4.02.2014

FINALLY, FINISHED FLOORS

If I had a time machine there are things I would do differently, or at least, in a different order. The floors being at the top of that list. First-time homebuyers, heed my warning now! Refinish those floors BEFORE you move in.


We have lived in our house over four years and are just now getting to the floors. Talk about a hassle. All of the furniture, the rugs, the clothes, the knick knacks, the BOOKS, everything tucked in the back of closets or hung on walls, all had to go. Go where? The kitchen, the back room, the basement, the garage. Know what else had to go? My kid. So she and I packed our bags and headed to Laguna Beach to visit her grandmother and avoid the dust. My husband? He dragged the mattress to the basement floor and camped out. He also was tasked the job of documenting progress and keeping me posted.

Disclaimer: I am a huge micro-manager. I can not tell you how difficult it was for me not to be here, standing over the job and overseeing the details. I pretty much had nightly panic attacks. Not to mention, Thora wasn't napping on the trip, was extremely clingy, I had work deadlines... anxiety recipe.

Thora's room before. Huge gouge in the middle there.
Four years ago, when we first removed the shag carpet, I suppose by comparison the wood floors didn't seem that bad. Yes they were dirty, worn in spots, there were gouges, places with no finish left, blah blah blah. But generally they were livable. And we had bigger problems to deal with, like the termites and dry rot, not to mention a landlord chomping at the bit for us to move out. So I cleaned them with Bona, threw a rug down and moved in.

Now toss a baby in there, and imagine her learning to crawl. Dragging her soft baby body on the floor you can never seem to get clean, the floor that snags all of your socks leaving you an embarrassing collection full of holes. Not to mention, that offensive tone of orange. In art school I took Color Theory and learned all about hue, value and chroma. Allow me to say, the chroma of this particular orange was off the charts. Blinding.

Now this is what home renovation should look like!
The time had come, the pennies had been replenished. We actually found the person to do the work through our realtor. She's a wealth that one, love that I can call her on a dime for advice and references, four years after the fact. We spent the week leading up to the work moving everything out, then Thora and I headed to Laguna. What a drag.

After we left, Mike finished hauling our stuff and taped everything off. Jose was our man and he set to work right away.

Note how the floor is nearly black in the high-traffic zone. Ew.
The floors were in probably average shape giving their age (almost 100 years!) and the fact that they were standard quality to begin with. White Oak, nothing fancy here! (I love my house's middle class bones.) There were the problems mentioned above, plus some feathering that needed to happen where we removed a furnace...

...and on the other side of the kitchen wall that used to house the laundry, and a pretty serious water leak. I guess all of the floors were original except the bedrooms and hallway, which had been refinished once by some other DIYer. Finished incorrectly, of course. Lots of swirling and something was up with the nails. Jose had to go through each one, dig out dust that had settled under the old finish, and hammer each one down. Egads.

After the initial sanding...


everything was coated in a wood filler...

and sanded again. When I got these iPhone pics from Mike, I about died. This was the exact look I wanted. And here is where I am actually grateful that we waited all these years. Had I refinished the floors in 2009, I would've stained them a very dark, almost black walnut. I was super into that look at the time, Jeff Lewis was putting it in almost every house on Flipping Out. Fast forward to now, and dark floors feel dated to me. I've heard the backlash about dust and I've seen it, over and over and over again. Besides, our house doesn't get the best natural light. Dark floors would've felt like a cave. Yes, a nice, light natural look is the way to go here. And uh, excuse me, isn't the variation of the wood beautiful?! That would've been lost.

And then Mike sent me this picture, and my head almost popped off. WHY does this look orange? WHY is this so shiny? I very specifically remember saying I wanted water-based, matte poly. I did not want oil for two very important reasons. 1. It's toxic and smelly and nearly everything we have done to this house has been eco-conscious. 2. Oil turns orange over time.

Gratefully, the poly is wet in this shot and the finish is truly matte. Unfortunately, assumptions were made, communication poor, and oil was used. Trapped in Laguna, I wanted to pull my hair out. What ensued was a lot of back and forth and anger between myself, Mike, our contractor and Jose. But with the deadline approaching for our flight back and a child having a hard time adjusting on her trip, we had to let it go. And oil it was. And man, it was smelly.

In the end, the hallway and bedrooms look the most beautiful and the least orange. This is actually pretty close to what I had envisioned.


The main living spaces, and the ones with the most beat-up floors originally, took the poly a little differently. It seems the dirtier the wood was, the more orange it became. I don't totally understand why that is, considering he coated everything in a white oak filler. But it is what it is, as Honey Boo Boo's mother would say.

Before and after. Severely less orange.
Know what else they are? Smooth as butter. And easy to clean! It's like having new floors with the character of old floors. I love the nail holes, the variations in the wood. I even love the feathering because it shows how the floors have evolved with the house. I love that we didn't have to tear anything out and that hopefully they will be here another hundred years, earthquakes notwithstanding.


3.26.2014

THORA TURNS THREE

As of this past weekend, our Thora is three. How did this happen so quickly? Blink. From fitting in the palm of my hand to tearing through the house singing about the potty. Can I say, so far I'm in love with three. Yes, let's sing everything! And pretend everything! Oh, you are a lion? R O A R.

And when a birthday of this magnitude comes around, you celebrate. It does not matter that you just had the floors redone and all of your furniture is stacked in the basement and kitchen (more on that later). Let's stay up late and put it away, on tiptoe, don't wake her up. Call the bakery, alert some close friends and order the balloons.

Make no mistake, this wasn't all spur of the moment. My brain churns with ideas and plans and irrational thoughts at all times. It's exhausting! So although I had days to throw it together, I knew what I wanted. I bookmarked that Oh Joy! party collection for Target ages ago. And I'd been working on a very special gift for months that I was DYING to present. In many ways, her birthday couldn't come fast enough.

The night before I got to set the stage. I was so excited to do this. Putting together the vision, seeing it come to life, is almost more fun than the party itself. I hung balloons, draped the tablecloth, pulled out the cake stand and set up this little vignette of gifts. That dollhouse right there is my blood, sweat and tears (and I promise a post all about it). I couldn't wait for her to wake up!

Of course, what she saw first is that giant No.3. And it kind of freaked her out. As in, stopped dead in her tracks and would not budge. It took quite a bit of coaxing from us to get her to walk into the room.

Of course, eventually she did.

The dollhouse was well-received! And here is where Mommy collapses to the floor in a giant sigh of relief and complete bliss. In the distance she hears a soft voice saying over and over "soooo tiny..."

We spent the morning playing with the dollhouse, getting dressed and cleaning up. I stopped often just to stare, amazed at the little lady she has become. So independent already. And she is happy. She is happy! Then we had her favorite lunch, peanut butter and jelly, and off to nap. Because that afternoon was her party!

The cake was red velvet from Hopkins Street Bakery in Berkeley. It was yum! And I am happy to report Thora took a bite. This child has been presented with countless cakes, cupcakes and cookies and had never put one in her mouth until this cake. I credit her friend Jonah for showing her the way.

The spread was a minimal variety of snacks. Cheese, crackers, olives, mini quiche, mini pizzas, fruits, veggies, easy peasy. We had sparkling water and beers. The most important part was good friends. I'm sure I've mentioned before we do not have family nearby. Friends are everything and they are voices to sing.

And man, does this girl like it when people sing her Happy Birthday! (Side note: This was technically Thora's second party for her third birthday. While the floors were being refinished, she and I headed to Laguna and celebrated there with her MiMi, Uncle Pete and his gf Yvette. If it isn't obvious, this is one lucky girl. She also Skyped with her Grandma and Grandpa in Illinois. Lots of singing. All around.)

Cake-eating evidence.

Presents! This girl loves her some Daniel Tiger and man, was she psyched to get her own trolley!

Admittedly, she still has not fully embraced the joy of ripping open some wrapping. This is how it usually goes—I follow her around saying "Thora! Look!" and somehow I do most of the work. It's okay, I know this will all change soon. And she was truly thankful for everything she received. We are blessed, there is no doubt.

These two.

I swear.

That night it took forever for her to fall asleep. Girl was wound up from the fun and festivities, so was I frankly. And when she finally conked out, Mike and I sat on the couch together with big pieces of cake and smiles on our faces too.

Happy Birthday my love!


1.08.2014

A HUTCH RISES UP (FROM THE BASEMENT)

When we bought our house, the previous owner left us little-to-no treasures. There was no secret bag of money under the floor boards, no Picassos inside the flue. Well... there was this hutch in the storage space under the front porch. The same space that had been filled to the brim with garbage (not to mention a very large collection of walnuts?) and sported a pungent aroma of animal urine.

The hutch was there, clinging to dear life, mere moments from complete termite annihilation, when we moved in. We killed off the termites, our carpenter cleaned out the space, and I surveyed the hutch. It was poorly. Admittedly, I almost wrote it off. I remember saying something along the lines of, "Let's put it on Craigslist for free. Someone can use this outside in their garden. It's quirky, in a Berkeley garden sort of way."

Of course, I never did that, because nothing is every really dead to me. I had an itch. Maybe there were too many relatable shows on tv at the time (Rehab Addict, Cash & Cari, I'm looking at you), and I figure, eh, I can do that!

So years later, just shy of the holiday work deadline madness that happens to both Mike and I every year, I dragged that beast out to the backyard, gathered my arsenal of tools, and set to it.

Dirty is a word. But it is not THE word to do justice to the amount of filth this poor hutch harbored. Out in the bright fall sun, I could see every detail, every past repair, every coat of paint. There was paint, then contact paper (with little roses), then more paint. There were also cup hooks all along the top. I just know, at some point in time, somebody loved this hutch, and it probably lived in my same kitchen. Of course, somebody also abused it. Pretty sure it did time in a workshop, holding leaking cans of chemicals and greasy tools in the drawer.

But overall, the shape is nice and clean, utilitarian and practical, just my style. And what I love the most, it is old. Like, really, really old.

I went into this project with the intention of doing the bare minimum. The plan was to scrape, do a light sand, clean and paint. And whatever I ended up with was what I got. Of course, that's completely laughable now, but it was a start.

Scraping unearthed the numerous flaws. It also allowed me to get to know every crevice of this old hutch of mine. It felt futile and pointless. Scraping simply wasn't enough. Things were dire, but I carried on...

Then I gave it a good onceover with some vinegar and warm water and let it dry and air out for a couple days.

After scraping all the loose bits my hands could muster and washing it as best I could, I knew what needed to happen. Citrustrip. There were simply too many layers of glopped on paint, one on top of another. I could not be party to this, it had to be remedied.

So I covered all painted surfaces with that magic, orange sauce, crossed my fingers, held my breath and waited.

Hello hand and iphone shadow. I'm such a pro.
Once again, I got out my scraper and really started digging in. It was never my intention to remove all of the paint, just enough so that I could sand it and end up with a relatively smooth surface. All the same, this part was daunting. And I often questioned if it was worth it and whether I was doing more harm than good.

Under the cream was this wacky combo of green and yellow, and under that, more cream.

Once I reached "as good as it gets" level, I sanded and sanded and sanded. Some reinforcing and patching was necessary—filler, wood glue and screws.

Then the fun began. Primer and paint. I used primer I had on hand and the same Simply White by Benjamin Moore that is all over the trim in our house. The plan for the hutch was to move it into the kitchen, into what had become an awkward nook between the end of the pantry and the wall. I had always intended that space to be set up with a desk, a little mail station, and maybe I will do that someday. But for now, the hutch is a good fit.

Our kitchen is black, white and grey and begging for color. I hate the current wall color, a pale lemongrass that I used to love in another life, and plan to change it soon to a light grey. So where does color come in? Taking inspiration from the old red inset, I decided to also give the hutch an accent.

But this time, I went peacock blue. I figure an old, unlovable little sad sack of a hutch like this, was the perfect opportunity for guilt-free experiment. So the only money I spent on this entire project was one quart of peacock blue paint. And I love it.

I also added some faux glass knobs from the Home Depot. Oh wait, so the only money I spent was on one quart of peacock blue paint, and these knobs. It's kind of silly having something so feminine on this obvious workhorse, but I like the contrast. I haven't styled the cabinet yet, so it's a little sparse I know. I plan to fill the drawer and lower cabinet with all of Thora's craft supplies. Both doors and the drawer stick, meaning she can't open it herself and it's the perfect spot for paints and clay and things of that nature. I might drill a hole through the back to run chords, make a little charging station...

Of course, the kitchen needs repainting and STILL needs trim. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm a broken record.

I have to say, I love how my little collection of Berggren Trayner pieces look against the blue. Makes me want to get more...

Truthfully, I don't know if this project was worth it. The hutch is still sort of a mess, kind of wobbly, the doors stick etc. It was a learning process for me—about value versus my time, the skin on my hands. If anything, the hutch has been granted another life, it's ninth life perhaps, and saved from the landfill yet again. I will enjoy it, until I build that desk or move, whichever comes first. For now, it adds a little character to our all-new kitchen and honors the history of the house on some level. Little old rickety hutch.