January 17, 2016

Inspiration – The Family Bath Remodel

Tile Inspiration

I captured the tile pattern above at the Spadina House in Toronto. This bathroom dated from around 1912, and I think the tile border pattern is especially charming. Our house was built in 1928 and for the original bathroom a more classic look seemed right, as compared to the more modern design in the kitchen. The plan for the bathroom is to do a white tile floor with the above rug pattern in black.

For the bathtub we chose not to keep the old cast iron tub. I wanted a bathtub that would be great for taking showers and would also accommodate my tall husband, so the bathroom is getting a new, six foot tub. For the tub surround I had this idea for a jewel box look, where the tile would be a gem color and would become the major accent in the room. After buying lots of sample tiles and browsing tile catalogs, I just couldn’t find the right compromise between cost and color. Instead, the tub surround is going to be similar to the photo below, from a Paris hotel, with floor to ceiling white tiles with a small black pattern. It is modern yet classic, and while not a jewel box, it at least won’t be too strange.

The overall layout of the room is staying the same. The biggest change is switching the location of the tub faucet and drain to the left side and putting in a partition wall to house the new plumbing. With the old cast iron tub, all the plumbing came up through the floor inside the room, but with a modern tub the pipes couldn’t run through an exterior wall, so a new wall was required regardless of drain location. Moving to a left-hand drain gave us the maximum remaining room for towel racks and a little linen cabinet.

Since one of my favorite features of the old bathroom was the trim shelf, I am planning to do white, flat panel, wainscoting to fifty percent up the walls, topped with a shelf. One of my next projects is to plan out the wainscoting pattern, using the golden rectangle ratio to help find a pleasing design, and then come up with a lumber order, putting my woodworking classes to good use.

I’m still not sure on paint color for the upper walls, but am thinking a deep, classic red could be fun. I created the below renderings using Lowes free room builder tool. It’s not a big room, but it can still accommodate a big tub.

January 12, 2016

Beginnings – The Family Bath Remodel

Emerald House BEFORE

Soon after completing the kitchen I started plotting a full remodel of our upstairs bathroom. The photo above is from the realty listing for our house, when college kids lived here. Looking at that photo I’m surprised we bought this house and then we lived with the above bathroom for the past five years.

Things I loved to hate about the bathroom:
– The eye popping retro wall paper, peeling in the corners, with a little mold for effect.
– The fake, printed, wood paneling that even covered the real wood door.
– The tiny, leaking cast-iron bathtub, not fit for showering or bathing.
– The hardwood floors, with water stains.
– The leaky, rotting window, centered in the wall.
– The rusty, dirty medicine cabinet with a rusty light fixture above.
– The ridiculously long time it took to get hot water in the sink.

Things I loved to love about the bathroom:
– Having a bathroom upstairs.
– The little shelf above the paneling that ran around the room.
– The basic layout of the space.
– The retro sink, though not the tiny space it left for resting a toothbrush.

I dreamed of paying a talented team of experts to come in and give us a wonderful bathroom, but when the general contractor quotes came rolling-in, that dream stopped at my tightly held purse strings.

Instead, SB and I have been slowly progressing through the remodel on our own, with some help from a few tradesmen. It has taken longer and been more stressful than shopping it out, but I think the end result will be exactly what we want. Now we just have to see it through.

Original Bathroom South West Corner
January 10, 2016

A Great Kitchen – The Great Kitchen Remodel

Finished layout

After many months of using and loving the new kitchen, I’ve stopped thinking of my kitchen as a small kitchen and simply think of it as a perfect kitchen. There always seems to be the right amount of counter space, even when SB and I are cooking together, something that could never happen in the old kitchen. The drawers and cabinets are never over full, making it feel rich with storage space.

I love all the white with navy blue and the warm wood floors. I love the heat vent that blows across my toes as I stand at the sink. I love the classic tile pattern with soldiers and molding. I still get joy from the splash of warm maple on the inside of the cabinets and the theater lighting inside the oven.

Finished prep wall and sink

All the stress and decisions and self-doubt have faded away. I’m proud of our kitchen, of our design decisions, and of the fact that we paid for it all with cash and our own hard work.

The only regrets and lessons learned concern the floor finish and the grout color. If we had it all to do over again I would have hired a different company to refinish the hardwood floors so that the floors matched the dining room in color and gloss. For the grout, we had narrowed the grout colors down to two grays, one warm and one cool. We went with the warm gray and now we both agree that the cool gray would have been better. But these are small concerns, hardly to be noticed by anyone, even me.

Finished tile wall
July 5, 2014

Decision Fatigue – The Great Kitchen Remodel

I’ve long considered SB and I to be expert decision makers. We come to agreement quickly and can be very decisive, with few post-decision regrets. However, remodeling the kitchen broke our decision making skills and left me with moments of great indecision and doubt.

I could make ten, strong, clear decisions and then the next choice would leave me floundering. The decisions that caught me up were not necessarily the biggest or the smallest, but followed a fatigue curve, like running a marathon of choices.

Of course we could have had fewer decisions if we had brought in a professional to act as the general contractor and if we had let our kitchen designer make more of the decisions for us. I assume this is what happens when people build whole homes, they let other people sweat the details. Not us though, we needed to be down in the weeds, searching for the perfect tadpole.

Kitchen Tile Choices

One of the big decisions that caused me sleepless nights, honestly, was the color white. I had a clear vision of what I wanted the kitchen to look like and what I didn’t want it to look like. I had seen plenty of bad white kitchens and did not want to end up with any of those, including the 1980’s white office look, the farm-house off-white kitchen or the cheap apartment white kitchen.

After studying all the bad, I determined that a key to making it look good was to have the cabinets and appliances be the same white. Since we purchased our appliances early, I was able to test different colors of white against the appliance color to find the right tone. As the weeks of purchasing paint, painting test boards and wringing my hands, marched on, I could tell our kitchen designer thought I was becoming a little obsessive.

I felt that if I didn’t get the right white for the cabinets the whole room would fall apart. I finally settled on a white color, but until I saw a full sample, I continued to doubt the color decision. How would I know for certain that the tone of the cabinets would meld with the appliance tone? To add to the difficulty, we were also planning for white tiles and white trim, both of which were different whites from the appliance color. Maybe this whole white plan was a terrible idea!!!

Vent Hood

Right after buying our house, we researched and bought a cabinet mount vent hood, thinking we could pop it in on a cabinet or shelf, as a temporary solution until the kitchen remodel happened. Creating a new cabinet and getting it all installed proved more difficult than we thought and the plan never came together. For three years we had this vent hood in our basement.

When it came to picking out and purchasing all the appliances, we decided we should use the vent hood we already owned. Our kitchen designer worked it into all the specs, measuring it down to the tenth of the inch so that it would fit perfectly into the new cabinets. A week before the cabinets were scheduled to arrive, we pulled the hood out and brought it upstairs, into the light.

Suddenly it was the ugliest vent hood we had ever seen. We had failed to think about the cheap, black plastic front and strange, slider controls. Ugh! This could not go into our kitchen. We called our designer in a panic and set to researching a replacement with the exact same dimensions. This turned out to be much more challenging than we thought. It turns out that vent hoods come in many different sizes and have so many different features. The kitchen designer said we needed to have the new hood selected and purchased within 24 hours to keep everything on track.

In the end, the white paint color matched the fridge and we found a new vent hood that looks and works great. I think all the extra attention and consideration resulted in a better kitchen than we would have had otherwise, but I’m not sure about building a whole house. Any more decisions than those for the kitchen may have turned me into a crumpled heap of whimpering indecision.

March 5, 2014

Deconstruction Treasures – The Great Kitchen Remodel


Now entering the destruction zone, also known as the zone of discovery. The kitchen remodel has reached the no-going-back stage. The old cabinets and appliances are mostly out, with the exception of the stove and sink. The new cabinets will be arriving in five weeks. As the old has been removed, we’ve found some special treasures:

1920’s wallpaper with scenes of horse drawn carriages, ships and pastoral strolls complete with happy dogs, all on a green background from the Sanitas wallpaper company. This seems to have been the original wall covering for the top half of the walls.

1920s Sanitas

1960’s boot creme, a partially used jar of Cavalier boot creme in black. Someone’s boots were sad that this went missing.

boot creme

1980’s Imitation Margarine lid advertising the contents to be made from liquid corn oil. I’ll stick with butter.

imitation margarine

A milk delivery door, demonstrating that our house was designed for all the modern conveniences. We knew we had a phone nook and a mail delivery slot but the milk door was a new surprise. It looks like the milk was delivered right into a lower cabinet, since the walls around the door have never been painted.

milk delivery

Finally, with no photo to show, I found one little petrified mouse corpse, tucked in a little mouse nest made from the society pages of a newspaper from 1964. The social scene of Madison was at least favored by mice.

Tonight the deconstruction continues as we remove the plaster from half the walls to allow the electrician access and also to create a smooth surface for new tile. The drywall crew arrives in two weeks. It is nice to know the dust and chaos have an end date.

Next Page »

  • Eating salted avocados with a spoon in Madison.
  • Blogging since 2003.