old floors but I couldn’t find a pattern I liked. 

Soft wood, like pine, is very forgiving of uneven floors, and when the house was built in 1860 it is likely that 6 inch pine floors would have been used in the kitchen.  Whatever the original floor was, it is long gone, so off to Lumber Liquidators I went to order new wood floors.  Their unfinished pine was on sale for 89 cents a square foot, which can’t be beat.  Mark and I laid the floors, which took about a day and a half for the kitchen, dining area and large pantry/laundry room.  IMG_4646


IMG_4648Then I filled all the knots and cracks with wood filler and sanded the floor with my hand sander.

Pine doesn’t like to take stain and while it is a very light yellow when it is new, over the years it will darken as it ages.IMG_4649That’s great, but I didn’t have years for the floor to look good and a bright new wood floor looked really out of place.  For years I have wanted to do a large checkerboard floor in a kitchen so I decided this was my chance!  First I whitewashed the floor using half water and half of the light cream paint we used on the walls.  This was time consuming as I put the paint down with a roller and then had to go over it with a paintbrush.  After the floor was dry I started taping off my squares.  IMG_20140104_153106_327
I cut 26 inch squares out of floor paper and laid them out and taped around them.  For the three spaces this took approximately forever.  Then it was onto the painting using half black paint and half water. 

Today I drove through Snowpocalypse to finish painting the floor in the pantry and to take up all of the tape.  All in all, I thing the floor turned out pretty well!  My cabinets are off white and my island is black so when everything is in, I think the floor will look pretty cool.  IMG_20140105_125300_373

I still have to put a few coats of poly on the floor which I will do next weekend. 

   The huge amounts of snow we are getting definitely improve the look of the house as it hides all of the construction debris all over the yard! IMG_20140105_130547_955

Painting, painting and more painting…..

Mark and I both have off work between Christmas and New Year’s and our vacation has been spent painting.  And painting.  Followed by more painting…..The house has 10 foot ceilings on the first floor and 9 foot on the second floor so priming and painting the walls and ceilings is a real workout.  Since the entire house has new drywall we need to prime every wall and ceiling before painting, so it is a seemingly endless process.   Luckily, there is a hardware store a block from the house so when we run out of primer or painting supplies, it’s a quick run to get more.  I think living that close to a hardware store will be incredible for me, especially as they also sell chocolates there 🙂   

Emma picked lavender for her bedroom and there are actually three shades of lavender in her room: a light shade on 3 walls, a darker shade on the wall her bed will be on, and a very pale shade on the ceiling.  IMG_4630 When she saw the painted room I asked her if she liked it and she said, “No…. I love it!”  Well, really, what 7 year-old girl wouldn’t love a lavender bedroom?   

The hall bath was painted a light blue

IMG_4642the master bath a sage green

IMG_4640 and the boys rooms are being painted a pale blue/gray. 
IMG_4654 My oldest son Josh has been helping at the house painting primer on the new drywall and pulling out the floors in the boys bedrooms. 
IMG_4651The original hard wood in those rooms is under a layer of linoleum and subfloor.  Whoever laid the subfloor was kind enough to put nails literally every 3 inches so the floor comes up in tiny chunks.   It’s about 8 hours of labor in each room to get up all the subfloor.  Josh asked why they put so many nails in the floor and I told him, “Clearly the floor was laid by an asshole who hated the people of the future.”   It’s really the only explanation.

The kitchen area has been painted a very pale cream color.  IMG_4645
That area was originally two rooms and was so dark when we bought the house that it seemed like a depressing area for a kitchen.  We opened the wall between the two areas and installed a six foot French door to the back porch.  Now it’s very light and welcoming and will be even better when the new cabinets  come in three weeks!  We are laying new wood floors in the kitchen, dining room and pantry.  IMG_4646
There was no original wood in that area, just old subfloors, which had to be replaced.  I originally wanted to lay tile but the floors, even after floor leveler, just aren’t level enough and I thought the tile might crack.  I like the look of wood in a kitchen, and will make a separate post when the floors are finished. Here are some original kitchen pics, hard to imagine we could have bought a house with a kitchen this scary looking!  IMG_3192


IMG_3194It has been a real process to get those floors installed and finished.  Then it’s on to laying tile in the bathrooms so we can finish the plumbing.  The fun never ends…..