Goodbye, Awnings

I hated the look of the awnings on this house from day one.  They were metallic, nasty colors, and way too big for the size of the house and windows.

ImageIt’s not that I hate all awnings.  I think some can be done well and they can add a lot to certain houses.  I just didn’t think that these awnings were adding to my house- I thought they were taking away from it.

The bay window in the living room is one of the focal points of the house, especially from the curb.  As it was, it was significantly overpowered by the awning.  It’s 2014.  I didn’t want metal awnings to be the focal point of my house.

Still, I had my reservations about removing them.  For starters, that’s a significant and relatively irreversible change.  They were so consuming of the facade of the house that it was hard to even picture it without them.  While I suspected it would look drastically better, the fact that they were going to get irreparably bent during removal and could not be reattached if I regretted the decision was daunting.  On top of that, they did provide a significant amount of shade and kept a great deal of sunlight out of the front rooms in the house.  I could lie to you and say that this was a matter of wanting to keep my energy bills low, but anyone who knows me well would see right through that charade; I just like it to be  and cold and dark when I’m lounging or napping- not feeling like I’m in a tanning bed.  Finally, and perhaps most of all, these awnings sounded incredible when it rained.  The sound of a strong raining hitting metal awnings is probably the most soothing noise I know, and I could have listened to it for hours.  Even when I was there working during storms, it was a peaceful background noise.  I’m not joking when I say that giving up that sound was one of my primary concerns regarding moving the awnings.

On a Saturday morning in September, I got impulsive.  I told my dad to get the drill before I changed my mind, and down they came.

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I was immediately satisfied with the choice.  The front of the house looked…. different.  The awnings had taken so much of the focus before that their absence allowed the eyes to take in a more complete picture.

The view from inside the living room opened up drastically.  With the awnings in place, most of what you saw through the bay window was the metal and some grass.

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With the awnings removed, the living room has a much more open view of my street, which is busy in a pleasant way, and the nice houses across the street.

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Now that the awnings are gone, I plan to remove and redo the front porch with something more aesthetic and classic; possibly a portico with a pitched roof and white columns.  The shutters also need an overhaul.  To begin with, the house had little curb appeal, but I believed then and still believe that was possible to change.  Getting rid of the dated awnings was the first step toward that change.

The first time I went skydiving, I was scared to death on the plane ride up; the anxiety was overwhelming.  We moved to the door of the plane, I held on with both hands, and my instructor told me to let go whenever I was ready.  I held on to the door, having serious doubts about what I was about to do.  One second, I just decided to let go and, as soon as I was outside the plane, the anxiety was gone because all I could focus on was the view.  Crazy as it may sound, taking the awnings off of the house followed a similar pattern.  Anxiety. Impulsive decision.  Enjoying the view. Image

What Was Missing: Character

I’m not ashamed to tell anyone that my house is not what I had always imagined for my first home.  Much to Erica’s dismay, I am a complete “old house” person.  I think old houses have more soul to them.  To me, modern houses can be extremely nice, but there’s just something lacking- they can feel generic.  I like old houses with built in bookcases, unique woodwork, and stuff that you don’t find in every other house around…. I like, for lack of a better word, character.  

My house was almost completely lacking in character.  There were small things I found unique and appealing, such as the side door off the kitchen which adds another dynamic to the flow of the house and lets in a great breeze in the summer, or the wood spice rack hanging in the kitchen pantry that I don’t care about but my mom is obsessed with.  However, for the most part, the rooms were pretty basic; square and flat.  

When I was walking through the house last spring, I immediately started to see ways that character could be added to a house that was otherwise lacking in it.  For instance, my plan to put floor-to-ceiling, built-in bookcases on either side of the fireplace in the living room (still to come):

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 Or the plan to put nice, white wood trim around all the windows that were currently just floating lifelessly in the wall (still to come):

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While there was a whole list of options, no room was as obvious of a place to add some character as the back bedroom.

The back bedroom, as you would have seen in my earlier post, was a rectangular room with a closet; no depth or levels at all.  

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 When I looked at this empty wall with the lone window, I had an immediate idea for this space: matching closets on either side of the window with a window seat in between them that opened up for storage.  This idea was met with skepticism from anyone that I shared it with, who all assured me that it would be such a mistake to make the room smaller, because it was such a nice sized bedroom for a house this age. 

The size of the room was moderate enough that it wasn’t quite big enough to be what most people would deem to be a master bedroom, but it was still plenty big as a guest room or a room for a kid.  To decide if I should push forward with my idea or listen to the skeptics, I spray painted a queen-sized bed on the floor to see just how cramped things would be in a worst case scenario… only to find that it wasn’t cramped at all.  The end of the room that I was wanting to build up was essentially just open space where a dresser would end up sitting or a chair of some sort.  The closets / window seat idea negated the need for either of those, as it would provide plenty of storage for clothes, as well as a place to sit, while adding some built-in uniqueness that was a part of the structure of the house- something it needed badly.  

I don’t like to be proven wrong; I know that is a shock to those of you know me.  As a result, I was a little apprehensive to move forward on this when almost everyone, including my dad who generally makes good decisions on this stuff, was telling me it was a mistake.  I’m a visual learner, and I am the first to admit that I don’t have the best concept of space.  For me to decide whether the room was big enough for what I was picturing, I was going to have to get a feel for what the room felt like with it.  Enter cardboard.

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 My friend whose family owns Greyhound Tavern is used to my strange, random requests, so when I asked to have their cardboard boxes that they would be throwing away, she wasn’t completely bewildered… somewhat, but not completely.  As an artist, she was sympathetic for my need to make my vision into something three dimensional, so after calling me “ridiculous” and rolling her eyes at me, she instructed her kitchen staff to start saving the boxes for me.  If she hadn’t, I may never have had the balls to stick with this idea and probably would have scrapped it, so if my brother deserves to have the kitchen named after him, I suppose the guest bedroom should be named after her.  

Within a couple weeks, I had enough boxes to start constructing.  Like a little kid building a fort, I was crawling around my living room with a tape measure, a knife, and a roll of duct tape.  In the interest of full disclosure, I got extremely lazy after the left closet and just stacked various boxes to take the general shape on the right closet, as opposed to the precise replica that I assembled for the left  When I was finished assembling, what I had been picturing in my mind had become somewhat real.

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After living with the cardboard closets for a period of time and getting a feel for the space they would take it, I was completely comfortable with the decision.  Late on a Sunday afternoon, when we had wrapped up other work and were just wasting time, my dad grabbed his nail gun and started framing in the closets.  

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 Cutting and hanging the drywall for these closets was the first “building” that I felt comfortable doing on my own without supervision. Tearing out someone else’s shitty work I could handle; doing something that was going to be permanent and needed to be perfect was a lot of pressure, which usually left me reluctant to attempt it without my dad nearby to avert a major mistake.  After realizing that I’m naturally pretty good at cutting and hanging drywall, I knocked out the closets on my own over the course of a few weeknights.  Although it was pretty free of obstacles, I did accidentally drywall myself into the left closet for about 15-20 minutes, but that’s a story that has to be explained or demonstrated in person.  With relative ease, the closets were in place.

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 My original concept for the window seat was a flat front with a lid that lifted up to store shoes, clothes, and (maybe someday) toys.  This plan changed slightly when my dad came across yet another bargain pre-built cabinet; this time at the Covington Reuse Center.   This analogy is going to expose me for the nerd that I am, but the Covington Reuse Center reminds me of that nasty flea market that Katniss goes to in “The Hunger Games” and sells the stuff she kills.  It’s dark and dirty, and the people are questionable.  A lot of the stuff is junk, but if you look through it, you will inevitably find a Mockingjay pin (another Hunger Games reference I should be embarrassed about).  This pre-built cabinet which has become my window seat was certainly a steal. 

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 It was all wood, sturdy as can be, and pre finished on the inside.  The price: a whopping $40.  There is no conceivable way that we could even have bought the wood to make this for that price, much less the stain and door hardware.  Nothing was as much of a value as the time saved.  Instead of lifting open from the top, the top will be a flat wood surface with a cushion over it that is thick enough that it is comfortable to sit on.  The doors open from the front to a pre-finished cabinet that is almost two feet deep, three feet wide, and two feet tall.  By propping it up with a wood frame and attaching it with nails, it is the ideal height for the window seat. Once the wood surface across the top is installed, the structure will be complete.   

Acquiring the doors for these closets was a Saturday morning adventure that pushed the relationship between my mom and I to its emotional brink.  They were being sold, frame and all, at a place called the Pease Warehouse and Kitchen Showroom in Hamilton, Ohio- about 40 or 45 minutes away.  The price, however, was enough to justify the trip.  I planned to borrow a truck from one of my uncles, but my dad assured me that, based on the dimensions, they should fit easily inside my mom’s SUV.  In retrospect, I still have my doubts whether he believed that or if, since he wasn’t going with us, what ensued was all by his design.  

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They did not fit easily.  In fact, we could not close her hatch, so they had to be tied down with a ratchet strap.  The primary ratchet strap he had provided us with broke as I was tightening it, so we had to use an old one that just happened to be stored in the wheel well of her car and would never fully tighten.  With no other options, we began our trek home; hatch ajar, doors slightly bobbing or shifting with each bump, and tensions running high.  It was a long hour as we snapped at each other, I held onto the frame of the doors as long as my knuckles could handle it, and each of us had the image flashing in ours heads of the 7 foot door flying out onto the expressway and killing the driver behind us.  When we arrived home safely and with the doors intact, all was well… although my mom did say that she needed a glass of wine.  It was 1145 AM.  That should tell you how tense of an excursion the acquisition of these doors was.  

I sanded these doors tonight so that they can be painted this weekend and, hopefully, installed at the end of Sunday afternoon.  From there, all that is left is to finish the top and paint the front of the window seat to match the doors. Then, this portion of the house will be completed… adding built-in, permanent character to the house that will stay with it for future owners.

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Going From “Old Lady Bathroom” to “Millenial Bathroom”

 

If “old lady bathroom” was in the dictionary, they could skip the definition altogether and just incorporate a picture of my bathroom as it was when I bought my house.

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For the full rundown on all that was wrong with the bathroom and to get a grasp on just how excessive the amount of yellow was, refer to my earlier post about the bathroom (https://thissomewhatoldhouse.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/what-i-had-to-work-with-the-bathroom-2/).

Step one was to try to channel the wallpaper removal success that I experienced in the living room into the bathroom to eradicate the ridiculous floral walls left over from the 1960’s.

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The removal led me to an alarming discovery.

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The flower wallpaper was, in reality, not leftover from a decade where heinous home interiors were embraced and understandable.  It was put up in 1994- well into my own lifetime.  My dad often tells me that you can’t judge other people based on their taste, as long as they’re making an effort, but I don’t think that anyone who hung this particular wallpaper while Clinton was President is entitled to that benefit of the doubt.

My next task was to get rid of the giant vanity and mirror / medicine cabinets with bulb rack that completely consumed the room; even making it difficult to move around comfortably.

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Next began the slow process of cleansing the bathroom of everything yellow.  Before the yellow bathtub could go— which needed to happen as soon as possible, I had to clear out all the yellow speckled shower tile.

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 This was one of the most physically taxing jobs that has come with the house.

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All my internet research about removing shower tile acted as if I should be able to simple chip it out with a hammer and a chisel.  That was showing me no success.  When I managed to bust a couple tiles off with the blunt force of swinging a hammer, I discovered that a layer of cement approximately a half inch thick secured the tiles to a sheet of wire mesh— great, more wire mesh.

The only method that worked was a hammer; swinging it as hard as I could into the tile… over and over and over.  With somewhere around 700 tiles lining the walls of the shower, that adds up to a couple thousand swings of the hammer.  I did it until my arms throbbed and ached, and I was unable to swing hard enough to produce enough force to break through the tile and cement.

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I can tell you from this experience that 3 inch by 3 inch piece of ceramic tile is not heavy.  I can also tell you that 700 pieces of 3 inch by 3 inch ceramic tile is absurdly heavy.  I made the mistake of letting all the tile fall down and build up until it was overflowing out of the bathtub.

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My bathroom looked like a bomb had detonated, and I was picking chips of ceramic tile out of my hair for days.  After shoveling all the rubble into a trash can and moving it to the curb, I hurt my lower back and was out of commission for a few days.  Who would have guessed that improperly lifting a few hundred pounds could be bad for ones back?

With the shower tile gone, I spent about thirty minutes popped up the yellow floor tiles with a hammer and a crowbar.  It must have been horribly secured to begin with, because it popped right up; sometimes 3-4 tiles at a time.

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Once the floor and shower tile had been removed, I was almost to my stage one goal: a yellow-free bathroom.  After removing the old tub and installing a new, white tub, no yellow remained, and the first goal for the bathroom had been reached.

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The plan of “opening up” the bathroom had an obvious solution- a much smaller vanity. That, however, came with a clear drawback- loss of storage.  In a bathroom with no closet, a smaller vanity was going to pose serious storage issues for towels, cleaning products, bath products, etc. Luckily, creative problem solving has never been an issue in my family.

If you read the original post about the layout of the first floor, you recall that I realized early on that the guest bedroom closet shared a wall with the bathroom.

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This posed an obvious solution of shifting the space around to where it was most needed: the bathroom.

This was another one of those projects that was quicker and simpler— and not to mention cheaper— than  I could ever have anticipated.  We came across a pre-built, pre-finished all-wood cabinet at Lowes that was drastically marked down from the normal price (http://www.lowes.com/pd_75156-66150-23+U18R_0__?productId=50140692&Ntt=white+cabinet&pl=1&currentURL=%3FNtt%3Dwhite%2Bcabinet&facetInfo=).  Between the sale price, a price reduction for a small scratch, and using the 10% off coupon that Lowes puts in every change-of-address package at the Post Office, we ended up getting this cabinet for somewhere around $30.  I’m not kidding.  We verified the price with the cashier multiple times, and it never changed.   We couldn’t even have purchased the materials to build this cabinet for $30; not to mention the time and effort.  As we drove home from Lowes in shock of the bargain we had just walked out with, my dad told me that I better find a priest and attend confession ASAP.

With the cabinet already built and the dimensions decided for us, all we needed to do was cut a hole and place it in the wall.

After cutting the hole, looking from bathroom into the closet:

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After cutting the hole, looking from closet into the bathroom:

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After placing cabinet, looking from bathroom:

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After placing cabinet, looking from closet:

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With just $30 in cost and a few hours labor, there were a nice-sized built in cabinet added to the bathroom.  The loss to the bedroom closet turned out to be minimal- about 1/4 of it.  This is even more insignificant in light of the changes / additions made to the back bedroom that will be covered later.  The significant amount of storage space added by the new closet freed me up to choose a smaller vanity that would make the bathroom a much more open and more navigable space than it was before.

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I picked out a grey called “cement gray” and, after a short visit to Mernard’s, I had the floor and shower tile to go with it.

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Where am I now in the process of modernizing the bathroom?  Things are right on the brink of coming together.

Last weekend, I put the final coat of paint on the bathroom walls, and I’m pretty damn happy with how the color turned out.

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Although that angle shows the most of the painted walls, it is not an accurate depiction of the color, as it is nowhere near that dark.  The next two are for more accurate.

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This weekend should be one of significant progress in the bathroom as the floor tile goes down.  All the bathrooms fixtures- vanity, mirror, light fixture over the vanity- have all been purchased and are collecting dust as they wait in the living room to be installed.  Once the floor is tiled and dries, all the fixtures can be installed, leaving the tiling of the shower walls as the only remaining task.  I hope to have this room completed in the next couple of weeks.  Even while waiting on the shower walls to be completed, I’ll just be happy to have something I’ve been missing for months: a functional first floor bathroom.

The Headache Inducing Wallpaper

I may be a man, but I understand the concept of an accent wall- one wall that is different from the others in the room which has a dramatic effect based on the contrast with the others.  Based on that definition alone, I suppose that you could say that my living room had an accent wall, albeit a trashy one.

While three of the walls were painted brown, the wall to the right when you walk in the front door was entirely covered in red and white checkered wallpaper.

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 No one was exactly a fan of this wallpaper, but I don’t think anyone hated quite as much as my cousin’s husband, Jason, who said it made him go cross-eyed when he looked at it.  I had never noticed it before, but he was completely right.  See:

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This was the first time I’ve ever had to remove wallpaper, and it was not bad at all- in fact, I would even say that I enjoyed it, because the peeling away of layers satisfied the whole instant results / satisfaction thing I’ve talked about previously.  I used this simple and cheap drywall scorer from Home Depot (http://m.homedepot.com/p/Zinsser-Single-Head-PaperTiger-Scoring-Tool-2966/202745319/) and a bottle of DIF (http://www.homedepot.com/p/Zinsser-32-oz-DIF-Gel-Wallpaper-Stripper-Spray-2466/202911113).

DIF is an amazingly effective product.  You score the wallpaper, spray the DIF on the wall, let it soak into the holes that the scorer left, and five minutes later, it starts peeling off right as you pull it- often in large patches or strips.

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 Anything that didn’t pull right off with my hands slid right off with an 8 inch drywall knife.  Just for experimentation purposes, I attempted to use a steamer, as that was what some people recommended.  My experience was that the drywall scorer / DIF method was quick, more effective, and didn’t involve scalding water running down the walls onto the floor.

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I was fortunate that the walls were in great shape and that, for once, the prior owners had done something right when hanging the wallpaper.  I have seen other houses (cough cough Erpenbeck homes cough cough) where the walls are literally crumbling out in chunks as wallpaper is removed.  I experienced none of this.  In fact, despite the layer of glue residue that remains, the wall uncovered perfectly and is largely flawless.  Personally, I think removing the glue residue sounds like a great job for my mom.

This was one of those projects that went drastically better than expected.  I encountered no issues at all, and while I was prepared to uncover walls in terrible condition, that didn’t happen.  Within a few hours, the headache inducing wallpaper was no more.

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The Worst and Best Decision I have Made

Some of the projects in this house have proven so much easier than expected- they just go flawlessly, and I have found myself relieved at how much simpler and quicker it turned out to be. Some, on the other hand, have been the exact opposite.  What sounded like it would be no big deal turns out to be completely horrible; yielding one obstacle after another.   Removing the existing soffits from the kitchen was one of the latter.

If you read my earlier post, the kitchen began with two walls of decent yet old and rickety cabinets under a soffit running the length of two walls.

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The other wall, which houses the basement stairs, was where the mysterious, random soffit was located.

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It had no cabinets under it, and it appeared that it never had.  It clearly served no functional purpose whatsoever, and yet the fresh drywall made and contrasts in paint made it look as though it had been added.  To me, the soffits above the cabinets were wasted space, and they would preclude me from putting in above-cabinet accent lighting that I am a big fan of in my parents house.  The soffits, especially the random “soffit to nowhere” as it became known, seemed to do nothing but shrink the room and make it feel more obstructed.  When I first asked my dad about the difficulty of removing soffits, he told me that it “wasn’t a big deal at all” and that “it would be easy.”

My dad lies.

Yet to realize what my eyes, lungs, and knuckles were about to endure, I started by putting a few hammer holes in the random soffit on a Sunday afternoon.

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I used them to look for electric and other “guts” of the house that may have been housed in there.  I figured that if I saw anything that shouldn’t be disturbed, I could patch the hammer holes, accept that the mystery soffit was staying, and move onto a different plan.  When it turned out that the soffit was hollow, sans all the insulation that had fallen down out of the attic and filled it, I carved a larger opening using a crowbar.

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There was an extreme amount of dust and debris coming out with each snap of the drywall- so much so that I had to wear a mask and eyeguards, which were persistently fogging up.

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After scooping out the bulk of the insulation, which would result in a miserable night’s sleep with  microscopic shards of fiberglass trapped in my arms and legs, I tore the bottom off.

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This revealed a wood frame that, although completely intact, would be easy to remove using just a hammer, crowbar, and a Milwaukee Angle Grinder (***Side note- every man needs one of these.  It has proved to be the most useful and crazily strong tool throughout this process.  This thing is a beast.  http://www.mscdirect.com/product/83873489?src=pla&008=-99&007=Search&pcrid=15557577904&006=15557577904&005=21882504424&004=4409695744&002=2167139&mkwid=sJXegN7a0%7Cdc&cid=PLA-Google-PLA+-+Test_sJXegN7a0_PLA__15557577904_c_S&026=-99&025=c)

The main concern immediately was that there was a layer of strong wire mesh across the edges of the soffit.  The wire mesh is what’s holding that remaining row of drywall at the top of the soffit in place in the picture above.  There was another row of mesh on the bottom side, which is also what’s holding that dangling row of drywall.  Everywhere that the soffit met the wall or ceiling, the mesh had been used to bind them together with a few inches of it in the soffit, and another few inches bent inside the wall or ceiling.  The wire mesh was incredibly strong- it was difficult to cut with wirecutters and would barely bend under my manipulation, much less rip away.  When you were able to cut some pieces, it left incredibly sharp and jagged edges behind, which always seemed to managed to catch my knuckles and rip at the skin, even when I tried to be careful.  The only thing that would cut through it effectively was the Milwaukee angle grinder, but it did produce an insane amount of sparks and a noise that could have been used for the raptors’ shrieking in “Jurassic Park.

After a few nights, the random soffit had been cut completely out of the wall.

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I next needed to remove the other soffits, which first required removal of the existing cabinets.

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 The experience with the second soffit was largely the same as the first- just bigger and more dusty.

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The kitchen immediately felt so much bigger with just a few square feet of soffit removed.

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I wish I could say that cutting out the soffits was the worst part of the process, but that simply isn’t true: patching the gaping wholes that their absence left in the walls and ceiling was a far bigger pain in the ass for me.  The holes were uneven and awkward- they were two inches longer at one end than at the other; cutting a piece that fit the hole well was nearly impossible.  Not to mention, they were lined with those jagged rows of sawed off mesh that reeked havoc on whatever pieces of drywall you were trying to put in, as well as the hands attempting to place them.  Having never drywalled before, something so complicated and that was going to get so much exposure due to the accent lighting above the cabinets was hardly an appropriate time for me to learn .  Enter the person that my kitchen should by all means be named after: my brother.

I absolutely cannot do justice to what an unbelievable help he was with this part of my renovations.  While he has helped out with other rooms and continues to lend his talents in these final months, nothing has had the impact that his help repairing the chasm left by the soffits.  They would have looked like complete Hell if I had done them myself, and it would have consumed so much of my dad’s time that was spent making progress elsewhere.  No matter how much time I spend watching his dog child, I will not be able to equitably give back the effect he had on this process.

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After many hours of mudding, sanding, and skimming drywall, and a fair amount of profanity exchanged, the end result was a patched, soffit-less kitchen.

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I know without a doubt, in retrospect, that moving the soffits was the right choice- it has made the room feel way more spacious, it focuses the attention on the cabinets, and it allowed for accent lighting, which looks better than I could have imagined.  I’m so glad that I went through with it.  However, I must say that I hated every minute of the process, from removing it to applying coat after coat of drywall mud.  I’m grateful that I had no idea what I was getting into when I decided to remove them, because I’m honestly not sure that I would have gone through with it if I had known the sheer amount of hours and repetitive labor that it would entail…. and I would have been making a huge mistake.

I’m well aware that no one is going to walk into my house and say, “Oh, wow— the space above the cabinets is great!”.  However, because I lived it—and have the scars on my knuckles from the metal mesh to remind me just how miserable that process was— I suspect that I will sometimes find myself sitting at my island staring up at the space where the soffits once were, now beaming with the glow of accent lighting, and marvel at the best and worst decision I ever made.

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Why Do People Do the Things They Do?

This is something that I have found myself wondering often since starting this process of stripping away someone else’s strange decisions.  Few things in my house have left me so perplexed as the front door and the previously mentioned paint over both sides of the glass.

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 If you don’t want someone to be able to look into your house through the door, why didn’t you just hang a freaking curtain? Did you not worry that they could look through the eight foot bay window a few feet away?  Wouldn’t painting one side have been sufficient? Was painting both really necessary?  Did that accomplish anything except making double the work for the next owner (aka me)?

These were the kinds of questions going through my mind in rapid fire when it came time to try and get the paint of the glass in the front door.  On a normal window, I would think that a basic razor blade would work well. Image

I figured out quickly that this wasn’t going to work.  The glass in the front door is sort of frosted and has a texture to it- like a bunch of small bubbles.  Because of that, the razor blade couldn’t be used, because it was just going to cut into and gouge the raised, round bumps throughout the pane of glass.

Without being able to scrape at the paint with a razor, I had to employ more chemicals and a hell of a lot of scrubbing.  I filled one spray bottle with soapy water and another with a product similar to Goo Gone designed for removing paint.  I applied a heavy amount of these products until it was practically running down the glass (using a rag and painter’s tapeto keep the runs off the wood trim around the glass), and then went to town scrubbing- alternating between basic paper towels and a product highly similar to this (http://www.walmart.com/ip/3M-10113NA-Final-Stripping-Pads-for-Residue-Removal/23332778).  Results were slow  but consistent.

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While some projects have been fun and exhilarating (i.e. the front yard), this one was completely frustrating. What I thought would take a couple hours dragged on, as I just kept scrubbing and scrubbing.

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 Because the door was painted on both sides, I had to alternate my work between them; scrubbing the same spot area on the glass on both sides of the door.  Otherwise, when I cleared a spot on one side, I still only saw white because the paint from the other side of the glass was showing through, and it was impossible to tell if I was removing all the paint or not.  My couple hour after work project dragged on into a second and third evening.

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 Ultimately, I was able to get the bulk of the paint off to the point that from a few feet away, it looks clear and allows light in and out of the house- at least as much as the frosted glass is designed to allow.  You can see it here on the living room wall just a couple days after the paint was fully removed.

ImageYou can see that there are still patches of paint in places; particularly, in the corners.  This is largely due to the fact that I couldn’t completely saturate that area with the soapy water and paint thinner because I was afraid of the effect it would have during direct contact with the wood trim.

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Regardless, 99% of it was removed, and you can see through from both sides.  The door looks much better with the contrast between the glass and the white (for now) of the wood, as opposed to a complete coat of white over everything.  The remaining patches of paint will eat at my OCD- there is no doubt about it- but there are bigger things to deal with before I can focus on that kind of minutia.  Getting the removing paint off is on the list of things that I refer to as “Mom Projects”, because that kind of petty, detailed, yet important stuff is perfect for my Mom’s tenacious and obsessive personality.

9 months later, I still can’t believe someone would paint both sides of the glass in a front door.  When it comes to their houses, why the in the Hell do people do the things they do?

Never Underestimate What You Can Do with $100, a Shovel, a Rake, and Your Bare Hands

Here’s a basic math formula that I learned during my first month of home ownership:

Foreclosure yard – 3 garbage cans of weeds and dirt + 25 bags of mulch =

a whole new yard.

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The front yard had been so neglected for so long that removing all the growth was actually a pretty physical task.  It wasn’t a matter of simply pulling weeds.  They had been growing freely for so long that the beds surrounded by cement (sidewalk and house foundation) were completely covered from edge to edge.  The beds that were bordered by grass were so blended that it was difficult to tell where the boundary between grass and dirt had once existed.  Rather than pull weeds, each bed required hours of chopping with a flat garden spade to essentially remove the top two inches of dirt containing all the root growth for the weeds and years of excess dirt.  You can see the dark patch in the above picture where I had begun cutting out all the junk and the complete contrast between the old and new.

When I had the beds in the front cleared out, all three of my 96 gallon Rumpke bins were filled.  For those of you who I know I are about to calculcate and tell me that’s not possible, yes; I am aware that means I took almost 300 gallons of junk out of these beds.  Each can was at least 3/4 of the way full to where I was sure the wheels were going to snap when I was struggling to move them to the curb for trash day.  The clear beds were a fulfilling sight; as I said earlier, I thrive on yard work for the instant gratification.

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With the yard clear and free from the results of years of neglect, it was time for one of my favorite things in the world: MULCH.

ImageYou know that scene in 90’s teen movies where the girl comes down the stairs in slow motion dressed for her date / the prom looking all dolled up and her man is standing there in awe of her?  I get that feeling from a freshly mulched yard… and I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit it.  I have mulched many people’s yards in my spare time for free simply because I enjoy the result so much.  Nothing can make a yard or house look so much better so instantaneously as a fresh load of mulch that’s been laid properly.  However, I’m not sure I’ve ever before seen a yard where mulch made such a drastic difference.

I mulched the front yard in one spring evening after work.  I was completely physically depleted, and I think the gas station attendant who sold me Powerade afterward was seriously concerned about me, but it was completely worth it.  In just a matter of hours, this….Image

Had turned into this….

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 A yard that had previously been an eyesore looked crisp and manicured.  The surprising reality was that before they gave up entirely, the owner of this house must have been somewhat of a gardener.  Hidden amongst all the weeds was the shock that there were actually a number of nice plants already in place.

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Some people (specifically my mother) thought that I was crazy for wanting to spend the money mulching the yard of a house that need so much interior work before I could live there.  I was adamant that I was going to clean up the front yard and make it look pristine as soon as possible.

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 I know how infuriating it can be to live near someone who doesn’t take pride in their property and maintain it well.  I get so irritated to drive around the nice, well-kept community I live in only to see random houses and yards that people have let go to the point that they look like Hell.  For someone to do this is simply not fair to their neighbors or the other members of the community.  I have no doubt in my mind that my house had probably become that eyesore during the time it sat in foreclosure, leaving the surrounding homeowners shaking their heads and cringing each time they saw the jungle out front.  Immediately fixing up the yard was partially selfish; it was a means of giving myself something that I could be proud of right away relative to a project that was otherwise going to take a substantial amount of time before any such results came along.  I’m not ashamed to admit that this was 50% for me.  However, I can honestly say that the other 50% was for my future neighbors; to get things started off on the right foot.  I wanted to send the message that even though a young, unmarried man had bought the eyesore on their street, things were about to change.

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 When I flopped my weary body into my car as the sun was setting over my freshly-mulched yard, I was confident that the message had been sent…

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Starting from Scratch

To turn this house into what I believed it could be, I needed a clean slate.  The early weeks and months were spent doing just that- tearing apart and tearing out all the stuff that stood in the way of a fresh start.

There was never a question that the carpets in the house- all of them- were leaving as soon as possible.  I closed on the house on a Friday night and went to Louisville Saturday morning for a wedding that Erica was in.  By Sunday night, before I had even unpacked my from being in Louisville over night or taken my wedding-reception-survivor clothes to the dry cleaner, I was pulling up carpet in the kitchen-eating area, moving to the bedrooms at night that week, and to the living room the following weekend.

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When I bought the house, it had a dank, musty smell throughout.  We all agreed on that each time we looked at it.  Still, it was something more than dank and musty.  It was… distinct…. even gross.  It wasn’t long before I was face to face with the source of the smell.

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Urine.  A sickening amount of urine.  When I pulled up the carpets, the size of the urine stains on the under side was beyond belief; some circles were as big as four feet in diameter.  The only thing more sickening than the size was, without a doubt, the number of them, as it made it clear that this wasn’t just a one time accident or occurrence.

Strangely enough, the common areas were nowhere near as bad as the bedrooms, which led me to conclude that a previous owner must have shut their pets in the bedrooms for prolonged periods of time.  I admit that I am completely assuming and hoping that it was animal urine as opposed to human, but I suppose anything is possible.  Regardless, the stagnant odor, trapped for who knows how long, which was released when I pulled up the carpets was almost too much to handle.  Believe it or not, this was necessary…

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The carpet actually pulled up fairly easily.  All I did was cut three foot wide rows the length of the room using a cheap knife from Harbor Freight, roll each row up, duct tape it, and toss it out of the way.  Pulling the hundreds of staples attaching the padding to the plywood was the most time consuming part.

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When all was said and done, the rolls of removed carpet nearly filled the kitchen (Note the visible urine stains on the bottom roll).

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This would also become the beginning of the bromance that I have with my garbage men, who have never once complained or failed to take a single item, when I have time and again pushed the limit on what’s an acceptable amount of trash for a given day.

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I also owe a big thanks to my cousins, Carter and Jer Burns, for hauling these urine-stained rolls of carpet out to the curb with me.  I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that the “dank and musty” smell was completely gone with the carpet.  It was less than two days before there was a drastic difference in that there was now no odor lingering throughout the house.

RIP nasty, urine-soaked, shag carpets… and Good Riddance.

What I Had to Work With: The Front Yard

Anyone who knows me can attest that yardwork is one of my passions.  There are few things that bring me as much satisfaction as a freshly cut lawn or laying new mulch.  The instant results and drastic visual differences are so satisfying for me.  For that reason alone, this house and I were a match from the start.  After two years of vacancy, the front yard was a complete overgrown disaster.

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