Appliances Arrive and the Cavalcade of Cabinetry Continues

While we were away in OBX, kitchen cabinet installation continued, appliances were delivered, and the bathroom vanities and closet built-in cabinetry arrived. Our architect kept us updated with a few photos along the way.

Guest bath vanity:

Guest bedroom built-ins (from the same cabinet maker who created the bathroom vanities):

The master bath vanity hangs out in the guest room while awaiting installation:

Vestibule built-ins under going installation – the space in the middle will house the fireplace:

Kitchen cabinets and appliances begin to take their respective places:

Initial installation of wet bar and pantry cabinetry:

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Posted by on July 14, 2012 in Bathrooms, Kitchen


Kitchen Cabinet Installation Begins

In the first week of July, installation the kitchen cabinets began (sorry for the dearth of posts this month). Progression of the installation appears below:

Because the open-framed cabinet will reside below the kitchen peninsula, and will not be too accessible, and because we needed to stash the one AV component that could not be shoved up in the ceiling somewhere else, the subwoofer will live in this space. The AV guys already have run coax and Cat5 cable there, and the electrician has roughed-in the wires needed for the outlet. The opening will be covered by a custom grill.

This was one of the two reasons the cabinets got delayed a bit – we didn’t include a drawer in the wet bar cabinet. The drawer can’t be too big, since we’ll also have a sink here, but because it’s a trough sink that’s only around 6″ deep, we were able to accommodate a 9″ deep drawer.

Not much depth, but enough to hold wine openers, bottle openers, and the random box of toothpicks.

Blue painter’s tape tabs are used while awaiting arrival of the pulls. The white trim between the bookcase and cabinet at the end is where the kitchen peninsula counter top will be slotted.

The Seattle contingent is in town for the annual OBX trip, and drops by the house for a look:

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Posted by on July 7, 2012 in Kitchen


Random Updates

During the past week, the finished floors were covered and protected, and progress continued on trim work, bathrooms, and paint selection. Most significantly, the kitchen cabinets finally arrived, putting the project back on track for substantial completion in August (although installation of some electrical fixtures will lag beyond that, due to decision fatigue on our part . . .).

With respect to trim, finishing the new landing area and tying this into the millwork from the original house was one of the first things that was tackled after the floors were done:

Finalizing our paint selection also was on tap. Samples of the various shades of taupe (or putty, or ecru, or latte, or tan . . .) that we requested arrived from the painter for our consideration, in consultation with Natalie.

We selected our wall paint and trim paint, which finalized the materials for the house: floors, cabinets, paint, and first-floor countertops:

In the meantime, tiling continued in the guest bath. The darker color upon installation got us spun up initially, until we understood that this was simply the effect of the residual moisture from the mortar bleeding through. It should lighten up when the tile dries . . .

Tiling was completed in the master bath, which now awaits grouting:

This is the north wall of the master bath, where the vanity and mirror will go. The dangling wire on the left will be connected to an outlet inside one of the vanity drawers.

And, at long last, the cabinetry for the kitchen, wet bar, pantry, and knee wall arrived at Wolfe Street:

Our kitchen designer, Tricia, worked with the guys from the truck and Freddy to inventory each arrival.

We received everything but the kitchen sink (cabinet), which now has to be tracked down . . .


Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Bathrooms, Kitchen, Trim, Casing, and Doors



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:


Tile Driver

While the drywall elsewhere in the house was being primed and refined, preparations were underway in the two upstairs bathrooms for tiling that would commence the last week in May.

The master bath and guest bath both would use natural stone, and the original plan was to do the same oversize (8″ x 16″) brick pattern in both. The only difference would be the stone itself. The original tile design for the two bathrooms is shown below.

As we got closer to T-Day, and actual ceiling heights were established after drywall was installed, we revisited this design with our new architect. The refined version established a the following pattern, from floor to ceiling:

  • 4″ base course
  • Four full, 8″ courses
  • 4″ belt course
  • Four full, 8″ courses
  • 4″ belt course
  • Two full, 8″ courses

In the words of the architect, “This makes the layout look balanced and purposeful – since it aligns with other elements in the room and follows the tripartite rule – establishing a base, middle & top.” Hey, we’re all about purposefulness, and anything that adheres to established architectural rules instead of creating anew jibes with our pronounced anal retentive natures, so this was our new tile plan, which is shown below

The updated master bathroom tile design is below:

The guest bathroom tile design features a dark stone floor (with 4″ base up the wall) and lighter wall tile:

Back in the master bath, backerboard has gone in as a tile substrate. The long drain system and Kerdi waterproofing system boxes are to the right, ready for deployment.

Backerboard has been installed on the shower walls, below. Note the step down from the bathroom floor to the shower floor. This was the result of the use of 2×8 framing under the showers, versus the 2×10 joists everywhere else. This supports the curbless shower approach – the drain will be at the bottom, but the tile will slope upward from the middle to the step on the left and to the same level on the right, against the wall.

Here, the Kerdi system and long, rectangular drain have been installed in the master bath:

The same has been done in the guest bath, but at this point, work has progressed further, and one of the several layers of waterproofing has been applied. It’s a very subtle color; you can hardly make it out.

In the meantime, crates of tile have arrived, and are now stowed in the basement:

Here’s the tile for the master bath – Crema Ella. Lis wanted a spa feel, with tan stone. We considered travertine (a limestone), but learned that the porous nature required a lot of upkeep and would also show where epoxy or other filler had been added to fill the holes that naturally occur. The Crema Ella is a marble with a really homogenous appearance and very little veining. We totally dig it.

We’ve got a crapload of Crema Ella, eh?

Upstairs in the master bath (all lit by the skylight, which is exceeding our expectations), we met with Natalie, our architect, Mario the CG’s tiler, and Dave to review joint size and grout color. You can see the little grout samples placed along the side of the tiles, as well as the Crayola-style box of them over to the left.

The Crema Ella is at bottom right. The other two are the floor and wall tile for the guest bath, which will have a turn-of-the-century feel to it, including the fixtures (I think we’re going to market it later as part of the Wolfe Streete Sanitarium of Olde Towne). The dark marble is Blu Masaccio and the white marble is pretty standard Goia Venatino. Part of the grout discussion was whether we wanted to highlight the pattern in the guest room (using dark gray grout) or highlight the stone (using a very light gray grout).

During the discussions, and based on the decision to do very tight joints in the master bath, the tile design was changed again, essentially to the original design of even courses throughout. The final(?) plan appears below:

In the guest bath, we talked over some additional ways to bring visual interest to the space, and have decided to do several courses up to the vanity height with the 16″ x16″ stone, then a 4″ belt course, then the 8″ x16″ brick pattern, as shown below.

Stay tuned – it’s all conceptual at this point. The GC now needs to execute on the final design.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Bathrooms


High and Dry(wall)

After the last of the insulation was installed, a horde of drywallers descended upon the house and worked non-stop for 5 days, completely transforming the feel of the house. We’ve been used to seeing the house in the context of exposed framing for a few months, so this step in the renovation had a dramatic impact.

Here’s a couple of photos about two-thirds of the way through initial installation in the master bedroom:

The skylights, ceilings, and framed walls in the bathrooms get the treatment . . .

In the guest room, old drywall on the top portion on north side still remains, but the bottom portion needed to be replaced, since the drywall behind the old radiator was never actually installed years ago – the homeowner simply stuck a piece behind it. Here, the new closet is being drywalled, as well.

Drywall has begun around the skylight in the stairwell, below. In addition to drywall installation, the crew also is addressing the plastering needs of the house on the exterior walls. Here, an initial coat of plaster has been applied at the left of the photo, where the linen closet used to be.

Drywall activities in the front part of the first floor focus on the east wall, including the TV niche, and the ceiling. The strip of exposed brick on the west wall, which was where the old dining room wall ended, is being plastered, as well.

Since the rear of the first floor is all new framing, this all got drywalled. Here’s the main kitchen area. You can see where outlets and under-cabinet lighting will be located, as well as the vent for the hood over the range.

At the front of the house, the closet and vestibule area take shape with the installation of drywall. Plaster patching has been performed all around the door and windows, to address the refurbishing of these components.

The master bedroom after completion of drywall activities (but before priming and application of more mud):

The little hallway area leading out of the master suite is shown below. The walnut floors have been installed, as well, but the area shown in the picture has issues, and needs to be redone (which is why it’s exposed, versus the protected floor in the master bedroom):

Guest room drywall complete:

First floor drywall and plaster is complete at this point (check out the west wall – the guys did a great job blending in the new plaster with the old). They guys are gearing up to install trim right after drywall, including crown molding, which you can see next to the table saw. This molding was the unlikely subject of intense debate (seriously) and second-guessing for about a week before final decisions were made.

Completed kitchen area is below. The wall under the bulkhead was the exposed, demo’d brick wall from the back of the house. All of this will be covered soon by kitchen cabinets, so we’ll never see it again, but the plaster repairs look great, nonetheless.

Looking north from the kitchen after drywall and plaster have been completed:


Insulation Part 3 – Sound Attenuation (and Amplification)

The final stage of insulation to go in was cellulose between interior floors and walls. The purpose of this insulation is different than in the previous two posts. This time we’re insulating for sound between floors and rooms.

Anyone who’s stayed at our house becomes quickly aware of the sonic transparency of the space. First floor? Second floor? Bedroom? Bathroom? It doesn’t really matter where you are – it’s like everyone’s in the same room together. The complete absence of a subfloor on the second floor was the primary culprit, and this, combined with ill-fitting passage doors, likely caused most of the problem. But, as long as we were insulating before drywall is put up, we figured we may as well do everything we can to attenuate sound, as well.

We’re also covering the exact opposite goal in this post – sound amplification. As you’ll see in the photos below, one final infrastructure element that was never covered in the recent posts on this topic went in immediately before insulation began. This was the AV infrastructure, including speakers in the ceilings. To make the schedule and install before insulation, our AV consultants sent a double crew over on a Monday morning to string Cat 5e network cables and speaker wires all over the house. Insulation began promptly on Tuesday morning.

The sound insulation Tuesday evening was a sea of moss green flowing across the first floor ceiling. Here’s a view north, from the kitchen. In addition  to the recessed light fixtures, you also can see one of the two, 4″-diameter kitchen speaker placements in the center.

Heres’s a view west, to the wet bar and pantry wall:

The powder room also got the full treatment, for obvious reasons. No longer fear chili night at Wolfe Street!

In addition to the cellulose insulation, solid panel insulation has been applied to both sides of the pocket for the pocket door:

In addition to the insulation, this picture also shows the center and left speaker locations for the surround system. It’s a 5.1 system, so three of the 6″-diameter speakers are in the bay where that center speaker is located and the left and right satellite speakers are on the back wall. The subwoofer will be located inside a cabinet under the dining/kitchen peninsula.

The photo above also shows the TV niche, which has been framed out. The AV guys at this point have run network cable and HDMI cables to this location, which is what’s hanging out there.

All of the network and audio cables in the house (kitchen, living room, and the two bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs) make “home runs” down to an equipment hub in the basement. We’ll have shelving here, and the utility sink is being moved south.

Heres’s another view of the coils of cable awaiting connection much later in the project.

Upstairs, all of the bathroom walls got the same treatment. Here’s the shared wall between the two from the master bathroom side:

Insulation between the master bath and walk-in closet:

This is what the wall between the guest bedroom and guest bathroom looks like before drywall is installed. You craving burritos while staying at Wolfe Street? Interested in more cabbage than corned beef when coming to stay for the annual St. Patrick’s day party? No problem; go crazy!


Posted by on May 20, 2012 in AV, Insulation