Monthly Archives: March 2012

The First Floor Takes Shape

As noted in the previous post (, the goal for the first floor is an open-floor plan with a list of specific design elements. The guys began framing the first floor to plan after the second floor was completed.

Framing for the entry vestibule and new stair landing has begun at this point (although, upon review of the plan, the landing wasn’t actually correct, as you’ll see at the end of this post).

A view of the opposite side of the vestibule, where the closet will go:

A view south from the vestibule area:

The guys begin construction of the west “wall,” which consists simply of the pocket door housing and the powder room walls.

As you’ll see in future plumbing posts, the powder room walls are constructed of 2×6 framing, rather than 2×4. They’ll serve dual purpose as dividing walls and a plumbing superhighway to route supply and drain lines from the second floor to the basement.

The finished product:

We’re still struggling with what to do with the brick walls. To get the black coating off and expose them properly, we’ll need to have the surface physically ground down, then the mortar repointed, which will required additional effort and incur additional costs. We’re waiting for a quote on this, then we’ll decide.

Looking north, so you can see both the powder room framing and the framining by the stairs where the AV niche will go. You can also see elements of the mechanical infrastructure, the installation of which we’ll cover in tortuous detail in a future post.

A view of the east “wall” from the north.

Overview of the framing defining the vestibule area. This will be complemented by the knee wall below.

The adjusted landing is shown below. The stair is supposed to come to the center of the newel post, rather than the end, so the guys ripped out what had been constructed and redid the framing and subfloor. They also removed the last tread and two last risers, as well as the cool round trim element that used to be on this side of the newel post. These should be the final portions of the old house that are removed . . .


Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick


Transforming the First Floor – Goals and Design Plans

After the second floor was framed up, the guys began framing the first floor. Not nearly so much involved here, inasmuch as our design goal was an open floor plan. Before we get to the update on first-floor framing, it would be helpful to describe our design goals here, since they will completely transform the space.

The goal of the first floor design was to recreate the house to reflect how we live. We don’t do a lot of sit-down dinners in the dining room, but have friends and family over quite a bit. They all make a beeline to the kitchen and hang out there or in the back patio. On a day-to-day basis, our routine involves cooking in the kitchen and hanging out in the too-small living room, notably skirting the unused dining room as we move between the back and front of the house. This made no sense.

To provide the context for the limitations of the house “as-was” and the intent of the renovation, the “Before” and “After” designs of the first floor are pasted below (arranged in a regrettably non-intuitive order):

As shown above, in the lower, “Exist’g First Floor Plan,” there were elements that made sense in 1925, but weren’t working for us. These elements included the following:

  • The entry from the porch poured directly into the living room, without any transition
  • The lack of a coat closet on the first floor (there actually was one in the original house, and many of our neighbors still have theirs). In the 1990s, the owners demolished this closet (but not the closet door) to create a hallway between the front of the house and the kitchen (a traffic pattern we liked quite a bit, but it did come at the cost of coat storage for us and our guests when we entertain). You can see the closet door in the Existing Floor Plan drawing below, and in line with, the wall separating the dining room from the living room.
  • A dining room we didn’t use (but in which lived our beloved cherry dining room table, which now has found a new, awesome home at Stephanie and Eric’s down the street; we have visiting rights)
  • No fireplace. We totally dig our wood-burning, glass-melting, kick-ass fireplace outside, but have always wanted a fireplace inside.
  • Kitchen space that didn’t take full advantage of the back of the house – the southeast corner was basically a dead area
  • A kitchen island that everyone always gathered around when we had people over, but that was too small for both entertaining and cooking (which we would typically be doing at the same time). As seen in some of the “Before” pics in the Kitchen Demolition post (, we also had kitchen cabinets over the island, which hung down at eye level. As a result, you could quickly tell who was having conversations across the island because they’d be bobbing up and down and back and forth like sparring partners in a boxing ring to look at each other around and under the cabinets. Another view of the hanging kitchen cabinet conundrum is seen here, from preparations for the rockin’ 2009 Thanksgiving Eve Party (which ushered in the now-hallowed tradition of stoking the outdoor fireplace so hot we can melt beer bottles):

All right – enough of the old house layout nostalgia. On to the new house.

As seen above, in the “Proposed First Floor Plan” drawing, the renovated space will have no dining room. But wait – that’s not all!

Included with this special house renovation offer are the following additional features – but only if you act now!

  • A small entry vestibule that provides a transition from the front porch to the living room; the foyer is defined on the bottom by custom cabinetry that forms a knee wall and on the top by a beam above. This design approach defines the area without enclosing the space, which would be crazy in a house this size. Plus, the cool knee wall serves another purpose . . .
  • An open-faced gas fireplace ( that will live in the knee wall. (More on that when we get to mechanical elements of the house reno, as well as installation of quite a bit of cabinetry.)
  • A coat closet (woo hoo!) at the east end of the narrow vestibule
  • Reorientation of the living room to have furniture along the east wall, rather than in the middle, as we had previously, due to the AV components being installed below the stairs. Some friends have called the new living area a Great Room, since it will be much larger than our previous, too-small living room. But, let’s be clear – this is not palace on a postage stamp in the suburbs; we’ve got a small townhouse in Old Town. There’s no way we’ll have a Great Room. So, we’ve dubbed the new room a Good Room . . .
  • A combination kitchen counter / dining area that serves as a transition between the Good Room and the kitchen. We’ll be able to use this for additional food prep space during parties, but also for food service during the same, and for dining when we have friends over for a casual dinner. It also, most importantly, will serve as an ideal gravitation point when friends and family drop by – a superior solution to the head-bob-inducing kitchen island area.
  • A larger kitchen (thanks to the bumpout) with more counter space
  • A wet bar with wine cooler below and beer tap above (with a line to the repurposed refrigerator in the basement)

All of this is manifested in the 3D renderings of our new space below. (These were developed by our previous architect in SketchUp, a free, but powerful CAD/CAM package available from Google – highly recommended!)

This is a view from the new landing at the bottom of the stairs. The built-in bookcases on the right mirror another set at the front of the house at the end of the knee wall that defines the entry vestibule.

A niche will now house AV components, so the furniture can be located against and perpendicular to the east wall, opening up the space and allowing for enjoyment of the fireplace (which is to the left in this view). We’ve taken great pains to protect and preserve the original newel post and staircase, since these are the only remaining elements of the original house (and also served as grounding for the design of the house, so we didn’t get too contemporary, and tried to maintain fidelity to the original essence of the 1925 structure).

A view of the dining peninsula and bumpout kitchen. (The oppressive extent of cabinetry in the 3D rendering will actually be punctuated with stainless steel for the range and refrigerator on the right.)

Um, we won’t be installing these light fixtures, but we are seeking cool pendant lights to hang from the bulkhead over the dining peninsula.

A view north from the kitchen. One of the many changes since this rendering is the reversal of the location of the wine refrigerator and sink / faucet at the wet bar. Also, although not evident from this rendering, the wet bar cabinetry and pantry (between the wet bar and door) will be the same wood and finish as the kitchen cabinetry.

Another view to the north and the Spark fireplace – and another change. The closet shown to the right of the door will not  be built. This was getting too cramped, so we’ll have a console table there. As with the wet bar and pantry area, the cabinetry for the bookcase and kneewall will be identical to the kitchen cabinetry.

The pocket door to the right leads to the powder room (holy crap, this is going to be tiny!) and the stairs to the basement.


Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Design


The Second Floor Gets a Little Definition

During the week of March 16, the guys focused on putting up the interior framing on the second floor. As noted in the first post on this blog featuring the before and after plans, we’re transforming a cobbled-together 2-bedroom, 1-bath arrangement into a more cohesive floor featuring a master suite with an additional bathroom and walk-in closet. This was made possible through a 5-foot bumpout to the south, in addition to building over the space that used to exist to the west of the old sleeping porch (which was an exterior alcove previously).

The before and after plan (with a few updates) is below for this floor. The top drawing is the new plan and the bottom drawing is the previous arrangement.

Framing up the walk-in closet:

A view from the guest room facing south:

A subsequent view from the guest room. Most of the framing has been completed at this point. Note the old bathroom skylight; at this point, the original, 1925 bead board shaft and pivoting “window” at the ceiling is still there. Unfortunately, this will change.

Looking south down the hallway (note the edge of the linen closet wall to the left).

A view from the master bedroom looking north.The framing for the closet and master bath pocket doors has been installed.

In the master bedroom looking north. The area along the east wall to the right will house the A/C air handler and washer and dryer.

The walk-in closet and master bath:

Another view of the master bath. As noted in “We’ve Been Framed!” the new, second-floor joists are now 2 x 10s, with one exception: the area under the showers. We’re installing curbless showers, and so a slope is needed in the shower area to drain the water. In support of this, we’re doing 2 x 8s under the showers, mitigating the need to rip down 2 x 10s, and making the sloping process more straightforward. You can see the change in the subfloor surface where the orientation of the plank text changes.

Looking south from the guest room after all interior framing has been completed:

Ah, crap! The original bead board shaft to the skylight is gone. We discussed with the GC installing a new skylight, since the original gable-style skylight may be beyond repair. The discussions were interpreted a little too literally, and the next day, they already had addressed the issue – with extreme prejudice:

Looking up through the original, gable-style skylight, perhaps for the last time. This structure stands on top of the roof as an independent element and forms somewhat of a cupola, which is pretty cool. There are vents (shown at the top and bottom of the skylight photo) that allow air flow. As noted earlier, they also allow a fair amount of willow oak leaves and pollen threads, which, frankly, is a pain in the ass. Nonetheless, we really liked the skylight and the character it conveyed to the upstairs bathroom (other than the old-school, chicken-wire embedded glass).

However, repairing the skylight was not feasible, and we’re now evaluating modern replacement options. The replacement skylight will still vent, but it will never be the same.

As alluded to above, and in “An Unwelcome Guest (Room),” the linen closet walls are an item of consideration. Below is a picture of their last days. We’ve now pulled the trigger on their removal to open up the stairwell, in concert with a larger skylight, to occupy most of the ceiling space above this area.

The result is shown in the video below of a walkthrough of the framed-out second floor with a remarkably familiar code inspector.


Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick


Enclosing the Master Bedroom

Now that new joists and a subfloor have been installed for the second floor, erecting the exterior walls for the master bedroom at the back of the house was the next task. This was obviously a prerequisite for installing the roof deck.

This entire time, most of the house has retained its roof. However, because half of the master bedroom consists of the old sleeping porch (now demolished) and the other half is a new bumpout, this has been completely exposed.

The rear wall of the room was built first, sheathed, then erected:

Then, the east wall was built and installed the same way:

Exterior view of the new south elevation:

With the east and south walls installed, rafters start to go in.

View to the east:

And, view to the west. Why no exterior wall? The west wall on every floor is still waiting for resolution of the same property line connundrum that was delaying the pouring of the basement slab (details on this in a future post).

Because we’re not rebuilding our entire roof, we need to maintain the existing slope towards the back, resulting in a challenge in maximizing ceiling height inside, while ensuring that the roof deck slope is per code. Here’s the plaster wall-as-a-chalkboard on the second floor we used to evaluate the plan.

Property line issue resolved! West wall is erected and sheathed:

Ceiling beams are now scabbed onto the new rafters to provide framing for the ceiling. Roof decking begins:

And is complete:

Fully enclosed master bedroom looking to the east:

And west, much to our relief:


Unwelcome Guest (Room)

Our renovation plans originally called for leaving the guest bedroom at the front of the house intact, and simply having new window and door casings installed and having it painted. As seen in the the “Apex of Destruction” post, keeping the room intact was not feasible because a glulam needed to be installed slightly north of the room’s south wall. We then learned during second floor interior framing that “having it painted” was more complicated than we thought, as well.

Here’s the guest room before:

When the radiator was removed (to be chemically stripped, repainted, and reinstalled in the same place), we learned that the north wall was not as it seemed:

Instead of plaster-on-brick, some time in the past, someone added furring to the brick wall and installed dry wall. Because the radiator wasn’t removed the drywall under the left window was just dropped back there; it wasn’t actually attached to anything.

We’ll definitely be removing all of the existing drywall and furring. We’re now debating whether to replaster the room, or simply install drywall correctly. Since drywalling and plastering won’t occur for a while, we’re putting off this decision and focusing on other, emerging issues, like, “why not remove the entire linen closet and open up the stairwell space?”

The photo below shows the east side of the guest room; the linen closet (or, what’s left of it) is to the right:

The south wall of the closet forms the stairwell ceiling:

In reviewing interior framing last weekend, Natalie, our new architect, considered this space with a fresh perspective. If the linen closet was not critical, why not remove this entire structure and install a big-ass skylight over the stairwell to open up the space and allow more light to flow into the first floor?

This would also change the second floor hallway. Previously, it looked like this, facing the guest room door:

If we act on the suggestion, the little hallway here would be opened up, and a railing would run from the old newel post location to the guest room wall; the linen closet structure would be eliminated altogether.

The only problem? We’d lose the narrowest 5-panel door in the world . . .

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Posted by on March 17, 2012 in Interior Demolition


Slab Happy

A fundamental benefit of the renovation was bumping out the back of the house. In the basement, this meant more than doubling the size of the unfinished area. One member of the family whistfully believes this will provide lots of additional storage space (the other knows with confidence that it simply provides additional acreage to house more bikes and a proper bike repair area; oh – and a second refrigerator, of course, to hold a keg for the upstairs tap).

Below is a view of the area prepped for the slab to be poured. The concrete area at the top is the original house slab – it ended at the brick, south wall that was demolished in the “Excavation Day 5” post. Beyond this was the crawlspace under the old, built-over porch, then the back yard, which we’ve now pushed out into.

View to the west. The block wall has not been finished at this point due to an, um, revealed condition relating to the property line. The slab itself depended on resolution of this issue before it could be poured. More on this in a future post.

The walkway we’ve been using until now – it’s been like walking from a dock to a boat for the last several weeks.

Framing for the new basement stairs has now been added.

The slab and stairs have now been poured. The mason’s doing a key job in our basement. The drain used to be outside the house, under the original porch. Now it’s inside. Although the full bumpout on the top floor (which hangs over the kitchen door and basement stairs) will minimize the rain that hits the stairs and rolls down, some will still go down the stairs and get into the basement. The mason is grading the slab near the door to create a channel to direct this infiltration to the drain.

Finishing off the steps:

The freshly poured end result, looking south into what used to be the crawlspace under the old porch (up to the wall to the left) and backyard (essentially the length of that wall):

And to the east. The boiler for the hydronics and the hot-water heater will live here, consolidating the mechanical components to one corner and freeing up the rest of the basement for, um, storage (more bikes).

You can totally see where the Harry Homeowner blocks from a couple of decades ago are (ugly, but sound), and where the guys have installed new blocks as part of the renovation.

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Posted by on March 15, 2012 in Excavation and Basement Work


We’ve Been Framed!

As indicated in a previous post, demolition was completed in late February. This was the demoralizing valley floor in the topography of our renovation. We’re now climbing up the mountain of improvements, starting with the framing. Since the back of our house historically has been a veritable car wreck, structurally, it was great to have the old porch structure replaced with proper joists tied into the original house framing.

To support the new, north-south joists for the second floor, several large, glulam beams were installed. Two of them will become the bulkhead over the kitchen/dining peninsula, and will support the south end of the longest stretch of the new, north-south joists.

That’s right – POWER Beam. (Sure, it’s just a brand of laminated structural beam, but when you say it like a Monster Truck event announcer, the whole house seems cool – “POWER POWER POWER Beam!”)

Although the new joists will run parallel to the house walls, the bulkhead glulams supporting them are slotted straight into the brick like the old joists (only lower and larger). We’re oddly happy about this, simply because we thought the old-school joists-in-slots technique was so cool.

Two of the other glulam beams (POWER Beams!) are installed behind an original double beam to the north and next to the staircase to the east.

Holy crap! The house is starting to look like a Mondrian painting:

It’s a glulampalooza:

The second bulkhead mother gets installed. From a design perspective, the bulkhead will define the transition from the living room to the kitchen; from a functional perspective, it will handle routing of vents, plumbing, and hydronics.

The new, second-floor joists installed. During the last meeting with the architects and GC, we collectively decided to install 10″ joists instead of the unusual (for a modern floor) 8″ joists we had spec’d. The reason we spec’d the narrower joists was to be maintain consistency with the existing joists at the front of the house, which were approximately 8″, as far as we could tell, and to maximize ceiling height. When the plaster ceiling was removed, thought, we realized that it was much thicker than the drywall that will replace it, so we’d only loose a fraction of an inch in ceiling height, while gaining significant structural stability on the second floor.

Although most of the joists are 2 x 10s, the showers in the two upstairs bathrooms will be curbless, and have drains that require some clearance, so we’ll be installing 2 x 8s in this area to help with the tile angles.

View to the east of the new bulkhead framing.

New subfloors begin to go in.

Another angle of the bulkhead framing.

Subfloor installation complete for the original house section.

New framing where the old sleeping porch used to be:

Natalie, Lisa, and Mary discussing a new complication regarding skylight placement in the master bath. (There’s an original rafter beam that was revealed during demo that’s put the kibosh on our original skylight placement plan.)

The offending member (double), holding up a third of the roof’s rafters:

Yup, the skylight’s up there:

A few of the ongoing framing activities on the second floor.

View to the north of the completed bulkhead framing; new, north-south oriented, second-floor joists; and subfloor.


Indecent Exposure

One of the things we were curious about before the demo was whether we had decent-enough looking brick walls under the plaster to expose one completely in the renovated house. Many of the restaurants around town have done the exact same thing (including both of the best pizza places – RedRocks and Pizza Paradiso), and it looked awesome. We figured that, if you’re fortunate enough to have an older, brick-walled townhouse in Old Town, we should take advantage of it.

During the demo of the remainder of the main floor (in the “Mr. Gorbachev: Tear Down this Wall!” post:…down-this-wall/), we got a glimpse of the brick underneath the plaster. The picture below is of the area on the west side where the wall between the living room and dining room was attached. Sweet! It looked like our brick would be in good enough shape to expose.

The area we targeted for exposure was the wall of the new powder room on the east side. I asked Dave to see if some of his guys could remove the plaster in this area, and expose the wall, which hopefully would reveal similar conditions to the strip between the plaster on the west wall.

Huh? The bricks didn’t look quite the same.

The more the brick wall was exposed, the more we realized that the bricks had been coated with a black substance.

In addition, there’s a big-ass piece of lumber enmeshed with the bricks! (We understand that this was a nailer that had been installed during original construction to allow cabinets or other elements to be nailed in, through the subsequent plaster layer.)

So, here’s the entire wall exposed. It’s entirely coated in this black substance (paint? tar? who knows?). The brick color you see is simply dust from two new holes that were cut in the brick to support new structural members (which will be the subject of the next post). You can see the wood nailer clearly about mid-way down, to the right of the blob of white plaster.

One of the carpenters believes that the black coating was applied to help the plaster adhere to the bricks. This makes sense, since we’ve found it under the areas where plaster was applied, but it’s not on the bricks where there was never any plaster (see the first photo above, as well as the pictures of the wall behind the old bathroom in the last two posts on removal of the joists and removal of the bathroom). In all of the instances where an interior wall abutted a brick wall directly, the brick is natural; wherever plaster was applied, the brick is black.

We’re going to have the area above scrubbed with a wire brush to see if we can salvage the brick and the design idea, and are moderately hopeful, but not confident. If you see a fresh plaster wall in the powder room in the finished house, you’ll know the outcome .  . .


Posted by on March 4, 2012 in Framing, Drywall, Plaster, and Brick