Master suite adventures continue

Before we left for our honeymoon, we spent a weekend putting up the walls in the master bathroom. Our friend Elizabeth came over and we worked like a well-oiled machine to cut and install the greenboard (it’s just like drywall but meant for bathrooms) all over the room. While not very technically difficult, the task is certainly physically grueling, and we were exhausted by the time we were finished! But we knew we’d come back from our wedding and honeymoon ready to FINISH THIS HOUSE!!

IMG_4790.JPG
Wallboard installed and waiting for us to return from our honeymoon!

Just kidding, at times it feels like we will never finish the house…but at least we are motivated to finish our master suite! This month our plan is to complete our walk-in closet and move forward with the master bathroom.

The day we returned from Costa Rica, we hit the ground running. We went to an AMAZING interiors store called Floor and Decor in Alexandria, Virginia. HOLY COW HOW DID WE NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS STORE BEFORE NOW!??! I am actually legitimately mad that we purchased so many of our materials for the house elsewhere, because this store is MAGICAL. They have all types of flooring and tile materials at incredible prices. They are not paying me to say this, but I want to shout it from the rooftops!

Ok, back to our master suite…this week we needed to finalize our design choices for the bathroom and buy the tile. I’m sure you’ve been waiting with baited breath on our selection of tile for the master bathroom and we finally settled on….REAL MARBLE!! I didn’t want the master suite to be a clone of the hall bathroom but we truly love our other bathroom, so we decided to go with a similar look.

Floor and Decor has an obscene amount of marble tile sizes, shapes, and patterns to choose from. We settled on a combination of three different tiles to add some visual interest to our bathroom. It was so hard to make a final decision because it feels so FINAL (because that’s what it is), but after three hours and a lot of different combos, we bought about $2,000 worth of tiles (for a bathroom that’s 9′ x 10′). We had rented a tiny Honda Civic and it was riding loooooow to the ground on our way home from the store due to all the weight (did I mention how fun home renovations are without a car?).

But before we can install the tile, we had to paint the entire room (le sigh). So this past weekend, we kicked it into overdrive to compound the seams in the walls, sand the walls flat, and paint the entire room. With the incredible help from our friend Alan, we applied three coats of compound on Saturday. To speed up the drying process between rounds of compounding, we cranked up the heat and turned on all the space heaters and dehumidifiers we could find.

20190413_211741.jpg
After we applied compound to the walls

Then on Sunday, Jeremy single-handedly sanded all the bumpy compound to a flat and smooth surface and vacuumed the entire room. I sealed him into the room so no dust would enter the other rooms.

7318A6E5-61BA-4BE0-8699-065EA373A51F.JPG
My hero after sanding the entire room!

Then our very helpful friend Chris came over and we primed and painted the entire room!

IMG_4802.JPG
Chris helping to prime and paint our bathroom!
IMG_4801.JPG
Priming is boring but necessary

We decided to paint the room the same color as the other bathroom, Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. It’s basically a greige that leans heavily toward green/blue. It looks pretty underwhelming right now, but once we have our vanity and tiles and trim it’ll look AHMAZING.20190415_090718.jpg

20190415_090656.jpg

We even found time to tag the wall behind the vanity…for posterity.

2FDFE369-E5CA-4A6C-AAC1-03AEE87132D2.JPG

The entire weekend was a huge amount of work but now we are ready to tackle the truly intimidating next step of installing the marble floor, walls, and shower floor. We got several quotes around $2,500 for the labor alone, so we figure should try to do it ourselves first.

 

Learning as we go in the master bathroom

We passed a sign in our neighborhood for an apprentice school for high-schoolers to learn construction trades and it made me realize these last six months have been one long apprenticeship for both of us. We are constantly learning how to use new tools and are jumping from one trade to the next: demo, electrical, framing, drywalling, painting, etc. etc. etc. And now we are learning the trade we are both most intimidated by: finishing the bathroom. This series of posts will highlight how we are taking the space from this to a master bathroom oasis:

KBZG2130.JPG
Before: the future master bathroom awaits
UXED0421.JPG
We plan to close the left doorway and put the stand up shower there.

This series will also highlight mistakes we made along the way and how we fixed them. 

Before we could do ANYTHING to transform this space, we of course had to demo all the walls and ceiling, which meant a ton more plaster dust, lathe, and insulation to get rid of (not to mention that horrible fake wood paneling). Our friends Julian and Chris came over to help demo because who doesn’t love smashing things to bits?

IMG_4130.JPG
The only photo we have of demo day!
IMG_4131.JPG
Just shoveling some insulation away

Once demo was completed, we were ready to start the project! 

***

Jeremy and I started tackling the master bathroom this weekend. Our general contractor roughed in the plumbing and electrical for us and poured the concrete base for the shower, and left the rest for us to finish. I don’t have a photo of the demo-ed room before we started, but imagine a 9′ x 10′ room with open walls  and ceiling and the original wood floor. 

We are now tasked with finishing the room–which means putting up the ceiling, walls, the floor, installing tile, and putting a vanity with a closet in place.  The tasks that lie before us honestly scare the crap out of me, but we are going to take it one step at a time and see how it goes.

The first step was installing normal drywall on the ceiling, which we did on Saturday. We used our trusty drywall lift which makes ANY ceiling work so much easier. We are drywall experts so this wasn’t too tough.

The next step was preparing the floor for tile. This room had gorgeous, beautiful 100-year old heart pine as the floor. We seriously considered keeping the wood floor but after much debate and research, we decided real wood floors in a master bathroom were just not a great idea. We didn’t want to risk the floor warping from water damage over time, so we made the sad and difficult choice of covering it with tile (to be fair, I did try to sell the planks but no one wanted them). To ensure the tile floor won’t crack over time, we were sure to do the prep work right and not cut any corners….which meant a TON of grueling, back-breaking labor.

Cement board is NOT FUN to work with–it’s waaaaay heavier than drywall and infinitely harder to cut or screw into. I did a lot of complaining this weekend about how much I hate working with it. Here we ran into mistake number 1: we did not have the correct type of blade to cut the cement boards. Always make sure you have the correct tools before you start! With much difficulty, we cut all the pieces we’d need first and “dry fit” them onto the floor to make sure we covered the entire bathroom floor.

IMG_4124.JPG
Dryfitting the cement boards

Then we mixed thinset in a bucket, then I spread it across the floor using a notched trowel.

IMG_4126.JPG
Mixing thinset in a bucket
20190310_141936.jpg
Spreading the thinset across the floor.

We laid down each sheet of cement board and Jeremy screwed it into the floor using a special cement board screw. This is where we encountered another problem–we didn’t have a powerful enough drill so the screw heads would not screw flat into the floor–they popped up ever so slightly. The bumps from each screw will make it difficult to lay down floor tile, so Jeremy ordered a special drill that hammers while it screws (who knew?!) so he will have to go back and push down each damn screw again.

IMG_4129.JPG
Screwing the cement board to the floor below

I used a special kind of tape on the joints between each board, then spread thinset across the seam–all of these steps are required to ensure the subfloor is correctly installed so the tiles on top won’t crack. We have read that lots of people cut corners during this prep phase but come to regret it later when the tiles crack or pop off the floor.

Jeremy also took on the task of screwing the boards onto the wall around the shower. This is where we made our next error. We both completely forgot that we want to install a shower niche to hold shampoo bottles and soap, so we have to remove these three boards and install the niche directly in the middle of this wall. What a waste of time and effort!

InkedIMG_4122_LI 2.jpg

It may not look like a lot was accomplished, but it took two full days to get it to this point, all of which was NO FUN.

IMG_4127.JPG
The cement board floors after one million hours of work
IMG_4125.JPG
The face of proud exhaustion

The next steps will be to install the shower niche, waterproof the entire shower stall with RedGuard, and install the rest of the walls around the room. Then we will take a quick lil break to get married and go on a honeymoon, then return ready to finish this damn room!

Creating a sun-filled oasis, part 1

The bonus room in the rear of our house faces out to the back yard. I envision that one day, the space could be used as a relaxing reading corner with lounging furniture and low book cases, or maybe a sun-filled breakfast nook. For the last few months, it’s looked like a war zone. This is what it looked like the day we bought our home:

IMG_1972.jpg
The bonus room on the day we bought the house

Last fall, we hired a company to remove the load-bearing brick wall to open this space up to the rest of the house. We had the original old windows replaced. Then we demolished the remaining walls and ceiling, ripping out the plaster and lathe to reveal the studs behind the walls. And guess what we found? Two pretty cool brick columns hiding behind some hideous wall paneling.

IMG_3154.JPG
We uncovered the brick columns when we demo-ed the plaster and paneling

We put up sheets of insulation between the studs for temperature control, since these walls are external, and boy, did we feel the cold on the especially windy days in early February! It literally blew into our house before we put up the insulation. Jeremy spent countless hours examining every square inch of this room looking for cold air drafts, and plugging them up with spray foam insulation.

IMG_3825.JPG
Putting insulation in the walls and ceilings made a big difference!

We hired a general contractor to rough in the plumbing and electrical for the powder room (because we are certainly not qualified to install new plumbing and sewage lines). We only paid them to do the framing and behind-the-wall plumbing and electric wiring, then we would “finish” the rooms ourselves to save money.

IMG_3814
The roughed in tiny powder room

The contractor originally made the powder room even smaller than this, which they had to re-do because no human being could comfortably use the toilet. We trusted them to build the room to code but they made it WAY too small. That’s why you should always double check their work and don’t assume they have your needs in mind. TRUST NO CONTRACTOR!

In late January, the entire space was finally ready for us to close it up! The first step was installing drywall. One day when the weather was nice, Home Depot delivered 21 pieces of drywall to our back yard. We knew we needed nice weather on this day because they don’t deliver it inside.

IMG_3830.JPG
The bane of my existence…moving drywall inside

For the next nine straight hours, Jeremy and I were in full-on BEAST MODE. Our goal was to install drywall in our entire bonus room and powder room. This included the ceiling, the beam, and around the windows. I am really proud to report that we are supreme drywall experts at this point, after our drywall adventures over the last six months (read more about it here, here, and here). We honestly kicked ass the entire day. Our approach was simple: measure inside, cut the drywall outside without moving it from where Home Depot dropped it, then walk it inside and install it. Jeremy and I worked in shifts–he measured inside while I cut the drywall outside, then we switched places. It was straight up teamwork MAGIC.

IMG_3835.JPG
After only 8 hours of work, the space was transformed!

At one point I realized I was lifting and moving around our heavy ladder, which I normally can’t lift and make Jeremy move around because I’m a weakling. There was so much adrenaline pumping through my body from the sheer productivity of it all, that I found the strength to get through the day with ease!

We were not able to finish drywalling the entire space, but we got damn close. Jeremy finished installing the remaining pieces over the next few days while I was at work (thanks, boo). Unfortunately since we didn’t finish before the sun set, we had to haul 11 whole pieces of drywall inside. It was NOT my favorite part of the day.

Jeremy insisted he could fit one single piece of drywall into the powder room and he proved me wrong…though it was a tight fit!

IMG_3839.JPG
Just enough space for one man, a light, and a huge piece of drywall

After the drywall was up, it was time to compound! We applied three layers of compound over the screw holes and seams. The most important thing we learned finishing this room is the value of using pre-mixed, 24-hour drying compound as the final topcoat. It is a LIFESAVER and so much easier to sand flat and smooth compared to the 90-minute or 20-minute stuff.

Another miracle tool we discovered is a drywall sanding screen, which is 5,000 times more effective than normal sandpaper.

IMG_4001.JPG
All the seams and screw holes are covered in compound

The next step was dealing with the brick columns. Jeremy caulked the gap between the drywall and the brick, which was way easier than I expected it to be!

IMG_4023.JPG
The gap between the drywall and the brick column looking nice and seamless!

Then we had to seal in the brick columns. The old cement between the bricks was crumbling pretty badly, so we sealed the whole thing with two coats DryLok (meant for waterproofing basement walls). They look so much better already!

Then it was time to prime and paint.

IMG_4034.JPGIMG_4030.JPG

We decided to paint this room a dark color. As I’ve mentioned before, I wanted to paint our entire house rich dark tones, but we ended up compromising on a lot of the rooms. This room has four huge windows with tons of natural light, so I’m sneaking the dark walls into this space.

I will will post a final reveal of the bonus room in a few weeks, after we restore and re-install the window trim, replace the back door, and install the lighting and powder room fixtures!

 

 

 

Kitchen update–one step closer to the finish line

We are very close to finishing our kitchen. One of the last steps was to close the opening above the top of the wall cabinets.

IMG_3490.JPG
Say goodbye to the useless gap above the cabinets.

Since we are our own general contractor, we did not plan for how or when to close that awkward gap above the cabinets. We hired a company to install the cabinets. We hired a plumber to move the piping for the sink and range. We figured we would close that gap above the cabinets eventually. Well, the time has come!

Last month, we hired a contractor to rough-in the framing, plumbing, and electric for a powder room adjacent to the kitchen. He also screwed stud framing above the cabinets for us to finish with drywall.

Jeremy and his dad removed the two wall cabinets and cut and screwed the drywall into the studs. Then we compounded all the seams and installed corner bead on the corners (exactly like the other wall).

IMG_3976.JPG

IMG_3974
Compounded and ready to sand

The next step is my least favorite. We sanded down the compound so it was smooth. We covered everything in plastic but of course the compound dust still went EVERYWHERE so we had to clean the whole first floor after this step.

 

IMG_3997.JPG
Covering everything in prep for the sanding/dust storm to come

Then we painted the new bump-out Simply White by Benjamin Moore. Finally, Jeremy and our friend Logan put the cabinets back after a brief struggle getting them on their tracks!

IMG_4006

And just like that, the kitchen is one step closer to being complete! The last three tasks are to tile the backsplash, install the range hood, and paint those last two cursed cabinet doors. And don’t worry, we have the hood duct hiding above the new drywall and ready to attach to our range hood, directly above the stove.

IMG_4015.JPG
All that work for this little wall above the cabinets!

Building a wall that America actually needs

As I mentioned in this post, our living room was ready to finish once the plumber replaced an old pipe in the wall. So over MLK weekend, our dear friend Elizabeth came over and helped us close in the wall. This was my first foray into compounding which felt super intimidating for some reason.

Walls may just look like walls, but so much work goes into it. To make a wall look like one long, flat surface, you need to hide the seams between each sheet of drywall using tape and compound.  But we didn’t want to pay a handyman to do this type of work so we did it ourselves!

Compound is essentially light weight cement powder that you mix with water and then slather onto the drywall. We used the type that dries in 20 minutes which allows you to apply all three layers of compound in just one day (rather than waiting 90 minutes or 24 hours for other types of compound to dry.

The first step in our journey to finish the wall was to screw drywall into the ceiling to cover the hole the plumber made.

IMG_3683

Then we screwed strips of metal corner bead onto the outside corners, which protect the corner if anything bumps into it.

IMG_3688.JPG
Screwing in the corners

IMG_3677.JPG

Then we got to work compounding over all the seams, screws, and corners. It was not hard at all!

We put tape on the seams by plopping a dollop of compound on the drywall and then gently pushing the drywall/putty knife down along

IMG_3697.JPG
Very proud of my corner

We bought a fun tool to help with the inside seams that worked like a dream! It’s hard to make these inside corners look like crisp 90-degree angles but with my new tool friend, it was super easy!

After two applications of compound, we sanded it down using sanding blocks (which covers everything in a fine compound dust). Then we painted. Then Jeremy cut and installed the baseboard trim and quarter round.

The whole project took about 2 full days to complete, and my god it almost looks like a normal house!!

We built that wall!
We built that wall!

For comparison sake, we would have paid our favorite team of 2 handymen around $1600 to complete this task. I’ll take free over $1600 any day of the week! #Winning.

 

 

 

 

My life as a drywall expert

Two months ago, Jeremy and I installed drywall for the first time in two bedrooms. It was a true learning experience, and thankfully now we are able to put that knowledge to use!

The main floor of our house has gone through EXTENSIVE changes in the last month: We removed all the plaster from the walls and demolished the fake chimney, hired a company to remove the load bearing walls and replace with a single column and 3 support beams, had a team of four electricians rip out all the old wiring and install new wiring + recessed lights + light switches + outlets. The main floor is finally ready for us to close in all the open walls, beams, and column.

EATF9626.JPG
We need to close in all the open beams and columns with drywall

IMG_3185.JPG

Last Monday, I got to work measuring the 4 sides of the support column, making sure to cut out square holes for the light switches and outlets. I felt SO proud of myself for getting it correct on the first try! Jeremy installed each side like a pro as I moved on to measuring and cutting the next side, until the entire thing was closed in!

By the end of the day, we had successfully closed in the column and were feeling very proud of ourselves!

IMG_3145.JPG
Successful closing of the column!

The next day we tackled the slightly more complex job of the beams. In no time, the first beam was covered!

IMG_3186.JPG

Successful closing of the beam! Please ignore all the crap around the room.

We are waiting to finish the other beam because the electrician needs to come back tomorrow to fix a tiny problem with a dead light switch. In the meantime, we hired a handyman to compound all the seams closed and the next step (hopefully this weekend!) is to start painting the walls!

Walls, windows, floors

This last week we kicked it into overdrive! Handyman Alex brought a friend on Sunday and together the four of us almost finished putting up all the drywall! We seriously underestimated how long it would take to complete the drywall but I think that will be a major theme of this next year. In other exciting news, we installed lights in all three bedrooms plus the walk-in closet! Some rooms didn’t have any overhead light when we bought the house, and other lights had been ripped down by various contractors earlier this month. I was sick of moving our only lamp around from room to room to work, so I bought the cheapest light I could find and now we have a single light bulb dangling from the ceiling in each room. Let there be light!

Dangling light bulbs!

We also have almost all of the new outlets installed. We need to wait until we close the seams and paint the drywall before covering the outlet and light switch holes with covers. Jeremy and I are going on a long-planned vacation at the end of this week so we’ve asked our handyman to work on finishing the drywall while we are away.

 

 

In other news, we’ve been getting quotes for window and door replacements and floor refinishing. I was worried that our old house would require the more expensive full window replacement, but several companies said that the opposite is actually true—old homes are well suited for the less expensive pocket insert windows. Pocket inserts are less invasive to install and cheaper! Huzzah! We also need to replace our front door and basement door, which is proving tricky because the basement entrance is not a standard height.

20180921_084524.jpg
This original window, while cool and old, is barely functional. Time for a new one!

As for the floors, everyone agrees that the original pine floors upstairs are ah.maz.ing and super expensive to purchase new and totally worth refinishing. However the first floor is a different story—we’re probably going to have to replace them entirely for several reasons: they’re already super thin, they’re in way worse condition than upstairs, and they don’t flow into the kitchen or bonus room under the tiles like we were hoping. Either way we plan to refinish upstairs now and do downstairs later after major renovations in the living/dining/kitchen/bonus room. (UPDATE: the fourth flooring company that came discovered there is beautiful pine floors UNDER the messed up oak floors on the main level of the home. Fingers crossed we can just refinish it instead of getting all new floors!). We also have a funny issue with our staircase–each step has a gap where the riser is slightly pulling away from the wall. We are trying to figure out the most cost-effective solution to fill that gap so any recommendations are welcome.

 

 

Meanwhile Jeremy has been spending a lot of time at DCRA trying to get a permit for the structural changes to the house. We hired an engineer to draw up plans for removing the structural wall to open up the first floor and the city is proving very particular about these drawings. Now I understand the term “back to the drawing board!” On Thursday, Jeremy finally proved VICTORIOUS and we have permits for all the upcoming major work we plan to do.

As I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel in the bedrooms, I’m finally starting to think about paint colors and decor!! I’ve been very inspired by Emily Henderson’s series on how to incorporate the Modern Victorian style into our house. I feel very torn between being a basic millennial and wanting everything to be blush and rose gold, versus respecting the history and character of this house which has unique and beautiful Victorian features. We plan to strip the paint off several doors and window trim to reveal the gorgeous wood hiding underneath. I’m leaning toward rich deep paint tones for the bedrooms (examples here, here, here, and here). Maybe I can sneak something close to millennial pink, but more subdued, into the smallest bedroom. We’ll test our paint colors when we return from Europe in October.