Archive for the 'DIY' Category


Renovation Report: The Ballad of the Kitchen Ceiling

Self-portrait while removing the kitchen ceiling.

June was definitely a productive and overwhelming month. As mentioned in my previous blog post, for the past several months we have been in the midst of our kitchen reno with the cabinets and wallpaper stripped, floor to be tiled, and kitchen ceiling to be renovated. However, when the electrician came over to re-wire the hideous pull-chain florescent ceiling light he pointed out there were structural problems with the plumbing from the upstairs bathroom that had cut out supporting ceiling joists.

The exposed ceiling joists which reveal the upstairs bathroom plumbing and needed supporting beams.

Unbelievable! This is a major structural problem. To make this clear, years ago when a plumber installed the upstairs bathroom they cut out parts of the supporting ceiling planks to put in the tub. This caused the second floor to sag and be structurally unsound. How did the housing inspector miss this? It was covered up of course- the previous owners who patched up the ceiling must have known about it and irresponsibly chose to ignore a giant accident waiting to happen. As we did not want our tenant Don to end up in our kitchen while having a bath we decided to have the ceiling jacked up and repaired with new supporting beams.

The new ceiling supporting beams that are in the process of being drywalled.

Repairing the ceiling has been a huge job. I pulled down the original ceiling to help save on the cost of labor. It was one of the dirtiest and most difficult things I’ve ever done. Imagine 100 years of plaster and mold falling all over you. The process revealed that the kitchen had three ceilings that were just put up on top of each other to save time/labor.

The old kitchen ceiling which hid the structural problems and had the ugly pull-chain florescent light.

The kitchen ceiling in the process of being taken down.

In addition, what made June an overwhelming month was that the neighbors complained to the City of Urbana and I received a letter stating I was a “Public Nuisance” for my ceiling waste which was temporarily put outside on the back porch and lawn. As it had only been four days I could not beleive it. Thankfully Illini Recycling removed the waste and I was not fined.

Mom and Dad were superheros and moved our furniture from Montreal to Urbana, Il.

Here Dad and Mom stand in front of the 16 foot truck.

While the folks were visiting we had some beer at ‘The Blind Pig‘ a local brewery and pub which has been rated one of the best bars in the USA.

A photo with Dad.

Boxes!!! The place was overflowing with them. Here is the spare room.

It was very overwhelming to have to unpack and re-organize all the boxes on my own.

The living room. There were so many boxes that I could not even open or access the front door.

However, I had to find a roommate and unpack the boxes to make room for Nicolas a graduate student from Chile who is completing his Master’s degree in Commerce. Nicolas moved in last June.

Portrait of my roommate Nicolas Navarrete Hernandez.

After spending a month working on the house a lot of progress has been made.

The unpacked living room. It feels great to have the leather couches and my beloved Structube Vega coffee table back.

But there is still so much work to do… At the end of June I left for Taiwan after the structural beams were put in. However, it has been two months and the ceiling is still not finished. My dream will be to…. have the light fixtures installed.  What a happy day that will be….

Our 8 light track lighting from Lowe’s. Can’t wait to see it when it’s finally up in the kitchen.

The kitchen ceiling in the process of being drywalled with the exposed beams.

Now that I am in Taiwan the renovations will continue and our contractor Richard Rhoades will instal a new roof and re-tile our bathroom and kitchen. It would be wonderful to come home and have all the tiling done by Rich and the bathroom renovated. We’ll have to see what time and our finances allow.


Home Renovations on my mind….

For the past several weeks, I’ve had home renovations on my mind. It’s been a very intense time with my PhD course work, the National Art Education Association National Convention (NAEA) , and the pressure/stress of renovating a 100 year old house in tandem. However, the spring semester is almost finished and I’m reaching the end of the tunnel with the overwhelming reality of do-it-yourself renovations. The refinished floors are beautiful and the baseboards, windowsills, and door frames have been restored. Having done the project 100% on my own it means a lot to me.

The refinished floors. When staining I did not wipe off the stain from the doors, baseboards, or windowsills, which appear darker and provide a nice contrast to the rich English Chestnut color by Minwax.

Next up is tiling the kitchen floors and I’ve purchased the Abriola Beige floor tile from Surface Source at Lowe’s which should be laid in the next week or so.

The painted over kitchen wallpaper has also been removed using the Wagner Power Steamer and Cleaner. A great small appliance that is very useful and convenient to have around the house.

Two layers of wallpaper came off very easily and there was no need to use any harsh chemicals which was nice.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about paint stripping and I’m finally going to finish stripping the kitchen baseboards, back door, door frames, and windowsills this weekend. Stripping paint is the worst job. You have to strip with harsh chemicals and sand at least five times to get all the paint off.

Paint stripping in progress……

The stripped door frame and baseboards with a new Jeld-Wen door. The kitchen is beginning to look better.

Stripping paint is incredibly labor intensive but also very transformative and cost effective. My 100 year old baseboards are restored.

We’ve also purchased a new LG washing machine and top up/bottom down cellular shades from but will have to wait until the walls have been painted before installation.

Before painting the walls and tiling the floors, the kitchen cabinets have to be stripped, stained, and re-varnished.

New hardware is being put on the cupboard doors and the old ugly copper hinges are being replaced with more modern hidden ones. At the moment our contractor Richard Rhoads is installing the new hinges and the doors have been removed.

Painting the walls is the one job I can’t wait to do but it is last on the list as the kitchen flooring/ceiling have priority. Here are the boxes of floor tile on the back deck.

After tiling the kitchen floors, the ceiling will be drywalled with an electrician installing a new light switch and fixture.

It kills me that for over 100 years! 100 years! All past owners of this duplex have been too cheap to bring in an electrician and have the kitchen light fixed. It’s currently used with a chain and a shoe lace instead of a switch. Who lives like that? This is what happens when you take on a fix-er-upper close to campustown.

However, at the end of the day renovations are a labor of love and an opportunity to actualize your own vision of modern living. It takes a certain type of person to take on DIY renovations and I’ll miss this process once it’s finished which thankfully should be soon.


Down to the bare wood…..

The latest installment on our ongoing hardwood floor renovations…..

It all started with the baseboards and windowsills. They needed to be stripped to bring out the stunning century old wood underneath. But before the baseboards/windowsills could be painted over, the interior doors had to be replaced, and the hardwood floor sanded- so that everything could be stained and varnished together.  That’s the story so far.

The Dremel Multi-Max. An amazing tool that can sand many hard to reach areas.

The sanding/staining of the hardwood floors, baseboards, and windowsills is an example of how one seemingly simple home renovation job is connected to so many others. At the moment I still have to sand down the baseboards and windowsills with my new Dremel Multi-max tool, which is an awesome tool to sand corners and awkward areas. However, I won’t have any time to use the Dremel until March break which is a trade off of being a PhD student. Since November, I’ve had the Minwax english chestnut oil-based wood stain and Varathane high solids floor finish in the kitchen and ready to go.

Minwax wood stain and Varathane varnish. It about six weeks I’ll finally be able to use them.

At the end of the winter break I rented a push floor sander and finally sanded the hardwood floors down to the bare wood.

Sanding the floors.

The sander was very easy to use and I enjoyed the process. There was a lot of pine sawdust everywhere but it smelled really good. It also felt oddly therapeutic. Sanding hardwood floors can be an empowering experience as it feels wonderful to transform your home from old to new.

Bleeding money into a home is unnecessary and poor common sense. We have only spent about $1,500 refinishing the floors, baseboards, and windowsills (including all tools and a new Dyson animal vacuum). The process is not expensive but it is a lot of hard work. The elbow grease might be off putting for some but it’s a smarter decision or else your fixer-upper will soon become a money pit. If you are considering purchasing an older home I would recommend refinishing the floors, painting, and replacing the fixtures yourself while saving the kitchen and bathroom for the professions. That’s our plan.


Don’s new Jeld-Wen Mission Prairie Exterior Door

Last month our tenant Don’s new Jeld-Wen mission prairie exterior door arrived from the Home Depot. The Hartford green color matches the roof and looks great. A new exterior door can make all the difference and instantly brings up your property’s value.


Installing the New Interior Jeld-Wen Doors

Today our contractor Richard Rhodes hung three Jeld-Wen ponderosa pine natural slab panel doors with a Kwikset Balboa lever in satin nickel. Rich did an amazing job cutting the doors to size in my kitchen to match the uneven measurements of the house’s old doors. The old doors were so ugly I could not beleive it! The previous owner was a complete slumlord who made the cheapest repairs possible. Needless to say it felt so good to put some much needed care into my home.

Rich and Mike start to cut one of the slab doors down to size.

The old bathroom door.

The new bathroom door.

The old office door.

The new office door.

The old bedroom door.

The new bedroom door.

At the moment I am still in the process of refinishing the floors and will hire Rich to help with the final sanding and caulking. With DIY I think it’s important to acknowledge your limits and use a contractor when needed to finish the job off right.


Christmas 2010 and Reflections on the New Year

The New Year inevitably brings hope towards the future and hasty reflections on the recent past. 2010 was an intense year in which I changed jobs, moved to a new country, started a new Doctorate program, paid off student loans, and became a homeowner.

It was also a year that made me accept and move on from the negative attitudes of others and find peace in my own definitions of family/community.

Which is all we can do right? Before you can change the world you have to acknowledge how it functions and be understanding towards inevitable bias.

In 2011 I’d like to:

  • get pregnant
  • paint suede paint in the living room/bedroom
  • successfully refinish the floors and add new doors/blinds
  • survive the next academic semester which intimidates me (4 courses + 3 jobs and 2 conferences)
  • maintain a strong connection with my mother and friends in Canada
  • spoil my husband for his birthday
  • help the husband pay off our Visa bill
  • finish editing and publish a certain overdue article
  • develop my leadership skills (…groan, but the pressure is on)
  • spend more time with the dog and cat
  • get a new pair of Tom Ford sunglasses

And here are the photos from Christmas which was the best ever:

Ranjit, my handsome, witty, and creative Indian husband.

White lilies Ranjit brought home for Christmas Eve lunch.

Entrance to Diamond Tony’s on the 85th floor of Taipei 101 where we celebrated Christmas dinner.

A box from Tiffany’s. Ranjit surprised me with a silver necklace from the Frank Gehry Torque collection.

Christmas dinner

Bathroom with a view

Interior of Taipei 101


New Jeld-Wen Interior Doors and custom wall vent

With a smaller home details are very important as you notice everything. After being unable to purchase any standard 8′ by 10′ wall vents for our 100 year old home we decided to custom order an Art-Deco register from Classic Grills. The vent will be right above the TV so it’s worth the extra effort and expense.

This week I also realized that we really do need new interior doors. It would be more convenient to stain and varnish the new doors while the floors are being refinished so I’m going to order three Jeld-Wen Ponderosa Pine doors for the bedroom, bathroom, and office.

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