Monthly Archives: June 2012


Generally speaking, the whole house renovation adventure has become a crazy container ship of stress, delivering anxiety to our lives each day in the form of uncertainty in decisions we need to make and a pernicious fear of regret in the decisions we have made. Every once in a while, though, we make progress on a component that restores our enthusiasm; a result that exceeds our expectations and literally makes our jaws drop.

The finished hardwood floors have done precisely that.

As part of the renovation, we removed the narrow white oak and heart pine flooring on the first and second floors, respectively, and installed 4″ walnut flooring. We liked the classic, gold-toned wood flooring in the original house, but wanted deep, dark wood floors in the new house.

Presented below, with minimal commercial interruptions, are photos of the installed and sanded (but unfinished) wood floors, and then of the final product. The staining and finishing work was just completed on June 22, and the result was exactly what we were hoping to achieve.

For this weekend, at least, we’re once again blissfully happy with how the WolfeStreetProject is coming along.

The only area where flooring was left intact was the stairs (the only original component remaining in the house). We considered adding walnut caps on the treads to blend them in with the new walnut flooring on the landing and upstairs hallway. However, this would have screwed with the proportions, relative to the trim and risers at the top and bottom, and so we chose to sand and stain them, instead, with the hope of approximating the dark, stained walnut.

You can see the difference in the wood between the nosing on the second-floor hallway on the left and the pine stairs on the right, so the color-matching would not be an easy task.

While the floor sub was working the entire week of June 18, all other work was halted, and the upstairs bathrooms became holding pens for the tile guys and the almost-painted radiators that are awaiting installation in the two bedrooms when the floors are complete.

The end result:

The stained treads turned out great (we’ll install a runner down the middle, regardless, so you’ll only be able to see the edges when everything is done). The newel post will be sanded during painting, and stained the same color.

Guest room:

Master suite:

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Posted by on June 24, 2012 in Flooring


The Doors

In early June, the interior passage doors from Smoot Lumber finally arrived. All of the doors are 5-panel, similar to our old doors, but the rails and stiles have crisp, straight edges, similar to the kitchen cabinets, rather than the raised-panel style of the original doors (all of which are now in the basement awaiting an undetermined fate). 

Delivery of the doors took longer than planned because Smoot ordered all of them from the same source to ensure that the proportions of the five panels and the edge characteristics were identical across all doors. We appreciated this, since there was a risk of subtle but noticeable differences if the doors came from different sources; as you’ll see, many of the doors are in close proximity.

Here’s the initial shipment, right off the truck:

The doors span type and style (hence the alternative option to obtain them from different sources with a quicker turnaround that had been considered, but not pursued):

  • Single swing doors for the three doorways in the upstairs hallway (master suite, guest bedroom, and guest bathroom). We specified extra thick doors (1 3/4″) for all of these, based on the doors that one of our friends installed during their renovation, which made a noticeable difference in look and feel
  • Double swing doors for the coat closet and powder room on the main floor and the guest room closet upstairs
  • Pocket doors for the east wall on the main floor (the opening between the doors above) and all of the master suite doors (bathroom, walk-in closet, and utility closet)

As you’ll see throughout this and later posts, we’re also using three casing styles to trim out the doors. Although this may seem to introduce unnecessary variability among doorways in such a small house, there’s a method to this madness and a set of business rules that guide which casing style would be used for which doorway.

The first doors to be installed were in the master suite. All of them are pocket doors, but the utility closet is the recipient of double doors. The casing style here is traditional Craftsman with no decorative header on the outside and “flat jam” on the inside (to highlight the tile in the bathroom, rather than any trim, and to provide space for the closet components in the walk-in).

Dave had to remove a portion of the drywall to install the track for the double doors for the utility closet (which has walnut trim to blend in with the floor).

Next was the guest bath door (the guest room door had not arrived, at this point). The casing style for all of the doors in this hallway is traditional Craftsman with the full header, which we really dig.

The guest bath and guest bedroom doors provide a good example of why the use of absolutely identical doors was important. Not only are they in close proximity, but they share the casing in the middle, all the way to the header. The integration of the casing for these two doors is out of necessity, but it also ended up looking very cool, as you’ll see in a subsequent post on the finished floors.

The supply of doors-to-be-installed downstairs dwindles . . .

Here, the coat closet doors have been installed. This doorway has traditional Craftsman casing with full header, although it’s not yet complete in this picture.

One more down . . .

Freddie (Dave’s apprentice) installs casing around the doors on the inside of the closet:

The finished product:

Installation of the ridiculously narrow powder room doors:

Although we bemoaned the loss of the original, narrow, linen closet door in the upstairs hallway, the powder room doors are carrying on the legacy.

We specified these doors with an astragal (the strip in the middle) over the gap between them. However, both we and Natalie assumed that the astragal would be on the inside, to provide a clean look on the outside. There’s actually a functional problem if the astragal is on the other side of an inward-swinging double door, so we may need to live with this (but we’re still considering our options).

The guest room doors have finally arrived and Dave preps them:

At this stage both the double doors for the closet and the thick passage door have been installed, but only the passage door casing has been added:

A shot from the other side is below. The casing and header had to be removed to install the door.


Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Trim, Casing, and Doors


Tile On

After designing our new house for more than a year, we thought that we had nailed down every aspect of the renovation. Frankly, we anticipated that the renovation project would be a turn-key affair, requiring little intervention on our part. We figured that the months that we’d be out of the house would be a good time to get out of the country and travel, since we’d otherwise be holed-up in a little condo at the north end of town.

None of this has remotely reflected reality; frankly, we’re currently suffering from chronic decision fatigue as a result of the ongoing nuances that have to be resolved every day or two. Specific placement of electrical outlets; how the window casings will interface with the crown molding; location of the doorbell chime; size and routing of the downspout, now that the vent for the range hood has consumed more real estate on the back of the house than anticipated. It never ends.

A great example of this is the bathroom tile. During our design of the bathrooms, long before we had a contract with a GC or excavated the first shovelful of dirt, we had specified the tile we would use and established a design pattern for the tile layout in each bathroom. What more could we possibly need to do? As noted in the initial post on bathroom tile, plenty, just to begin installation. We worked through multiple design updates based on the actual room measurements after drywall was installed, then scrutinized grout color. However, we still weren’t done, at least not in the guest bath. We had to address joint size and precision.

The wall tile in both bathrooms needs to be cut down from 16″ x 16″ to 8″ x 16″ for the the pattern we’ve specified. No problem in the master bath. But in the guest bath, all four sides of the the tile has a microbevel edge. It’s barely noticeable, but will, in fact, have an effect on the final product, since cutting the tile in half produces an 8″ x 16″ tile with three beveled edges and one strait edge. The solution we’ve arrived at is to manually bevel the new edge, then grout to the top of the bevels between tile. Since we want to to keep the joints tight (1/16″ wide), this actually means that the tiles themselves will be 1/32″ apart, so the distance between the two bevels will be 1/16″.

The GC wanted to make sure that we actually reviewed what the finished product would look like, and so prepared a mockup on a wall in the guest room:

In response to a suggestion that a larger joint size potentially should be considered, another mockup appeared, this time in the back of the closet:

Dueling joint mockups!

Here’s a closeup of the 1/16″ joint size. The whole point of this approach is to de-emphasize the interstitial spaces between tiles and highlight the stone itself. This goal is definitely accomplished with the initial mockup:

In contrast, the mockup of 1/16″ joints (which translates to 1/8″ grout lines between the beveled edges at the surface) resulted in grout lines that were too large. You can’t really discern this from the pre-grout mockup, since you notice only the the distance between the tiles below the beveled edges at the surface.

However, after the tile has been grouted, the thicker lines are much more noticeable.

We ended up approving the 1/16″ visible joint (for a 1/32″ joint between the tiles themselves). The risk is heightened visibility of any irregularities due to the manual cutting and beveling, but the mockup demonstrated the skills of Mario, the tile craftsman, so we’re hopeful for a result that meets our expectations.

Meanwhile, in the master bath, tile begins to be laid on the shower and bathroom floors. In the bathroom proper, the tile guys also have applied the electrical floor heating element.

The tiles begin to spread eastward. In the shower, placeholder buffers define the long Kerdi drain, which will be tiled in the middle.

Here’s a closeup, and another episode of anxiety-inducing stress. The plumber assumed that cement backer board would be applied to the west wall (the stark crimson/magenta wall that Mason has correctly identified is actually readily discernible, contrary to my assertions . . .). However, no backer board is needed, and we’re happy with a little extra space in the shower. As a result, though, the shower fixtures are not centered. We almost lost it.

However, as noted in the photo below, this is one of those rare instances where the mistake actually results in a better outcome than if the design was correct. Namely, there’s exactly 16″ from the edge of the shower to the center of the drain and fixtures. So, we need precisely one tile from the beginning of the downward slope at the shower entrance to the center point; the additional space is addressed on the west side by a narrow strip of tile, but not a little sliver. If the plumbing rough-ins had been installed in the center, we would have had a sliver at the shower entrance and at the west wall, which would have sucked, from a aesthetic standpoint.

The floor tile continues to migrate across the master bath:

Tile has now been installed along the length of the drain, effectively camouflaging the unit (the black spacers are just there temporarily).

In the guest bath, floor tiling also moves forward. The electric mat also has been installed.

Flooring essentially is complete in the photo below (the tile was selected to appear as an inverse of the white wall tile with grey veining). The joints, which are 1/32″ were spaced using the large ends of razor blades (you can see one laying on one of the tiles and another nearby in a joint between tiles . . .).


Posted by on June 10, 2012 in Bathrooms


Good & Plenum

One of the central elements of the redesign on the first floor is the bulkhead. It defines the dining/kitchen peninsula space and delineates the kitchen area from the good room. As noted in earlier posts, the bulkhead also serves a functional purpose as the east-west highway for infrastructure elements.

This post addresses the most intriguing feature of the bulkhead’s role in house infrastructure – serving as a plenum for return air to the AC.

The following series of photos documents the progression of the bulkhead from the early stages of framing to date:

In the photo below, the duct to the left is for AC supply; the duct on the right is for AC return in the rear of the house (there’s another at the top of the stairs). The plenum will serve to route air to this return duct.

The bad supply lines . . .

. . . and the good:

A plenum is a separate space provided for air circulation for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning typically provided in the space between the structural ceiling and a drop-down ceiling. In our case, the plenum will be an encapsulated space within the bulkhead to allow for flow to the return air vent, so we don’t have to put an unsightly, big-ass register in the ceiling (it would need to be 10″ x 10″). (The return air flow in this area will complement the return air register at the top of the stairs.)

Our plenum must be functional, but discrete, since it will be centrally located and we don’t want it to look like what it is. If properly designed, the plenum also will help to fulfill one of the design objectives of the bulkhead: define the dining space below by incorporating a raised area in the bottom of the bulkhead that provides visual interest and a home for pendant lights. This raised area would be part of the bulkhead regardless of HVAC needs and could be executed very simply in order to meet the design objective, but the return air flow function of the plenum gives us the opportunity to address both form and function goals with a single, elegant solution.

Here’s the plan that Natalie developed to meet the need, based on a design concept from the owner of the GC (who’s also an architect) one morning during a site visit:

The first step in executing on these drawings was to extend the return air duct and add a 90-degree turn, so it opened on the bottom. The next step was to surround the duct opening to create what would be the top of the plenum. Here’s how it looks at this point:

However, something’s clearly amiss. The pendant light junction boxes aren’t distributed equally, as a result of the location of the vent:

It turns out that the guys were, um, looking at the plans upside down when they started to built this (in the top-down view on the right side of the drawing above, the short end on top (west side) was mistakenly considered to be on the bottom (east side)). The vent actually fits perfectly between the second and third junction boxes if they’re evently distributed.

The problem was easily corrected – here’s the correct configuration (evidenced by the hanging electrical wires), after this has been addressed and after drywall has been installed:

The bulkhead is becoming less intrusive and more an organic part of the floor after the drywall has been primed and the wood trim has been added at this stage:

Now for the functional design details. The plenum needs to allow 100 sqare inches of air flow to allow the return to perform properly, but the “floor” of the plenum (which will be the top of the raised area of the bulkhead) needs to be attached to the already installed plenum ceiling, and we don’t want the return air functionality to be evident from the dining peninsula, so we can’t have holes in this floor. The solution is to have air flow around the sides to enter the plenum. To attach the floor of the plenum to the ceiling and still permit this flow, crenelated trim is used:

Here’s a better view to show how air will flow around the sides and through the holes to enter the return air vent:

To hide all of this, the sides of the bulkhead are trimmed out to 1″ below the beadboard, and the trim is turned on the bottom to extend 6″ into the center.

As a result, you can no longer see the sides that have to be left open for air flow, and the whole unit now appears exactly as it should from a design perspective. The dining peninsula will be directly below this raised area, which now conveys the visual interest needed for this element.

In the photo below, cellulous sound insulation has been shoved into every nook and cranny of the bulkhead around and on top of the plenum and the ends of the bulkhead have been sealed up with trim. Installation of crown molding also has begun.

As noted in the kitchen design post, cabinetry extending 24″ out from the party wall will occupy the area under the right side of the bulkhead in this photo, which will come within 6″ of the raised area. The dining peninsula will extend to 6″ to the left of the raised area, and the remaining space will serve as the passageway between the good room and the kitchen area.

Here’s a parting shot of the completed bulkhead after the contentious crown molding has been installed: