Saturday, November 10, 2007

Designing Erics: the remodel!



To start at the beginning, we were not really in the market for a house but we had been looking around a little bit because we were tired of using a community laundry room and a downstairs neighbor who kept us up all night blasting her stereo. But our apartment was cool and it was pretty spacious so we were not in any hurry. We weren't really finding anything we liked, either; most places were a lot smaller than our apartment, had bad parking, were in a bad location, had been badly remodeled, etc.

But then one day after looking around we drove to this neighborhood with all these cool mid-century townhomes where Eric has wanted to live ever since he moved to Los Angeles. There was an open house and Eric wanted to go in:

Me: "What's the point? We can't afford it."

Other Eric: "Come on! I've always wanted to live here!"

Me: "Oh, all right."

Cut to a few minutes later:

Me: "Um, that was kind of perfect."

Other Eric: "Yeah."

It had pretty much everything we wanted: it was built in 1964 and had some mid-century features; it hadn't been remodeled so it still had original details; it had the space we needed with two bedrooms and a den; two and a half bathrooms; a big eat-in kitchen that opens into the dining and living rooms; a laundry room; an attached garage with a storage room; a nice patio area; a community pool (which was featured on an episode of Desperate Housewives a few weeks ago); it's on a nice quiet street; and it was almost affordable.

It was priced about 20% below other units in the complex because it needed so much work. Oh, it was so awful: filthy rust-orange carpeting and fantastically horrific vinyl in the kitchen. Oh, OK, we kind of liked the vinyl but we had to get rid of it so we could put the bamboo floors through the whole downstairs.

Oh, and all the wallpaper in the bathrooms!


Oh, sweet Jesus.

But it was just such a relief not to see the generic remodel that we encountered in all the other overpriced condos we entered: the same granite countertops, the same tasteful lighting fixtures, the same beige colors. I know sellers and flippers are told to make a place as dull and generic as possible so the greatest number of customers will be bored into buying it. But I don't get it.

So basically every inch of the place needed to be refinished, though we haven't done everything yet. We had to rip out the wallpaper, the vinyl, and the carpeting, and repaint all the walls and cabinets. We put in bamboo flooring downstairs and carpeting upstairs. We kept the cabinets but painted them brown, we kept the flooring and the vanities in the upstairs baths even though they need to be replaced at some point. We kept the cottage cheese ceilings for now because we don't mind them. I know for resale they need to be removed but I don't know why people hate them so much; they really do help the acoustics of the rooms.

We also kept the tile counters in the kitchen for now because we can't decide what we want to do with them. We were going to get orange Formica counters and try to replicate the Brady Bunch kitchen but that just didn't happen. I thought it would be so funny to tell people, "Oh, yeah, we ripped out the granite countertops and put in Formica." But we decided it was stupid to replace the tile with Formica and we couldn't find a color we liked anyway. So we don't have the Brady kitchen but it still looks pretty cute. I don't mind the tile counters (though they are a little damaged around the sink) but the yellow just doesn't work with anything.

Anyway, here's how the schedule of the remodel was supposed to go:

Day 1: have the locks changed, the air conditioning serviced, and get an estimate for the floor.

Day 2: rip out the cabinets hanging between the kitchen and dining room, the vanity and the toilet in the powder room, and the florescent lighting fixtures in the bathrooms.

Day 3: refinish the cabinets in the kitchen.

Day 4: paint the walls.

Day 5: remove the wallpaper in the bathrooms.

Day 6: repaint the bathrooms and put in new light fixtures.

And on the seventh day I would rest.

OK, so obviously that's not what happened but I figured, even if everything took twice as long as I thought it would, I could still finish in two weeks, right. Well, no.

My mom did come out to stay and help me, so that was good. Eric had to go to "work" so I had to do most of the remodel myself. No, seriously, Eric had the downpayment and I get a lot more vacation time so it made sense for me to take time off to do the work. I took almost three weeks off (and I still had three weeks of vacation left).

But even when Eric wasn't at work he seemed to either be at the Hollywood Bowl or in temple. Is it true that the entire month of September is a Jewish holiday? I think he was making that up. No, I'm just kidding; he was great help, looking over my shoulder and telling me I missed a spot. No, seriously, he did help. I kid because I love.

Anyway, day one went OK except that I paid way too much for new locks and door-knobs. I was trying to do too many things at once and I let myself get conned by the locksmith. So apparently I ended up with the same locks used by the Israeli military or something like that. I guess it's good to have quality locks but we really don't have many suicide bombings in our neighborhood so it's probably more security than we need. And anyone could just smash our patio door if they wanted to get in that badly. That's why I like to do the work myself so I don't have to deal with people overcharging me.

Day two was when the schedule started to fall apart. Tearing out the cabinets was fun but much more difficult than I thought. They were not just bolted in like new cabinets; all the cabinets were nailed in piece by piece so the only way to remove them was to saw them apart. What an ordeal! But it was so satisfying to have them gone! Taking down the hanging cabinets really opened up the kitchen/dining space. And there were also cabinets that had been added under the breakfast bar. We thought about keeping them but the room looks so much bigger with them gone. And they were built right on top of the original carpeting! Ugh! That's so gross. Anyway, ripping out the cabinets took more than one day but it still went pretty smoothly.

Things really went to hell when we tried to stay on schedule refinishing the kitchen cabinets. That took forever! The cabinets, of course, had over forty years of grime on them so they were really difficult to clean and then we sanded them and put on primer and two coats of paint. As you can imagine, that takes several days. Oh, I tried staining them dark brown first but that didn't work so we went with dark brown paint instead. And, of course, when we put on new hinges they didn't fit because hing sizes have changed just a tiny bit since these cabinets went up. Why? Why would they change the size of hinges by 1/16th of an inch? It's insane! Anyway, I tried drilling new holes but it still didn't work so I had to put the old, dirty hinges back on. Yuck. And there are new drill holes, which Eric is thrilled about. Oh, well.

We cheated in painting the kitchen: I just couldn't face sanding down all the walls and ceiling so we painted right over the glossy paint, which you shouldn't do because it won't stick very well (painting over matt paint is fine). So we had a little peeling problem in a few places but I think it's fine now. I should have used a deglazer first but I thought the primer would be good enough. I think it should be fine but it was pretty tacky for a couple of weeks. I learned later that it can take a month for paint to completely dry. Weird.

Wallpaper! Here's where the shit really hit the fan. The wallpaper in the powder room was hell to remove. I almost lost my mind. I tried everything: the scorer, the gel, the scrapers. Eric suggested putting plastic wrap over the area where you have applied the gel because that way it can soak in longer without drying out. That actually helped a little But not enough. Eric finally figured out that we just had to sand the wallpaper right off the wall. It took forever but we finally did it. If the wallpaper had actually been something groovy and tacky in a cool way we probably would have just kept it but it was just ugly. Except that after we had sanded the flocking off it wasn't as bad.
Yeah, I kind of liked it once it was partially sanded away; it looked very antique. We decided to keep it on the ceiling to save some time and Eric got a paint color called "caraway seed" that really complimented the remains of the paper so that it almost looks like we did it on purpose. It's just the ceiling so it isn't overwhelming but it adds a bit of whimsy and visual interest to the room.

I really hated the powder room. That room was dead to me. I was close to buying drywall and just covering the whole thing. And we were in such a rush to finish the major work downstairs because we had the flooring guys coming. We didn't get it finished but we got most of the scraping done. When they came to put in the floor the room really looked like hell, with holes where the medicine cabinet, toilet, and vanity had been, and the awful unpainted walls. One of the flooring guys said it reminded him of something out of a horror movie.

But after the room was painted and the wood floor, new sink, and toilet were put in, it suddenly became my favorite room in the whole house! I'm sure it was just because it was the biggest challenge. (That cool mirror belonged to my great-grandfather.)

So the flooring guys did a great job! We bought the wood at Simple Floors, which is similar to Lumbar Liquidators, and had a local installer put it in. They finished the whole job in three days, including new baseboards and clean-up! Another unit in our complex was putting in floors for weeks! Our guys rocked!
Now, here's some advice in case you are thinking of getting new carpeting: most carpeting is in stock in a nearby warehouse and takes just a few hours to install so make sure you order it, oh, say, about three or four years ahead of time. Yeah, for some reason the carpeting turned out to be the real problem. It was such a nightmare! We had to change the date of our move because we couldn't get the carpeting put in.
I really thought the carpeting was going to be the easiest part so I just wasn't worried about it. Eric kept saying, "we need to order the carpet," and I kept saying, "you go ahead and order it if you want; that's not my top priority." I really thought we could order it anywhere and get it installed pretty quickly. And the carpeting upstairs, which we may need to replace in ten years, just wasn't as important a decision as, say, the wood floor downstairs that needs to last forever. And I kept saying, "if worse comes to worst, we can always just call Empire and they can install it the next day."

Well, that is if Empire can actually find your house to do the estimate. We wasted an entire evening waiting around for the Empire salesman and they kept calling the wrong number to say the guy was lost and we later figured out the guy was actually parked in the alley behind our garage but he never managed to find our front door. It was so weird. So we gave up and ordered some carpet from Lowe's. It was one of their "express" options that was supposed to be available in three days. We had a week before the move so that should have been fine. But four days, and then five days later and the carpet still hadn't been delivered to the installer. The carpet was sitting in the warehouse but for some reason they couldn't manage to get it to us! Ugh! So we had to cancel that order, change the date of the move, and try Empire one more time. I gave the Empire phone lady the address, and detailed instructions, and I explained that our house does actually have a door that the person can come to and knock on (!) and gave her the phone number that WE WANTED THEM TO USE BECAUSE WE WOULD ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO ANSWER IT!:

Empire phone lady: "Can I get an alternate number?"

Me: "NO!"

Anyway, Empire is, of course, over-priced. But they did actually install it the next day (once they found the house), the carpet is nice, and they did a good job. We are happy with it but I'm sure we could have saved some money if we had ordered earlier from another company. The carpet cost almost as much as the wood floor, which seems ridiculous.

Well, that's enough for now! I'll keep posting with more horror stories, project details, and updates. There is still so much to do!

Oh, yeah, we have a ghost! Our friend Aimee can see ghosts and she sees a woman sitting on our sofa. It's probably the original owner, Rosalind, who died here in the house a few years ago at age 92. That sofa is so uncomfortable I can't believe even a ghost would want to sit there. But I'm happy for her to sit anywhere she wants as long as she stops screwing with the plumbing. (Seriously, the toilet tank in the master bath cracked the day before we took ownership and nobody had been in the house! Spooky!)


Cliff O'Neill said...

So proud of y'all! If we were in the same state, I'd demand an invite!

And how much do I love that you wanted a Brady Bunch kitchen! I thought I was alone on that front!

Now get some rest!

Eric said...

Temple was only two days thank you very much.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

Wow you really had a lot to do and did a great job of it. I like your kitchen and agree with you about the all prevailing granite counter tops. yawn and boring. Can you imagine all the slabs of 'out of style' granite the future will hold. I foresee a price slump in grave stones in the future.

I am probably going to buy new construction mainly because I don't have the another Laura or Lawrence to help me with the projects.
Love ya, Laura

eric3000 said...

Laura A: "I foresee a price slump in grave stones in the future."


wildflower38 said...

Ya'll did a great job!

Debbie said...

My mom had that same red wall paper in her bathroom when I was little...I think it lasted until she remodeled in 90s.
I had a non-flocked powerder blue style in the bathroom I used.
Gosh I miss the 70s.

Debbie said...

Oh and your ghost is sitting on the couch in your first After picture. She's that circle on the middle cushion.
How sweet.

Mamarox said...

Love your color choices and removing the upper cabinet was a wonderful move.
I had the same problem with the cabinet hinges in our 1949 house. I found a silver paste/wax at Michael's similar to Rub n Buff and with a stiff brush covered the hideous gold hinges so they would make our new door pulls. It's 3 years later and they still look great. hope this helps!

eric3000 said...

Thanks for the suggestion, mamarox!

Ms. Place said...

Oh, my. Was that flocked wallpaper? Haven't seen that stuff in years. Thanks for sharing your renovations as they go along.

Anonymous said...

Midcentury Masterpiece!
The dining room & kitchen are especially lovely. Where did you get the dining set? Did I miss that in the post?

Emma P.

eric3000 said...


I think the dinette set came from Wertz Bros., which is a used furniture store in Santa Monica.