Tag Archives: kitchen renovation

Tiles and tribulations

Remember the kitchen renovation? The one we’ve been working on since 2012, when I began this blog? The one we burned out on as soon as we had a fully functional kitchen? Well … we’re back on it!

ready for backsplash tiles

What about the side porch, you ask? For a while, it was on ice, literally. And then it was under water … and then .. well, maybe this isn’t the best time of year to build a porch. But it’s perfect for inching our not-quite-finished kitchen toward true completion.

Long ago we decided to repeat the bathroom’s white subway tile in the kitchen, but with gray grout to complement the floor. We bought all the materials. And naturally, I procrastinated. After months of tripping over buckets of thin set in the hall and working around the box of tile next to the sink, we finally got our butts in gear. We thought that our four days off over Thanksgiving should be more than adequate to install our backsplashes. (Place your bets now. The fact that I started writing this post in November and am just now publishing it in late December should be a hint.)

Oh no … not again! By clearing everything off the counters, I recreated this familiar scene. That dining room table sure is a magnet for kitchen crap … what can I say?

dining room mess

Months ago, when Eric installed the backing board, he was challenged to find adequate attachment points. He had difficulty installing the backing board at the same depth as the plaster wall above it. Easy in theory, but not so easy in practice. I put the camera as close to the wall as I could to get this shot, which shows a fairly wide gap between the countertop and the backing board. I was worried whether the thin set and tile would be thick enough to bridge that gap.

gap between counter and wall

I started tiling at the Mother Hubbard end. Applying mastic to the narrow space was awkward, even with a small notched knife. After messing with that for a while, I gave up and simply buttered the individual tiles.

The curved edge at the of the sink required some tricky cutting. Eric had the tile saw set up in the basement to prevent tile dust from covering the kitchen. He got his lower body workout running up and down, up and down the stairs, getting the tiles to fit. The cut tile wasn’t exactly precise, but we figured any irregularities would be disguised by caulk. That’s when I realized why I had avoided this task for so long: Tiling is messy, fussy, and time-consuming. The wall was not even and I had to scootch (technical term) the tiles to fit. The old house constantly reminded me of her age. “I’m 101 … this is as straight as I can stand!”

tiles curve around sink edge

As I progressed, I abandoned the gray grout idea because I knew gray would emphasize any unevenness between tiles. We traded the bucket of gray for white. Even without grout, I was surprised at how much vintage detail the subway tiles lent the room.

With the tile in place, I could feel the wintry air rushing in from between the window apron and the wall. Caulk … we need caulk!

sink wall backsplash nearly tiled

We moved on to the other side of the room, which we expected would be much easier, as there were no curves to negotiate … just two outlets. And it was easier. But … what the hell?? Look at the upper row of tiles—they’re WAY skinnier on the right. #$%^!!!

backsplash tiles are uneven

I had no idea that this wall was so out of alignment. Really, there wasn’t anything we could do. The counters are level with the floor, and the upper cabinets are level with the ceiling. It’s just that the floor and ceiling aren’t level with each other! Since we couldn’t change that, somewhere in the middle, the discrepancy had to make itself known. Unfortunately, it was in a place where the house screamed out at me, “Look how crooked I am!!” Those uneven tiles really looked pretty amateur. Most of our projects look darned good … I’m not a fan of amateur. I was bummed. I hoped that grout would conceal the unevenness.

tiles before grout is applied

I got busy with the grout and forgot to take photos. My small grout float wouldn’t fit behind the faucet, so I smooshed (another tech term) the grout in with my fingers. (Yes, the window trim desperately needs to be painted. That will be my next trick. Don’t hold your breath, though.)

grouting with my fingers behind the faucet

Then it was Eric’s turn with the caulk gun. I was right, the thin bead of white caulk neatly concealed any rough edges around the sink tiles, and with a little extra caulk, the winter air no longer blew in under the window. Whew!

caulking around sink

In Eric’s hand, that little plastic caulk trimmer did a great job of creating a clean line. The sink before trimming …

untrimmed caulk around sink and counter

And after. Nice, huh?

sink caulk trimmed

Overall, I’m really pleased with our backsplashes. They look so clean and shiny and Craftsman-y. The white grout did a lot to disguise the crooked top row under the upper cabinets. It still bugs me, but 95% of people who visit our kitchen won’t notice it. Of course, now you know, so you have to promise not to snicker or roll your eyes if you come over.

finished backsplash under cabinets

subway tile backsplash behind sink

So, this task is complete at last, and before the end of the year. TA DA! I can go to sleep at night knowing that I won’t have to do any tiling in the foreseeable future, and that nothing—but nothing!—will seep between my sink and the counter ever again. And really, isn’t that the secret to peace of mind?

white subwaytiles on wall



New Mother Hubbard

As usual, the process of bringing Old Mother Hubbard into the 21st Century took longer than I’d anticipated. When we left her in the middle of her extreme makeover, her doors were on the operating table being stripped of decades of old paint. I used three applications of stripper on each side, which took time. The insides of the doors had a different color-layering scheme than the exteriors, including this bright Chinese red, which was en vogue in the late 40s when the kitchen was remodeled.

stripping paint from cabinet doors

I made three of these Jasco “casseroles,” weighing over six pounds apiece.

aluminum tin of stripped paint

Sanding, priming, and painting also took more days than I hoped … you just can’t rush drying time. Because the interiors of our other cabinets are natural, I decided to polyurethane these, too, even though I was unable to pry all the old dead paint out of the joints. Call it character.

It had been quite a few weeks since I’d used the Benjamin Moore Glacier White paint. (I am impressed that one gallon has easily double-coated all the cabinets in our kitchen.) Imagine my horror when I opened the can and found THIS staring up at me:

mold on white paint

OMG, it’s alive!! It’s … mold. I have never had this happen to paint before. What the heck got in there?? Eric pulled on rubber gloves and scooped it out. De-molded, the paint seemed fine. It stroked on smoothly and I haven’t notice Mother H growing a fuzzy green coat. Yes, I used it! Stuff’s expensive, and I didn’t feel like driving to north Seattle for another gallon when I was so close to finishing.

While the doors were curing, I turned to Mother Hubbard’s innards. A purge was in order, and I could put it off no longer. Out came everything. Each piece had to show me its pull date before I would let it back in. I was a merciless gatekeeper—cute packaging could not melt my heart. I was searching for antique food … and I found plenty. Quite a few items came from Eric’s pantry before he moved in in 2007. Not including the Pleasoning (which, by the way, is still made in La Crosse, Wisconsin), the vintage food award went to … a box of Sunmaid raisins from 1998. Guess it pays to clean out you cupboards occasionally.

Some of my finds puzzled me. Besides white vinegar, I have red wine vinegar, blackberry vinegar, and rice vinegar, all unopened except for the white. And for someone who seldom bakes, here’s my collection of colored sugar and cake decorations. A lifetime supply! How did all this stuff get in my house? Eric … ?

colored sugar collection

At last I could get to Mother H’s insides. I thought that because she was already painted white inside, maybe I could get away with just washing her out and applying new linoleum liners to her shelves. HA! What an optimist I can be! I peeled the old linoleum off the shelves. This could be the house’s original lino because it goes (sort of) with the red and gray wallpaper I discovered when patching the walls.

gray and red original linoleum

Of course, you knew it would be nasty in there, didn’t you? Yup.

pantry shelf befpre cleaning and painting

middle shelf with contact paper

I washed the whole thing down with soap and water, but some of the stains wouldn’t budge, including a dreadful dark cascade of goo from long ago that ran from the top shelf clear to the middle one. I would have to paint, too. Dammit. My big time-saving trick was to use gloss white spray paint instead of a tedious brush. But within two squirts, the house was filled with obnoxious lacquer that us had us all gagging. So much for that idea. Oh, hand me the damned brush …

I spent a day with my head inside Mother Hubbard, painting all the nooks and crannies as best I could. Huge improvement, even though the dreadful stain, so impervious to soap and water, had no trouble softening and bleeding through three coats of paint. More character. I know many people would be grossed out by that stain, but living in a century-old home sometimes requires forgiveness—and the willingness to seal unmentionables under a new coat of paint. I’m dealing with the stain here by taking photos at an angle that doesn’t show it. And, now that the pantry’s full again, I can’t see it! Hey, problem solved!

painted and lined pantry shelves

Things really started to come together when Eric cut linoleum liners from spare material left over from our flooring job. I tossed my vintage turntables (bought back when avocado green was popular) and invested in some new ones, plus a set of riser steps for a choir of spices.

Finally, I reopened the Glacier White paint, donned the rubber gloves, scooped out yet another growth of pond scum, and painted her exterior. After a few more days of curing, Eric hung the doors. Are you ready? First, Old Mother Hubbard’s before photo.

floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinet

And now … ta-da!! See, Mother H, I told you that you’d look fabulous! Beautiful inside and out! Tall, glossy white, and lovely once again.

white painted pantry cabinet

finished pantry interior

close-up of pantry interior

I’m very proud that Mother Hubbard is the matriarch of our kitchen. Here’s to your second century, Mother H!

PS – Yes, the vintage shaker of Pleasoning made the cut … grandfathered in. It comes from a good family.

Pleasoning seasoning on a turntable



When good cabinets go bad

We’re getting so close to the finish line! Some days I feel like if we stopped now, I could live with it. Of course, that’s crazy—I still have to finish Mother Hubbard’s transformation, tile the backsplash, and paint the doors and trim. And when all is done, there will be a few things I need to touch up.

This past week, Eric finished the narrow bank of drawers between the stove and the fridge. Because the space is so narrow, the drawers overlap the frame, and are not inset like the rest of the kitchen. It looks a little odd to me, but if we’d included side stiles, the drawers would be too narrow to be of much use. I am happy that I now have someplace to store equipment that I use at the stove, barbecue tools, kitchen towels, and long rolls of foil and plastic wrap.

open drawers

BUT … somewhere along the line, this cabinet took a wrong turn, fell in with a tough crowd, and allowed itself to be skewed. Our countertop installer mentioned that it was slightly warped on one side, and sure enough, we could see the left side was a little cupped. Hmm … Well, no one will see that when the cabinet is snuggled in between the stove and fridge. Eric attached the face frames and the drawer glides, screwed the pulls onto the drawer fronts, and attached the fronts to the drawer boxes.

What the hell?? The top drawer tilts down ever-so-slightly to the right. The second drawer tilts a bit more, and the right edge isn’t flush with the frame. The third drawer tilts down a little to the left, and its left edge isn’t flush. The bottom drawer hangs out to the left, too. It’s all … wonky. When I look at the uneven drawers, I imagine a snaggletooth jutting up from a bulldog’s crooked jaw.

looking down at uneven drawers

Somehow the whole cabinet not only warped on one side, but took on a slight helix twist. It was square when Eric cut and assembled the pieces. And the Caesarstone counter is square. Sigh … Eric will rebuild it (and I will paint it and polyurethane it). Again. But for now, I’m going to use it as is, snaggletooth and all, because I’m not sure when its replacement will appear. Maybe I will grow to love its goofy face … but I doubt it.

front view crocked drawers

Update: Mother Hubbard is recovering nicely from her cosmetic surgery, and is very eager to get out in public again. For now, she’s still curing, I mean healing, in seclusion. Soon, Mother H, soon! (Okay, truth be told, we’ve been a little distracted by our fantastic Seahawks and that incredible Super Bowl!)

Old Mother Hubbard gets a makeover

Meet Old Mother Hubbard, the only completely original cabinet remaining in our century-old kitchen.

floor-to-ceiling pantry cabinet

She’s a cold pantry—the kind with screen shelves and outside vents to keep things cool.  Her vents have long since been covered up and the cooling work has been done by a refrigerator for decades … but she’s still a pantry, and I don’t know what I’d do without her. Of course, with the kitchen renovation, she is getting a makeover. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation.

pantry screen shelves

Poor old Mother Hubbard’s no longer in the shape she used to be. Countless coats of paint over the years have rendered her doors too bulky to shut properly. And inside—well, you can see she could use some nutritional counseling and a good cleansing purge. Some of her innards are out of date, too.

crowded pantry interior

See that little red, white, and blue can of seasoning next to the Pam spray (fourth shelf from top)? That’s “Pleasoning” … and it belonged to my mom. I remember this very can from when I was a kid in Milwaukee. The company address on the can does not include a ZIP code, if that’s any indication of its age (and mine). No, I don’t use it, even though the seasoning hasn’t hardened into a brick—suspicious in itself. I just like thinking about how long it’s been in the family.

Mother Hubbard’s a little skeptical of my good intentions, which one can expect of a centenarian. Everyone, including cabinets, evidently, seems to resist change when they get up there in years. “I’m fine just as I am,” I hear her murmur. “All these coats keep me warm.” “Nonsense,” I reply, as I unscrewed the knob from her tall top door. “You’ll love it. You’ll look and feel 50 years younger, I promise.” As I get out the Jasco stripper, I’m sure I see her tighten her grip on her eight-plus coats of paint.

many coats of apint on door

I haven’t used Jasco for years, and I am concerned about the smell in our kitchen, even with the window open and a fan running. To my surprise, I can barely smell it. I suspect, like many chemical products, it’s been reformulated  to be less stinky … and consequently, less effective. Mother H blushes every time she hears the word “stripper,” but Lacy is up for anything.

black cat on cabinet door

The first application of stripper eats through the current buff and into shell pink, a couple of sky blues, some Pepto-Bismol pink, and sunshine yellow. As I scrape the goo, I try to imagine my kitchen with blue or pink trim and cabinets. “We’re committed now, Mrs. H … you might as well let go of all those old coats!” But the old lady clutches her glad rags even more firmly, daring me to go further.

paint with stripper

stripping first pass

after first stripper application

After the second application of Jasco, I’ve got her down to her skivvies: a crispy, stubborn tan over a shiny, buttermilky white (what many fashionable cabinets were wearing in 1913). Patches of clear fir are showing through, and her edges are looking sharp and square again. But these base coats are resistant. I pictured Mother H as a subject on What Not to Wear. “Oh, Mrs. Hubbard … that’s got to go! No one has worn lead-based enamel since the ’60s!”

seconnd application of stripper

The third application’s the charm, and Mother Hubbard’s beautiful skin—er, wood, is exposed. Almost seems a shame to paint her again. But it would look odd to have two natural fir doors in a room of white painted cabinets. I flip her over and begin exfoliating her back.

door stripped to bare wood

I wanted to wait until Mother Hubbard’s transformation was complete to post this … but she’s taking a little longer than I’d expected (how typical). Every morning I feel like working on the kitchen as I sit at work … but by the time I come home and get dinner, I’m tired and not so much gets done. I still have to strip Mother H’s lower door, sand and paint everything, not to mention tackle her interior liposuction. So, you’ll have to wait a little longer for the big reveal. It’s feeling less like a makeover and more like major surgery. Mother Hubbard is anxious to get it over with.



Thirty-two feet

It’s amazing what we can accustom ourselves to living with when we’ve been in the midst of remodeling chaos for over a year.

ugly old linoleum

This is the story of how all that changed in one day. Months ago, Eric hacked up the floor and removed about 3/4 inch of accumulated vinyl and plywood underlayment, leaving us with what may have been the original linoleum … or maybe linoleum from the 1940s remodel. At any rate, it was in sorry shape with cracks and chipped edges. We removed what we could in the area where the new cabinets were installed. And it sat that way … for months.

We made our flooring choice early on, after considering our lifestyle, which can best be summed up as “parents of fur kids.” Ideally, I’d have liked hardwood to match the color of our fir floors, but wood would not hold up well to Duke’s toenails. I love the look of cork, and although it’s supposed to be tough, I doubt it’s tough enough to withstand a bouncing 90-pound boxer who leaps and spins when asked if he wants to go to Starbucks. Then there’s all the winter wetness that our feet track in the back door … and I’m talking about ALL our feet: two humans, one dog, and six cats. That’s a total of thirty-two feet. One hundred forty-four individual toes.

Then I thought about linoleum—no, not vinyl—the real thing! It’s tough enough for hospitals, totally green and recyclable, and best of all, appropriate for our century-old house. The perfect solution. We chose a light gray, finely marled pattern guaranteed to hide pet hair. Our pattern is Armstrong Linorette ‘Silver City.’

But before the linoleum could go down, the crew would have to level and prep the floor. The night before they arrived, I felt compelled to sweep and mop the old lino before it disappeared forever. FOR-EV-ER.

old lino is clean

First, the floor had to be made level again where we’d chipped the old linoleum away. The installers used the same quick-setting concrete compound that we used to level the subfloor under the new cabinets. Then they started covering the whole floor with 1/4 in. plywood. You can see some of the gray leveler compound in the background.

floor being covered by plywood

Even the paper-faced plywood made the room look so much brighter and cleaner. (You know it’s been bad when plywood is better than your previous floor.)

plywood underlayment covers floor

More leveler smoothed the seams between the sheets of plywood. And then … the back hall (which I’m trying hard to call the mud room, but it doesn’t seem to stick) went from this … to this.

mudroom before and after

For about a minute, you could eat off the floor in the breakfast room. After that, you’d probably swallow a cat hair.

breakfast room with new linoleum

Duke and Fred checked out the new surface. Duke is happy he has lots of room to play kitchen island again.

Boxer and cat on new linoleum

The next day the installers were back to heat seal the seams. Some people don’t bother with this step, and trust that nothing will get in the crevices … but we have those 32 feet. Pets do have accidents sometimes (me, not so much). I wasn’t going to take any chances. I was concerned, though, that the gray weld rod would be so obvious that I’d curse it every time I walked in the room. Linoleum is only 6 ft. 7 inches wide, which meant there was no way to avoid a seam smack in the middle of the kitchen.

gray linoleum weld rod

I am amazed that most of the time I don’t even notice the seam. During the day it’s virtually invisible.

broom and linoleum

At night, the overhead lights pick it up a bit, as Lacy points out.

Black cat sits near seam in linoleum

We didn’t move appliances back in until two days later, after we had a chance to paint and install base molding. I’m still working on that little task! (Prime, sand, prime, sand, paint, paint … remember?)

white base molding applied

I am beyond thrilled with the linoleum. It feels great underfoot, and looks perfect in our kitchen.

I immediately reclaimed the breakfast room as my paint lab, covered in rosin paper, of course. The cats are miffed that their Kit Kat Lounge is taking so long to reopen … but I’m afraid it’ll be a while longer. Sorry, kitties.

base molding being painted

In the meantime, all you critters—wipe your paws!


Surface tension

I’ll bet the question burning in your mind is: Did we get our kitchen done for Thanksgiving?


I really wanted the new flooring installed before Thanksgiving. Dropping the turkey on a spanking new, CLEAN floor would be so much better than watching it skid across our century-old, gross linoleum. (Hey, I’ve never dropped a turkey, but there’s always a first time!) But, procrastinators that we are, we ordered our flooring too late to schedule it before turkey day. Seems everyone else wanted their new floor before Thanksgiving, too.

In the interim, Eric’s task is to get doors on the cabinets, and mine is to finish the apparently endless painting, which is not going as quickly as I’d hoped. Are you shocked? Of course not. I’ve run into a number of minor challenges.

Challenge 1: Painting is lots easier when you can actually reach the surfaces that you intend to tape and paint. The back of our dining room’s built-in buffet bumps out into our kitchen, making it awkward to reach the 9-foot ceiling. The fridge and range sit against this bump-out, and must be moved into the center of the room so I can get the step ladder as near as possible to the wall.

buffet bumps out into kitchen

Fortunately, the room is large enough to accommodate this, but it’s kind of weird to have a kitchen island that consists of a stove and fridge. Duke is confounded: He used to be the kitchen island.

boxer lying on kitchen floor

Challenge 2: Most of the kitchen and breakfast room has taken its umpteenth coat of paint readily, but I’ve had to do a little plaster repair in places. Same thing on this last stretch. Next to the dining room door, the ancient wallpaper (beneath many coats of paint) volunteered to remove itself, so I had to peel it back to a stable point, then patch the wall to something resembling smoothness.

wall with spakle spots

That’s when I started having trouble: The exposed paper that refused to come off bubbled and disintegrated once it was dampened with paint. I know, I know … you real renovators (you know who you are … furthermore, I know who you are) are saying, “You idiot! If you’d gutted the kitchen first, you could have installed new drywall and wouldn’t be messing with patching plaster and painting over wallpaper!” But here’s the thing: I don’t really mind that the walls aren’t perfect. They wear their ripples and patches like an old person wears their wrinkles—they have been earned. This might sound wacky, but I imagine that all the history and events and family conversations this house has seen have soaked into the walls and become part of the fabric of the house. I also think that when we open up a wall, the studs blink their eyes at the light of day and take a deep breath of fresh air after having been cooped up in fusty darkness for 100 years. Perhaps I was fed too much Disney as a child. That’s just the way my mind works.

Challenge 3: The ceiling corner to the left above the sink sustained damaged in an earthquake several years ago. Recently, when our electrician worked on the ceiling fixtures, we realized the original plaster ceiling is covered in drywall. The force of the earthquake sheared apart the paint and the paper cover of the drywall.

torn drywall at ceiling

This was easy to patch. I’ve become fond of Dap DryDex spackle compound, which goes on Barbie pink and dries white. Very easy to work with.

patched drywall

To reach the ceiling, I had to stand on the counter, which made me nervous because I didn’t know if I might crack the Caesarstone if I stepped on a portion that wasn’t adequately braced. Probably unlikely, but when you’ve just shelled out a pretty penny for something beautiful, you tend to be overprotective. Eric laid a piece of our good old plywood countertop on it for extra protection.

Challenge 4: How to transition the surfaces in that corner, which houses our furnace chimney. I suppose the original 1913 stove had a pipe that vented into that chimney. Then at some point, the chimney was sheathed in plywood. When Eric removed the funky old white plastic tiles that used to encircle our kitchen, he discovered the plywood didn’t go all the way down to the countertop. The plastic tiles were stuck on the bricks with plaster, which crumbled away. We briefly thought about removing all the plywood and exposing the brick, but that would necessitate wire brushing and creating another dustbowl … and I’ve had it with dust. Eric had to remove a portion of the plywood and we found the bricks weren’t particularly attractive, anyway, discolored with age and heat.

chimney brick exposed

We decided to continue the bead board and trim at the same height as the buffet all the way over to the sink wall. Eric applied concrete patch to even out the brick surface to which he adhered the bead board (this is as far as we got—we’ll finish trimming it out and painting it this weekend).

chimney with concrete patch

bead board covering chimney

A subway tile backsplash will come up to the windowsill. I’m concerned about the rocky-road mastic on either side of the window (left over from the plastic tiles), but Eric thinks it can be sanded and spackled smooth. Great—more dust! Bring it on!

I have to admit to one more challenge: I’m not as young as I used to be. Still young compared to rocks and sea turtles, yes, but leaning from a ladder and contorting my back and neck to peer through the right spot in my bifocals makes painting less fun than it used to be.

I am happy to report that with the exception of that last section of bead board, the painting is DONE! Well … except for more work on cabinets … and the door and window trim …

All paint by Valspar. Ceiling: Summer Gray; Walls: Jekyll Clubhouse Yellow; Bead board: Chef White.

walls are painted

Here’s s sneak peek at my next post. No tension in this scene! Is there ANY hope for our dining room?

dining room filled with kitchen stuff



Why are they called countertops?

Is it to distinguish them from counterbottoms? Where is the counterbottom, exactly? Eric maintains it would be the floor. We’ll have plenty of time to debate that now that our countertops are IN!

(I would have posted sooner about this momentous occasion, but I’ve been painting the kitchen ceiling and walls, and my neck is so sore from working overhead that my brain turned off for several days.)

Last Tuesday was the big day. I worked from home so I could witness the action firsthand. Duke waited patiently (next to the temporary countertops) for the excitement to begin. He just loves it when people come to work on the kitchen. He’s learned quite a bit about wiring and plumbing by sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

Boxer lying on kitchen floor

He thought he was actually going to help install the counters, so he wasn’t too happy about being treated like … a dog.

Boxer behind baby gate

Two burly young men showed up at 10:00 a.m. and started hauling in an enormous slab of Caesarstone almost before Eric and I could clear the old plywood counters out of the way. Nice and shiny already, even with dust on it. It was love at first sight.

installing a Caesarstone countertop

This stuff is great—no seams! It’s cut out of one big slab. They’re so smooooth … did I mention no seams??

Suddenly the other piece appeared.

men bringing countertop up steps

Once all the pieces were in place, the guys started gluing them to the cabinets.

sink counter before cutting

quarts counters

Then came the noisy part: cutting the hole for the sink. They would have done this outside before bringing the countertop in, but with our giant old sink, that wasn’t practical. Besides, I wouldn’t have let them take her out of the house! The sink has short, nubby, cast iron feet a few inches either side of the bowl, which must have sat on some support structure in her original cabinet. I didn’t watch the guys cut the hole, but from this picture, it looks like they simply cut a hole wide enough to accommodate the bowl and the feet.

two men install the sink

The cutting process generated tremendous dust and my only complaint, although I don’t know how it could have been done differently. One guy used the saw while the other followed close behind with a vacuum hose. Even so, thick gray dust settled on everything, like nuclear winter. The guys cleaned up the counters and stove, but left the rest of the house to me. Until we move everything back into the kitchen, thorough cleaning seems hopeless … and pointless. I’m getting really tired of living like this (mumble mumble).

quartz counter with cast iron sink

That night Eric hooked up the plumbing again. Eureka!! We were back in business, and no leaks! Dry as a bone.

We are thrilled with the Caesarstone. It’s kind of a concrete gray, with subtle mottling as if someone had flicked water on the surface. No blingy glitter or sparkles, just a no-nonsense color. If our budget would have allowed, we’d have done soapstone, but I think I’ll be happier with quartz’s ease of care. We use Simple Green or just water to clean them. They feel cool and very hard, like stone (because it is mostly stone). Dishes go clink when I set them down, instead of thunk, like they did on laminate. Sometimes I just wander into the kitchen to gaze at them …

finished counters

On the floor in the corner you can see a sample of our light gray flooring … more on that later!

closeup of quartz counter

I love how the little corner wraps around the pantry cabinet at right. Just think how great this will look with doors on the cabinets!! (That’s a hint, dear.)

counter with sink

This was a huge step toward project completion. I doubt I’ll have my finished kitchen by Thanksgiving, but surely by Christmas … right?? This weekend it’s back to painting for me, even if my neck’s in a brace. From up on the ladder, I’ll have a great view of the countertops!


When guests refuse to leave

Since the centennial party, I’ve been hanging out with a couple of old friends. We spend a lot of time lolling around the house, watching trash TV, drinking wine, and generally ignoring the responsibilities of life. [Eric’s photo]

still life of grapes and wine

It’s been fun and relaxing, but lately I’ve had this niggling feeling that I really should get back to work on our renovation project. Except … my company won’t leave. Let me introduce you to two of my oldest friends: Procrastination and Inertia.

Oh, we go way back. My first grade teacher labeled me as a procrastinator. What a rap to lay on a six-year-old kid! I’ve dedicated my life to fulfilling my potential in that regard. But at some point, when house guests have outstayed their welcome, you just have to give ’em the boot. I finally picked up a paint brush and stared down the bead board in the breakfast room.

I’d bought several gallons of yellow and white paint before we decided to renovate the kitchen. (I’ve changed shades of yellow since then. Anyone need some egg-yolk-yellow paint?) The Valspar Chef White that I intended to use for the trim is ever-so-close to the Benjamin Moore Glacier White I’m using on the cabinets. With shifting light on all the planes of white, I don’t think anyone will be able to tell it’s not the same paint. At least I’m betting on that, because I refuse to waste two gallons of perfectly good paint.

First, I popped off the old shoe molding and sanded the mop board until I found a layer of paint that seemed to want to stick to the wood. (The bead board here has been primed.)

show molding removed

Painting progress is slow. I have to force in enough paint to seal up the tiny gaps between the individual boards. It takes a lot of paint and a fair amount of pressure on the brush. You can see the effect in the photo on the right: It makes the expanse of bead board look cohesive and seamless.

white painted bead board

I have to work quickly to achieve the desired effect, yet not overwork the paint. (Paint these days seems to get tacky quicker than it used to.) It’ll take two coats, because I want the new bead board to have the softened look of several coats of paint. Does that sound crazy? To install new bead board and not want it to look brand spankin’ new?

I finish one coat on one wall, and wouldn’t you know it, my lazy friends reappear to distract me for another evening.

Then I wise up and buy a nappy roller to speed up the coverage–much better! I still follow up with a brush.

When I look up, I find I’m being watched.

Black cat wathces painting progress

I have ACRES to paint: all the bead board around the breakfast room and kitchen, the kitchen ceiling, and the plaster kitchen walls—all of it twice! Then there’s the new cabinet face frames, doors, and drawer fronts, and the drawer boxes—two, three, even four coats. I enjoy painting, but I’ll be at this task a looong time. On this plan of the kitchen, I have to paint bead board all the way around the breakfast room and kitchen (not the back hall), except for over the sink. The red line shows how far I’ve gone on coat 1. Yes, I have a long way to go … two laps.

shows how far I've painted

It’s September, which means we have now been working on the kitchen for an entire year. I suppose that’s not unusual for a major DIY project, and we have not exactly pushed ourselves most of the time. However, I’m adamant that we be DONE before the holidays. I want to stuff my bird in a FINISHED kitchen!

But … how many posts can I write about painting before we all die of boredom and you leave, never to return? (“Yeah,” you’re saying … “This is as exciting as watching paint dry!”) My painting marathon will be an opportunity to write about other aspects of our house. Thanks to some of my blog friends, I have a cache of inspirations to play with.

Now, back to the painting. Where are those old friends when I want them?

But wait—bonus feature!

Because we’re harvesting ripe garden veggies almost every day now, we soon found ourselves in a cloud of drosophila—yes, the dreaded summer fruit fly invasion. How to get rid of them without using spray? Eric made this trap out of a glass, a slice of banana, a cone of paper and some tape. Works like a charm, and the pesky critters can be humanely released outside to reenter the house another day.

glass and paper fruit fly trap

Now, back to painting. Really. Although … it’s such a beautiful Sunday … maybe we should drive down to Tacoma and go to the art museum!


Looks good on paper

When I was in first grade (back in the Pleistocene era), my teacher, Mrs. Graf, had a cute idea for parent-teacher night. She got hold of a bunch of large brown kraft-paper bags (I don’t know what they intended for). We little kids each lay down on a bag while a classmate traced our outline on the paper (much giggling). Then we colored in our images and drew in our faces. Mrs. Graf slipped the bags over our desk chairs. The kids didn’t attend the evening’s festivities, but when our parents walked into our classroom, there we were … in effigy.

That’s what popped into my head when Eric suggested we lay out the sink wall on paper, life size. We’ve changed direction, you see. As long as I’ve lived here the bane of my kitchen’s existence has been the awkward corner where the back of the dining room’s buffet (the west wall) meets the cabinets of the north wall, which hold the sink.

original layout of kitchen pre-renovation

When I bought the house, the sink cabinet was one of those metal units from the 1940s, topped with a cast-iron sink with integrated drainboards. [Photo: MaryKayStewart]

1940s sink cabinet

To each side of this unit was a homemade cabinet with a red linoleum countertop. I lived with this arrangement for about 12 years. When I got married in the mid-90s, my ex-husband and I upgraded (I can’t really say remodeled) that wall with some surplus cabinets he picked at the big box store. To make the drawers on the left end functional without blocking a little homemade shelf unit in what’s now the “tower cabinet” nook, ex-hubby had to cut the drawers and their hardware back from 24 in. deep to 19 in. You can see the resulting jog in the configuration.

cabinets of different depths

I have always dreamed of creating a cleaner, more functional, less complicated corner, but I didn’t know how to arrange it. We considered running the sink cabinets at the standard 24-inch depth all the way to the west wall, partially blocking the tower cabinet area. But the stove sits too near these cabinets to allow enough clearance for doors or drawers to open. A giant corner cabinet with a narrow door on the west wall would mean much of the corner’s interior would be unreachable and useless. So, we reluctantly resigned to repeat the existing layout with new cabinets. We weren’t happy. I pictured the countertop people rolling their eyes at the funky layout, and I was already embarrassed.

I thought perhaps the placement of the new sink would allow a lazy Susan in this corner. Yes, turning the corner would block the tower cabinet (which was well on its way to being finished). But the more I thought about it, it seemed the only sane thing to do.

That’s where the life-sized drawing comes in. We carefully measured and drew our layout on kraft paper. Duke helped his daddy tape the paper to the floor and hold it down. He was so excited to help, he broke into the boxer kidney bean dance–with kisses!

Duke and Eric laying paper on floor

Now we are certain where the sink will fit, that we do have room for a full-sized dishwasher (damned right—it’s already sitting in the spare bedroom), and, by George, we have enough room for a giant 31-in. wood lazy Susan! Woo-hoo!!

Rev-A-Shelf makes exactly what I wanted: a wood lazy Susan whose doors are attached to the unit and revolve with the shelves. Our local supplier didn’t carry it, so Eric ordered it directly from Rev-A-Shelf. At $360, this baby is not cheap, but since I  recently bought the dishwasher and am about to buy a new car, I had no sympathy. Then … Rev-A-Shelf called back and told us that they, too were out of stock, with a two-month backorder. But wait! They directed Eric to another supplier who not only has it in stock, but will ship it within a week for $199! YES!! Sometimes things DO work out! [Photo: Rev-A-Shelf]

wood lazy susan

So here’s the plan. (I know it’s kind of hard to read this composite photo.) On the right, the existing pantry will remain. To its left will be a pull-out unit with a slanted front to accommodate the jog in the cabinet depth (necessary to allow the back porch door to open). Then comes space for the dishwasher. Next, the sink (more on that in a later post). To the left of the sink is the corner door of the lazy Susan. Finally, filling in a small space next to the stove, will be a skinny pull-out for spices (skinnier than shown here).

litchen plan drawn on kraft paper

The tower cabinet will not be a total wash: Eric will block off the lower part, which will be obscured by cabinet, but the portion above the countertop will still be used. Perfect! I’d hate to see our construction and finishing go to waste.

I’m so happy we took the time to make a full-size drawing of our plan. We tossed around a lot of ideas, I changed our minds a few times, and we spent a Saturday producing nothing … but  we have answers. Eric says he’s eager to start building again—words that go straight to my renovatin’ heart!. Go, baby, go!!


Little boxes without topses*

My horoscope for this week:

Your past experiences may help you to see beyond the immediate tasks at hand. You need to use your positive energy to promote more change on the homefront.

So, instead of bemoaning all the things that are going wrong, I’ll focus on what’s going right … and actually, there’s quite a lot. I bet you’re glad to hear that.

I’ll start with the simplest thing: We moved the two bulky base cabinet carcasses back into position. (No. 1 had been up on saw horses in the breakfast room for face frame painting, and No. 2 was in the middle of the kitchen while we fiddle-farted around with the upper cabinet doors.) Just moving them out of the way was such a relief! Suddenly we can maneuver around the kitchen again–it feels almost normal. And we don’t have to stumble over poor Duke and say “‘Scuse me, Duke—MOVE!!” every few minutes. Duke’s happy, the cats are happy, we’re happy … but still far, far from done.

We’re still unsure what’s binding on the upper cabinet doors. It occurred to us that the original left door never closed, either. Hmm … I always attributed that to its ten coats of multicolor paint, but maybe, just maybe … it’s the house!  Eric did some research online and found he’d used too small a bit when he predrilled for the latch screws (he also found plenty of complaints about cheap screws). He couldn’t drill the broken screws out of the doors, so he simply filled the holes and moved the latch slightly higher. It covered the previous holes perfectly .The latches look fabulous. I’m a bit worried that the left and center doors, still wanting to pop open, are putting too much pressure on those little latches, but dang, this small part of the room is looking almost finished! I had to put a few pieces of Fiestaware on the shelves, just to see the effect.


With the “paint room” free once more, I started sanding and polyurethaning the drawer boxes. Stacked in the basement shop, they reminded me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin III lamp.

little boxes without topses


I could look at these sweet dovetail joints all day. Eric did such a beautiful job of constructing them! Here they are, all finished, waiting to have their faces applied … kind of like me in the morning (only smoother and better rested).


TA DA!! Here it is at last, our first functioning drawer, presented by Lacy! Unlike some of our other camera-shy kitties, Lacy loves to pose. She tells me her dream job is to model next to a concept car at the International Auto Show, so I’m helping her assemble a portfolio.

Lacy and drawer

Not to be outdone, Duke wanted to be featured on the blog, too. Even though Eric has to tweak the self-closing drawer glides a little, I’ve already loaded it with silverware. For the first time in months, we won’t have to rifle through boxes in the dining room when we want forks!

Duke and drawer2

*If you’re wondering about the title of this post …

In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excavating for a mine,
Lived a miner, forty-niner
And his daughter, Clementine.
Light she was and like a fairy,
And her shoes were number nine.
Little boxes without topses
Sandals were for Clementine.