The Powder Room! 99% DONE!

Behold! We are finished! (Well, almost. The plumber needs to come back and re-caulk the sink because I made him take it down because it wasn’t 100% level and I am insane. And of course, when he removed it, we found that the sink itself was cast that way. So I’m stuck with it. Also: we are having ALL the windows replaced in February, so try and ignore the blue tape and beat up trim along the window.)

BUT HEY! I don’t want to start on a negative note, so let’s discuss what is awesome, shall we? Because there is a whole lot of awesome in this bathroom. I want to show everyone just how much this room improved.

Here are a few before and after shots side-by-side. (Remember: this room is mega tiny. We had a very limited space to work with. I feel we did a great job making it look bigger than it really is.)

Same view of the room from the doorway (before and after):

The sinks (before and after):

Looking up (before and after):

And so, where did I get everything? What did I buy? Here’s a list!

The Toilet

I ended up buying the TOTO CT416-01 Aquia II Elongated Bowl from Amazon. I am happy with it so far. But I gotta tell ya! The plumber, as well as the contractor, did not seem to keen on all toilets skirted! I guess they are more difficult to install? But I heard some groaning coming from the plumber when he realized what he’d be dealing with. Oh well! I wanted something easy to clean. I wanted to avoid older toilets where you see the outline of the pipes, you know what I mean? The ones that bolt down into the floor. They just become so filthy and collect dust, urine and who knows what else. I get tired of trying to scrub around those creases, which is why I opted for a smaller skirted toilet.

For the tank, I got the TOTO Aquia II Dual Flush Toilet Tank from Amazon. Again, no complaints. We had the dual flush at an apartment in Brooklyn and I liked it. They use VERY little water and are less likely to leak. So, yeah. Toilets!

I would happily order my bathroom fixtures from Amazon again. I like Amazon. We use them constantly as we are Prime members. And while they are now charging send-back fees, it’s still worth it as they will take anything back. I like knowing they will cover anything and everything that is their fault. I feel like I am in good hands with Amazon. So, yes. When we do the upstairs bath, I will order from Amazon again.

The Fan

We had a super mega quiet fan installed (official name!), the most silent fan money can buy. Honestly, I am actually not sure what fan we ended up with, because our electrician hooked me up when I told him what I wanted. But it’s awesome. When we move upstairs, we plan on getting one with a timer as we want it to stay on for 30 minutes post-shower to avoid mold.

The Sconce

We got the Satin Nickel, Cut Corner Bath Light (Two Lights) from Shades Of Light.

The Mirror

For the mirror, we purchased the Rectangular Tilt Bathroom Mirror from Shades Of Light. I was hesitant about the mirror at first. But Toby wanted it and I’m super glad I gave in. It’s really great when you have little people who need to see themselves as it tilts down so they can look as well. My only suggestion to you, should you buy one, is that you purchase something soft to stick to the back of the bottom trim to protect your wall should Junior get a little too pushy with it. But, for what it’s worth, so far, we haven’t had any issues with it hitting the wall.

I wish to state: I can’t recommend Shades Of Light enough. Their stuff arrived well-packaged and SUPER fast. I would order from them in a heartbeat.

The Tile Floor

I went back and forth about what type of floor would stand up to living with THREE little boys. After talking with people and looking at samples, I decided on Pennyrounds with gray grout. We went with Pennyrounds from NEMO Tile. I got sd244. The gray grout goes really well with the grayish blue color of some of the rounds. And I LOVE the way they look. I highly recommend Pennyrounds for smaller spaces. I would not recommend Pennyrounds for larger areas, however, simply because they tend to be very difficult to lay well. And the bigger the area, the more room for visual errors. I hope that makes sense.

They come in 12 x 12 mesh sheets. It’s not impossible to do or anything, but over a large space you run the risk of the rounds not lining up well. But, man! Does it ever look great.

Toby and I want things to match throughout the entire house, so we plan on using Pennyrounds in the kitchen as a backsplash most likely. You see, this powder room is right off the kitchen, so they need to work well together. We had to think about this now as we plan on doing the kitchen in the next couple of years.

The Wainscoting, Radiator Cover, Trim and Door

The fit and finish was done by our general contractor. He and his men custom cut everything to fit. We are VERY pleased with their work and plan on using them again.

And finally…

The Sink

OK, so the sink caused me a great deal of stress and uncertainty up until the very end. Hell, the sink is STILL causing me heartburn, but I am stuck with it, unfortunately.

We ordered the sink and the faucet from Vintage Tub and Bath. (I will not be linking to the items because I don’t recommend the company. More below.) Had you asked me months ago, when I first started working with them, if I would recommend them, I’d have said ABSOLUTELY. But then things started to fall apart fast. I won’t go into TOO much of this because it’s super annoying and my heart rate rises whenever I think about it, but they aren’t too great with the whole returns policy. After some sleuthing, I found that I’m not alone and they have many other unhappy customers.

Here’s the skinny: if you order something that you don’t want or that doesn’t fit, you have to pay the return fee as well as the restocking fee. They may tell you otherwise, but I would hesitate to take their word for anything, really. Usually, because you’re paying by weight, the amount to send these puppies back costs almost as much as the items you’re returning. And some items come in multiple boxes, so you’re paying twice.

What I learned? Scrutinize. Make absolutely sure it’s a PERFECT fit before you buy anything from Vintage Tub and Bath. I mean, I can’t fault them for making you pay the return shipping, at least a percentage of it, but the full amount PLUS the restocking fee? Well, I think it’s too risky to buy an expensive item from them without seeing it first.

However, let’s say you DO make sure that you got the right item, the right fit, you know exactly what you wanted and all is well in the world? Make sure you open your item and have the person (plumber) inspect it within 48-hours of receiving it. Because if there is something wrong with the item, you have that long to let them know. After that? You’re screwed.

And I don’t just mean cracked or broken, I mean items that were cast improperly at the factory, which is what the case ended up being with this sink. (As well as a pedestal I ordered, which, thankfully my contractor took off my hands.) The bottom of the sink isn’t cast level. But I didn’t know this even though I did open it (it’s not my job to know this, frankly. It’s a plumber’s eye that I needed) until long after that 48-hour period. So, yeah. No option to return it. They will not budge. I’m stuck with it.

So, the sink isn’t completely level, but we did what we could with what we have. And the plumber is coming back to re-caulk it after adjusting it to my liking.

I don’t see myself ever ordering from Vintage Tub and Bath again. BUT! If I have to for some reason, I will get EVERYTHING they say in writing. And I will have someone inspect the item ASAP because I can’t have this happen again. Ultimately, however, I plan on going into the city and buying locally next time. I want to inspect the items and if I get the wrong thing, or ANYTHING goes wrong, I want to be able to get my money back or credit toward the right item. Vintage Tub and Bath does not appear to be that company.

The Fixtures

ALL of our fixtures, eventually throughout the entire house, will be Brushed Nickel. The ones featured here were purchased from Amazon, the MOEN SAGE line. The only piece in this bathroom that isn’t brushed nickel is the doorhandle and that bugs both Toby and me. However, they didn’t have the option, so we made due with an antique gold, which matches the other doorhandles in the house. I imagine down the road we will replace it. I’m not sure.

Whew! So, yeah. It’s almost over! We will have new windows installed throughout our entire house in February, at which point I will need to find a privacy feature for the very large window. Otherwise, we’re done here. Our work is done here.

Another Bathroom Update

It’s been a while since I wrote about our powder room renovation. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and so sometimes I forget what I’m sharing and where. Anyway, we’ve made some progress.

We now have wainscoting, a new door, and the floor has been tiled in penny rounds. The carpenter is also making us a small radiator cover, which isn’t yet finished. This is what all of that looks like pre-paint.

So, a few things: we were considering using penny rounds in our kitchen as well because I love the look. But they seem nearly impossible to make look 100% spatially perfect. It’s fine for a bathroom, but for a larger area, I think any off-spacing (which would be likely) would drive me bonkers. I stared at our floor for what seemed like hours. I looked online at other pictures of finished penny tiled floors and I saw spacial issues on many of those as well. And it’s making me feel crazy. In fact, Toby thinks I’m crazy and has told me to stop. I think the graphic designer in me wants to kern the living f*ck out of our floor.

One more small confession: I’m still not sure how I feel about the gray grout. I chose it because I felt it would age better. While I love the look of white grout, it just doesn’t seem to age well and gets so gross over time. So, I chose gray. It’s OK. I think. I think I’ll love it once everything else is in place.

Anyway, the painter arrives tomorrow to paint the wainscoting, the trim, the door, the radiator cover, and the walls. For the wall above the wainscoting, I have chosen a blue that matches almost perfectly with the darker glaze of the penny rounds.

I am very excited to see how our bathroom takes shape over the next couple of days. And I can’t WAIT to not have to walk my fat, pregnant ass up the stairs every time I have to pee, which is about 100 times per hour.

Exciting stuff! I’m learning a great deal. And I’m happy we did this tiny powder room first because when we move onto the kitchen and master bath, I’ll be much better at making decisions and a lot less freaked out.

The Powder Room: A Gut Job

Last week, we began with our first, big cosmetic project by gutting the powder room. You may remember it, if not, here’s a brief, visual refresher:

You can read a bit more about the original bathroom here.

Well, it’s been gutted. They tore out the wavy plaster. They tore out the four or so layers of crooked flooring. They tore out the nasty old toilet, the sink, and the light fixtures. Forgive me for the quality, these shots were taken from outside since they seal off the bathroom between updates, the bathroom currently looks like this:

Yesterday, the plumber showed up to remove and install new pipes. I am not sure how plumbers do what they do, frankly. This poor guy had to cut through an ancient, feces-infested pipe and move it so that we could adjust for a modern toilet. (The bathroom was “updated” in the last 100 years, but they didn’t update the plumbing, so the toilet sat about 4 inches away from the wall. And it was on a slant, so we are paying to do it right this time around.)

He worked his ass off, refusing coffee and snacks along the way. And I was ready to offer him the hard stuff because, dude? The only way I’d be dealing with 100-year-old, shit-lined pipes is if blasted drunk. (Although, I have surprised myself with how much I’m willing to deal with when I simply must. There was that time I was on a bus heading home from a 12-week ultrasound. I’d consumed 32 ounces of water prior my scan and even though I peed right before I left, minutes after I got on that bus I realized there was no way I’d make it home; I was going to pee my pants. So I got off the bus and entered some 24-hour diner—like the kind of diner that comes with its own string of permanent junkies—and I embraced that bathroom. It was horrifying. Remember that scene in Trainspotting where he hallucinates that he’s swimming down through the feces infested water? It was just like that bathroom. But I didn’t care. I made that bathroom my temporary home. It was the most wonderful place on earth. And you wouldn’t believe the “bathrooms” a distance runner will use while out on a long run. But I only share those stories with one person in this great big world and that’s my brother, Ryan. Poor guy.)

But I digress. This dude was a champ. He came in, moved some pipes, capped others, cleaned some out. He updated the ones that were falling apart and then took 15 minutes to make sure the new toilet would be positioned just so. I don’t know. Plumbers should make millions of dollars. How come the folks doing the jobs no on really wants to do, the folks doing the work everyone NEEDs done, tend to make so little?

The plumber left and now it a section looks like this (eventually, it will be made up in a nice, trendy stainless steal material, or so I’m told):

As I type, an electrician that looks remarkably similar to Michael Stipe, is installing “up-to-code” electricity, including electrical sockets, a fan, eventually new sconces. There is a lot of drilling and sawing and hacking away. And I can see things happening, changing and it’s ALREADY a huge improvement over that impostor bathroom, the one pretending to be modern. This bathroom, even down to its bare skin, the hole in the floor, its exposed wiring—fans and all—is a huge improvement.

The house is lighter. Things are being done the right way. And I’m so excited.

Next week, we start to rebuild. We will install walls, a floor, and that’s when things get really good. And I’ll take pictures and share along the way.

Roof Rot and Other Stuff.

We had a new roof put on last week. And it’s amazing. It makes the house look lighter and happier, which I didn’t think was possible. But the house looks better than it did before when it sat rotting from the inside out, covered in green moss and mold.

Here’s a picture of our new roof.

Our contractor took it all the way down to the plywood. They removed THREE layers of shingles, because, of course the previous owners cut corners and instead of replacing the roof, just added more shit to the top of it. And that’s comedically obvious because once the three layers were removed, our single-layered roof exposed at least an inch worth of unpainted wood from where the old roof once sat.

But, yay! NEW ROOF!

So that brings us to today when they showed up to remove and replace our old gutters. The old gutters were ridiculously beat up. They hadn’t been replaced in at least 20 years. (Like most everything else in this house.) Thing is, when they began tearing them down, they discovered the wood below them was rotting, giant gaping holes sat staring back at us. I am not surprised by this, but it still stings a bit. But this is precisely what happens whenever you cut corners on your roof. If you don’t add a proper rain shield and/or runoff along the bottom edge of your roof, instead of having the rainwater runoff, it pools up below the shingles and eats away at the wood.

Here are a few pictures of what that looks like.

Anyway, today we get new wood and then new gutters. (Insert lame internet sigh here.)

So, yeah. Still learning! And my husband, who is notorious for researching everything to a fault, can probably tell you more about roofing and the proper way to do things than the contractor selling you your roof.

Stay tuned for next week’s adventure when we gut the powder room and tear up the 25-year old patio out back, the same one leaking rainwater into our basement.

Refinishing A Clawfoot Tub.

I wrote briefly in the previous update about the top floor bathroom and how the tub was left to rust and rot. We knew when we purchased the home that there was a leak leading from it into the boys’ bedroom below. But we didn’t know how bad it was until we opened the ceiling. The previous owners let water sit and rust an otherwise lovely clawfoot tub. And since it was leaking into the bedroom below, they deemed the entire bathroom off limits, you know, instead of repairing it. Because, why would anyone want to fix something? No. Instead, they told their middle child (the one whose bedroom was in the finished attic) that she shouldn’t use that bathroom at all.

So, it sat there unused and rusting. Meanwhile, a family of five shared one bathroom. Not that that’s a big deal; we’ve been doing just that. But why have five people share a bathroom if you don’t have to? Especially when someone uses the bedroom attached to it? (Both our boys are too young and/or scared right now to move to that floor. In time, however, I am certain they will be fighting over it.)

So that was annoying. But this isn’t remotely close to being the worst problem we inherited. This is nothing. I’ll share the rest of it over time, I am sure.

Anyway, here’s how we inherited the tub:

The rust around the drain ate through the tub and so water was basically pouring out onto the floor below, which was then pouring into the ceiling below. So. Yeah.

Anyway here’s the finished product:

We priced getting a new clawfoot tub, but they are very pricey. So I started researching having the tub sanded and refinished. Originally I was planning on doing it myself. But since I’m pregnant, and the finish involved can be toxic, we decided against it.I paid someone instead. They came out, sanded the tub, got rid of the rust and then refinished both the outside and inside for right around 500.00. (It would have been cheaper if the tub was outside or in an otherwise better ventilated, and bigger space.) So, for what it’s worth, if you have a tub that seems like it’s past its prime, don’t throw it out! You can have it redone for so much less than buying a new tub. And if you’re up for a challenge, they sell kits at Home Depot specifically for this type of job.

We purchased the fixture from Amazon. You may see it here. I had our awesome plumber install it all AND make sure the leak was fixed. It is! Come over! Have a bubble bath!

Stumbling. But Learning.

Our roof is in terrible shape. We knew this and got credit for it at closing. And it was at the top of our list of things to do after we moved in. But then we discovered the truth about the trees, the 60-year-old boiler, the lining for the chimney, the leak from the third floor bathroom and the roof got pushed back a bit (along with all the cosmetic changes we wanted to make).

I’ll be blunt: buying this home has been a humbling experience. This experience has made me realize I know absolutely nothing. I haven’t felt this overwhelmed by insecurity and uncertainty since Em was born. I’m a novice, a bit of a fool. I had no idea what came with buying an older home. People warned us, sure. But you can only know so much.

And that’s the thing. I can’t help but compare this experience to becoming a mother for the first time. People warned me while I was pregnant. They offered me (often times, unsolicited) advice and I would let it register, acknowledge it. But I never fully grasped what it meant to be a parent until the doctor handed me the baby. You can spend hours explaining what it’s like; you can warn a person about how hard it’ll be, how much sleep they’ll lose and how they’ll never be an independent human being ever again—not in the true sense of the word, responsible solely for oneself. You can say all these things, and the other person probably understands the words, but to fully grasp it? I think that’s impossible until you’ve actually done it.

We were warned by many about how hard it would be owning an older home. (We were also told how rewarding it would be!) But we didn’t fully get it until we got it.  And now that we’re getting it, holy got, it’s had. (Wait, what?)

And it’s clear to me now that our greenness benefitted the sellers. They needed a novice homebuyer to snatch this one up. They withheld a great deal of information on the disclosure agreement and lied about a few things as well, things that seasoned home owners may have known to look for. The good news is, and what I need to remember, is that the home appraised for a great deal more than we got it for.

I’ve been biting my tongue when it comes to writing about the sellers. It doesn’t seem fair to slam a family I don’t actually know. And slam them I would! I have a great deal of animosity built up toward them. And given what we’ve been told by our neighbors and contractors who have worked with them in the past, it’s solidified; there’s no going back.

But I’m also trying to keep things in perspective. I’m hormonal, after all, and full of an intensity I don’t normally possess. I tend to go from 0 to 60 with no warning whatsoever. Suddenly every injustice and every problem in the world, even those that have nothing to do with me, become a whole hell of a lot more intense. These problems need to be dealt with NOW and HARSHLY if need be.

I was this way with my other pregnancies as well. When someone leaves their cart in the middle of the parking lot because they’re too lazy to return it to its proper vestibule, the one with the GIANT sign that reads: “PLEASE RETURN CARTS HERE”, I let them know. Non-pregnant Michele would probably let’s it slide, maybe bitch about it to Toby Joe. But Pregnant Michele becomes self righteous and wants people to realize how lazy they’re being and how NOT following the rules WILL RUIN THE WORLD.


Most of the time, the other person simply stares at me, like I’m an escaped zoo animal. They know better than to provoke the crazed hyena. I have no idea what I would do if someone actually responded. I’d probably throw up or something. Because when I’m reacting this way? I’m not myself. I’m Pregnant Michele and she’s kind of mean and a lot grumpy.

So, when it comes to the previous owners of this house, I don’t know if non-pregnant Michele would care as much. But Pregnant Michele hates them. Pregnant Michele wants them to know exactly what they’ve done wrong.

During the home inspection, and before we knew anything about the family who lived here before, Toby Joe described it as “a house whose inhabitants suffered from severe and chronic depression.” And I think that sums it up perfectly (and politely). This house was perpetually sighing, shrugging its shoulders in hopes of a little warmth and a huge hug.

So, here we are, 6 weeks in. And we have given it many hugs. We replaced the 60-year-old boiler and the lining that aerates it, literally warming it up. We replaced the damper on the chimney. We got rid of the rust along the bottom of the bathtub, the one that was leaking directly into the boys’ room below it, because instead of FIXING the bloody thing like any functioning member of society might do, the sellers simply let the water sit in the tub (and therefore ceiling) rusting the pipes and an otherwise beautiful claw-foot tub. They simply wrote it off—a family of five simply chose NOT to use that bathroom.

We cut down the trees that were threatening the foundation and creating mold and moss all over the roof and exterior walls. We removed the overgrown poison oak and poison ivy from the backyard. We had the gutters cleaned and the pipes leading to the street cleared of a decade worth of debris. We had the claw-foot sanded and refinished and I hope to have the ceiling fixed and patched over the next couple of weeks.

I’m disappointed we haven’t yet been able to update anything cosmetically. But what good would it do updating a kitchen with new appliances, countertops and cabinetry if the radiators alongside them spits out hot, brown liquid rotting them because the boiler is over 60 years old? And what good would it do updating the attic bedroom and bath if the roof is going to leak directly into it? Why fix the garage if it’s rotting due to the sticks, stones, and dirt they tossed along the backside thereby rotting its wood?

A pretty exterior with a rotting interior will only be pretty for so long.

I’m learning. It’s slow. I am new. I feel a bit overwhelmed and a lot freaked out on some days. Like today, I just want to cry. And drink. And I can’t drink so I usually just eat dark chocolate and cry.

But, just like when I became a mother, I am learning. I’m stumbling a lot, but I’m learning nonetheless. And I think on the other side of this experience, I’ll have a wonderful little home to house and hug my family.

At least that’s my hope.

Introducing Our Horrible Half Bath

We have a very tiny, half bath on the first floor of our new home that I find disturbing in many ways. This could have to do with the fact that I have had issues with plumbing and bathrooms all my life. And I’m not sure why that is. I was joking with Toby Joe recently that I should be hypnotized to try and get to the bottom of my bathroom phobias. Most bathrooms skeeve me out. I know, that’s not saying much. I mean, bathrooms are bathrooms, right? Who likes hanging out in a bathroom? I do! If the bathroom is nice enough. And I have seen some really nice bathrooms over the years. Anything less and you might as well have an outhouse, in my opinion. An outhouse serves one purpose: collecting human waste. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with such a thing. It doesn’t pretend to be anything more than what it is. Plus, it’s often outside!

This bathroom, to me, is worse than an outhouse because it’s pretending to be a modern bathroom and other than being attached to indoor plumbing, it’s so not a nice, modern bathroom. I am so grossed out by it. Granted, this could have something to do with what happened right after we moved in. Elliot (he’s two and a half) told me he didn’t like the bathroom because “it’s dirtee, mommy.”

“What do you mean, baby?” I asked.

“Com ‘ere.” He said, leading me into the bathroom. He lifted the toilet seat and pointed to a row of rust along the bottom rim of the toilet seat.

“Oh, honey!” I said. “That’s nothing! It’s just some rust. See?” I took a washcloth and began wiping it off, thinking it wouldn’t budge. But no! It smeared. It smeared just like dried shit smears. And I gagged. The “rust” wasn’t rust at all. The rust was a build up feces or something horrific that came out of someone else’s asshole, most likely a chorus of foreign assholes.

At that point I realized I had two choices: I could leave and never come back; or, I could scrub the fecal matter off of the bottom of the toilet seat. And since we’d just purchased the home, and moving out wasn’t really an option, I scrubbed the fecal matter from the bottom of the toilet seat. And the toilet turned white again! (At least I think it turned white. I couldn’t really see through all the tears.)

On top of that grossness, whomever built the bathroom made a lot of really stupid decisions. Although, I’m not sure any decisions were actually made because I’m not sure anyone asked any questions or entertained any choices. It’s more like they found some plaster, inherited a few bathroom fixtures, got really drunk (or high) during a power outage and threw something together.

Check out how they mounted the sink to the wall. (If you look really closely, you can see old floral wallpaper below it all.)

The bathroom sink didn’t fit, so they jammed it in, cutting into the door-jam.

The toilet is on an angle because the floor is as well. You can’t really tell in this shot, but the toilet leans away from the window and toward the door. When you sit on it, you’re at an angle.

The plaster walls are wavy from top to bottom so someone slapped on some wallpaper in hopes of concealing their mistakes. You will see from the picture below that I tried to rip it down before realizing there may be lead paint involved (I’m pregnant), and we gave up and just decided to gut it all.

But the biggest problem I have with the bathroom is the fact that no matter how often I clean it, it never actually looks clean. And that drives me nuts. I clean it constantly and it still looks filthy.

So, last week, I met with a contractor who is going to help us make our half bathroom look awesome, or so I hope!

In the meantime, I’ve been taking my home renovation questions to Facebook. You see, I went to college with a bunch of creative people, some of whom happen to be architects and designers. They’re also incredibly helpful and even entertain stupid questions like this one:

(Incidentally, the responses I received to that particular question were helpful, insightful and hilarious.)

But why keep it all on Facebook when I also have a blog?

Just yesterday, I was thinking about this site and all the different topics I’ve written about over the years—all 12 of them (holy shit). I wrote about falling in love with New York City. I wrote about falling in love with a boy. I wrote about marrying him. I wrote moving from one city to another city to another city then back to the first city. I wrote about getting pregnant. I wrote about having that baby and how hard it was for me to transition from “independent human” to “mother”. I wrote about my miscarriage. I wrote about culinary school. I wrote about the birth of my second son. I wrote and wrote and wrote.

So, why not write about this too? Why not admit I have no idea what I’m doing, but I have the determination to stick with it and the humility to admit I need to pay experts to do most of it? Truth be told, I’m equally as afraid of home ownership as I was with becoming a mother. So, I do hope my insecurities and worries might help someone else in the future. And I do hope you’ll feel comfortable making fun of me and/or giving me suggestions. Because I need all the help I can get.