Political: how much you want to bet Wes Clark ends up on Kerry’s?

Kitchen: installation is proceeding. Russell spent all day and Jon spent about half the day working on the bases and base cabinets. About a third of those seem to be sitting in place and presumably are leveled. Nothing’s bolted into place yet.

We’ve discovered the first two noticeable mistakes in the kitchen job:

  1. Herrell got the cabinet over the refrigerator backwards. It was supposed to be vertical storage (for cookie sheets, cutting boards, etc.) on the right and regular shelves on the left, but he built them the other way around. Oh, well!
  2. Jon and/or George mismeasured where to put one pair of outlets, so I now have two pairs of outlets behind the refrigerator, where I only need one. The other will end up as a junction box with a plain face plate. It’s no big deal, though, because there is another pair of outlets a few feet away, and I don’t see myself needing four. That corner’s going to be pretty cramped and unusable anyway. The base cabinet in that corner has a door only ten inches wide, it’s such a screwy corner. Ten inches sounds like a good-sized cabinet door, but it looks pretty puny. I have no idea what kind of stuff will end up in that cabinet, but it will have to be narrow, whatever it is.

Caligari: (let’s hope not) the other day Norton (my grey cat) gobbled a chicken bone off my plate before I could stop him. It was about a two-inch piece of wishbone–which is to say, longer and pokier than I can envision finding a harmless path through his cat-sized digestive system. The vet recommended:

  • giving him a 3 inch serving of petromalt (I decided that meant daily, so he’s had 6 inches) to help bind up the bone in other stuff and move it through as an innocuous, blunt mass
  • watching him closely for signs of depressed appetite, crankiness, trouble pooping or peeing, futile attempts to barf, bloody stool, or bloody barf
  • bringing him in immediately in case of any of the above
  • watching for the bone in his poop or barf

She said most stuff passes within a day or two, so I’m starting to worry, but I’ve been watching him for about 48 hours now, and there’s no sign of anything wrong with him. He’s cheerful, up and about, and eating and drinking normally. On the other hand, there’s been no Norton poop in the box since I got home from work yesterday, and none of the poop that was there at the time was long enough to hold the bone.

Please think good digestive thoughts for my number one son.

In which George tries to find a right angle somewhere… anywhere!

Jon hauled away a truckload of crap to the dump.

George filled in the cute little missing notches of underlayment in the kitchen, installed the cover to the subpanel, finished peeling back carpet from the foyer closet and the mouth of the hallway, started marking and measuring the foyer for its underlayment, and got himself hung up on the horns of a dilemma: where to draw the border between tile for the foyer and hardwood for the music room.

Jon’s idea was to run tile halfway into the pony wall that divides the foyer from the rest of the room and start the hardwood from there. While working on measuring out that line, George discovered that the pony wall is slightly concave and not parallel to anything else, so he couldn’t figure out from what to measure or to what to be perpendicular or parallel. The foyer closet’s plane is offset a few inches from the door’s plane, and opposite the pony wall is a perpendicular wall, so they’re no help, either. He thought about dropping a plumb bob from the wall/ceiling corners overhead, but those didn’t appear to be on square with anything, either.

Despite the lacked of reference points, we both thought the line he’d drawn (extrapolating the plane of the pony wall, such as it was) looked a bit off square, so I suggested checking it against the foyer closet wall at both ends, and there was in fact a 1/4″ difference. Of course, who knews if that wall is square with anything, either. George also wondered if putting the boundary at the halfway point of the pony wall would look silly.

He decided to clean up for the day and let Jon figure it out tomorrow. That seemed like a good choice to me.

How about that Theresa Heinz Kerry?

Lay me not under underlayment

So I was right: the sheetrock work is done. It’s time for underlayment, so George came and spent a vigorous half-day installing underlayment in the kitchen. It doesn’t sound like much, but having underlaid several bathrooms, I have vigorous respect for that accomplishment.

Allow me to explain.

Tile–even stone–is fragile stuff, because it’s thin. Say, 3/8 to 5/8 of an inch (roughly a centimeter, for my European readership–hi, Giovanna!). Look at it wrong, it breaks. Therefore, you have to install it in a cozy layer of slightly boingy thinset (mortar with a latex additive), surrounded by determined grout, on a perfectly flat, absolutely solid, staff base, which is affixed within an inch (c. 2cm) of life to the subfloor, which had better be even and bumpless.

Affixing that base is the subject of our tale.

The preferred base is a stiff sheet of concrete backer-board (such as Hardibacker). First you have to schlepp it to the site, which is up 25 steps from the driveway, and it’s heavier than you can imagine, because it is, after all, concrete. Then you have to measure and cut the sheets. You have to stagger all the seams, so that adds a layer of indirection to the measuring and marking task. Cutting it is a royal pain in the ass, wrists, lungs, and goggles, because it is, after all, concrete, which is hard, feisty, and dusty. Next, you have to spread a perfect layer of thinset, which by the way needed to be mixed, set up, and get de-bubbled. Now, you lay down your first sheet of underlayment (which is big, unwieldy, and heavy, because it is, after all, concrete) all at once, so that you don’t scooch all the gook to one end. Now you walk it down, but evenly, so that again you don’t scooch all the gook to one end. Now spread more gook and fit another sheet, and kick, shove, and otherwise persuade it into a nice, tight, square fit. Spread, lay, shove. Spread, lay, shove. Spread, lay, shove.

Got it all in? Squared up? Staggered? Snug? Gooshed down evenly and level? Full coverage? You deserve a beer!

Wait, no! You’re not done yet!

Now you have to fasten it to the subfloor. You have to screw it down, or at least nail it down. I screwed it down, because that’s what Tile Store Guy told me to do, and it’s a pain in the ass (especially when you’re installing it right up under the toekicks of existing cabinetry and don’t have room for both a screwdriver and your hand–yet another argument for ripping out cabinetry and starting over, if you ask me). Even with a cordless screwdriver or even a high-torque drill with screwdriver bit, it’s harder than you can imagine to get the screws through, because it is, after all, say it with me: concrete. Jon has declared nails sufficient. But not so fast, cowboy: you’ve got to put those puppies every six inches in every direction. We’re talking four screws or nails per square foot. Even when you’re nailing, it isn’t trivial. I had no trouble sympathizing with George’s whimper about the nailer being broken and having to pound them in by hand.

It took me a whole day (or was it two?) to underlay a bathroom. George underlaid the whole kitchen, except for two funny-shaped notches, in half a day.

I’m impressed.

Reason #834 I love Montclair

About those black raspberries: They grow like weeds in my neighborhood (and some of my more idiotic neighbors actually consider them to be weeds). They serve as my bait to get me out jogging regularly at least one month out of the year.

This year, they’re ripe about a month early, and they’re plumper, juicier, and sweeter than ever before.

Today I happened upon a particularly thick thicket of them, so I decided to sacrifice my shirt, doing the hold-up-your-t-shirt-like-a-bucket trick to bring home a load of them. My shirt will probably never be quite the same; I’m hoping that purple berry stains aren’t wildly noticeable on a dark maroon t-shirt. At my friend Katrina’s suggestion, I’m infusing them in a big old bottle of vodka (the kind you get in a plastic bottle at the grocery store for $9). Come visit in about a month (I guess I am an optimist!) and help me toast the kitchen’s completion with blackberry cosmos!

Yet another day of shockingly little progress

Today Chris the Taper Mudder Guy finished up (I think) the sheetrock work. I think all he did was skip-trowel the music room walls. The kitchen and dining room will be untextured. After 3-4 hours he packed up and left. That would be about it for today. New pictures for today show the winter-like effect in my dining room from all the sheetrock work’s dust. This dust is everywhere in the house. I haven’t found kitty respirator masks anywhere, but nobody has white lung disease yet.

Two months in

Old pictures:


Preparing for chaos

Demolition and chaos

One month in

Still later

White lung disease

Thursday and Friday were all about sheetrock. Chris the Taper Mudder Guy has pounded up the last hunks of sheetrock around the subpanel, patched the holes upstairs, and patched the big hole in the closet where the subpanel used to be, and taped, corner-thingied, and mudded everything everywhere. He’s also gotten little globs of compound on the cabinets in the dining room, but the stuff is ridiculously fragile and easy to remove (from walls as well as cabinets, I learned ruefully when I mudded my bathroom a few years ago), so I’m not worried about it. Coming up are sanding and remudding and resanding and remudding, and white lung disease for all us inhabitants, and then a round of topping and skip-trowel work, so that the new walls and ceiling match all the old walls and ceilings.

The holes upstairs were from where Jon and George had to pull a new circuit when they were putting in the arc fault circuits that are now required in bedrooms, which they had to bring up to code because they had moved the subpanel to bring it up to code, which they had to do because they’d done anything electrical at all, which they had to do because I didn’t like my old kitchen in the house that Jack built.

Meanwhile, somebody has peeled back more of the carpet to the base of the stairs, since the tiled portion of the foyer is going to reach back to the first step. However, nobody has peeled carpet out of the closet, which will also be tiled, nor the first bit of the hallway. So once again I ask myself, what is efficient about the way these people juggle the jobs, doing bits and snatches of work in one place before running off to the next? Why would you come all the way up to Montclair to peel three square feet of carpet but not peel the other six? I don’t get it.

Thursday afternoon Jon and I took a field trip to see the Granite Guy and the Slate Guy. We started with the Granite Guy, wandering around among the slabs and holding up an alder shelf from my pile of cabinetry to see which went best together. I was pleased that my original choice, uba tuba, looked quite nice with the alder. (Uba tuba, for those of you who nodded off in the previous expositions) is basically a tight-grained granite with little flecks of gray, quartzy-looking stuff, and brassy bits. Granite Guy calls them “gold veins.” Whatever.

Dakota mahogany also caught my eye. That’s a salmony-pink number with swirls of gray and quartzy bits stuff that I have always associated with boulders in the Rocky Mountains of Montana, so even though it’s wildly colorful, it appeals to me. Somewhat disconcertingly, it looked really nice with the alder also, throwing me into doubt. Should I overcome my fear of color and branch out from Basic Black? Granite Guy thought so. He said both are beautiful, but Dakota mahogany would bring out all the colors in the Indian peacock slate I’ve been leaning toward.

From there we went to see Slate Guy, who turns out to be Slate Woman. (I hate “gal,” sorry.) There we gathered up a few representative tiles of Brazilian slate, the stuff Jon’s been recommending, and Multi-Raja, which is what this shop calls the Indian peacock I’ve been wanting. We schlepped these along with the shelf around among THEIR slabs of granite, stopping first at the uba tuba, which went nicely with the Brazilian. Then I noticed a similar but flashier slab a few slabs away: Golden Butterfly, which is basically uba tuba with a lot more gold, and which struck another blow against certainty. The alder and the golden butterfly brought out the gold in each other, and the Brazilian slate and the butterfly brought out the flash in each other. Although I wasn’t so fond of the Brazilian slate’s palette (it’s beautiful, but all those golds and rusts and brownish tones aren’t so much my colors, and the bold contrasts of its colors are definitely outside my stark Scandinavian modern comfort zone), I couldn’t argue with how beautifully the three materials went together.

We wandered around a bit more, searching for Dakota mahogany to no avail. I finally found something similar, and I thought it looked pleasant enough with the Multi-Raja and the alder, but it just didn’t jump out at me the way the other combination had. We wandered back to the uba tuba and agreed it looked great, and then back to the golden butterfly.

I stared at it. Jon stared at it.

I said, “I don’t know, Jon, it just speaks to me somehow.”

“Yeah, it’s kind of speaking to me, too.”

Somehow we both found this puzzling.

Anyway, we’ve more or less decided on the golden butterfly and the Brazilian, even though I like the Multi-Raja slate better and love the Dakota, because the Brazilian, the alder, and butterfly are positively stunning together. So what if Brazilian’s not in my preferred palette? They’re gorgeous together and the others are merely nice. I’m going to have to assume that this is a case where I’m supposed to override my Scandinavian instincts in favor of more color to warm up all the rest of my Scandinavian instincts.

The catch is that Slate Woman only has four slabs (my job needs two for sure, maybe three), and at least two of them are on hold. However, they’ve been on hold since April, so I don’t think they’ll stay on hold past actual money being waved around. Jon would rather buy his granite from Granite Guy, who already bid the job, but Granite Guy doesn’t think he has any of this stuff on hand. He’s going to check his other store in Reno. Presumably Jon is now backing and forthing with Granite Guy and Slate Woman to put a plan together.

My fallback is uba tuba and Brazilian. Dakota mahogany and Multi-Raja are third choice. Come on, you can’t really picture me working at a pink counter, can you?

So get this: in a rare departure from my usual expensive taste, which I swear is unintentional, I have fallen in love with what is considered a lower grade of what is already one of the cheapest granites around.

And get this: I thought this was going to be a short post.

More juggling than doing

Today Jon arrived at 2, sanded down the rough spots on the subfloor in preparation for putting down tile underlayment, and left for a 3 o’clock appointment.

The sheetrock guys postponed starting until tomorrow.

Argh! New neighbors!

Real Estate Guy just called back. The lot next door was listed at $139K and sold recently for $150K. Bad news, good news. Bad news, it’s sold, and I suppose somebody’s going to be building soon. Good news, I couldn’t have afforded it anyway (way not), so no use torturing myself over it. Argh.

Inspections, payments, and piles

Jon was right–it’s starting to feel like things are moving fast now. I was in North Carolina all last week for work, so I’ve gotten behind again. A lot has happened:

  • All the odds and ends to get ready for rough inspection.
  • Rough inspection. Jon was worried about some of the plumbing changes for the widened opening, and the inspector did make some noise about it but ultimately approved it. That plumbing work, by the way, was a $600 change order to me.
  • What Jon didn’t expect was that code requirements for the location of the subpanel (the circuit breaker box) have changed, and since he did work in the subpanel, that meant he had to bring its location up to code. So Jon and Russell worked furiously the whole next day moving the subpanel from the hallway closet to the new wall where the pocket door used to be. $700 change order.
  • Jon bought the kitchen and bar faucets. Both are single-handle European design and non-shiny silver (one is stainless steel, the other is “satin,” and there is a visible difference that I hope goes away when they’re fifteen feet apart. The key, as far as I’m concerned, is that my kitchen has all stainless and nonshiny details, not chrome. $100 change order for the finish pushing the faucets beyond the allowance.
  • (Speaking of change orders, there was another $300 one for three extra ceiling lights that we realized would be needed over the bar.)
  • We passed rough inspection–yay! I owed Jon another gazillion dollars–not so yay!
  • Sheetrock has been installed everywhere except where the subpanel was moved, so that was available for reinspection.
  • Bruce’s laborers delivered the cabinets from finishing. They’re gorgeous! I didn’t remember the look of the alder wook very accurately; it’s more pinkish than I remembered, with an even prettier grain. It looks like it’s about halfway to cherry from maple in both color and grain. As I wrote, they’re gorgeous, and they’re all over the place. The old dining room is now one massive stack of cabinets, the kitchen has a tarped-over stack of bases (the jobbers that lift them off the floor), the back-of-peninsula wall is behind my sofa, the refrigerator cabinet is down in my carport hoping we don’t have severe weather in the next week or so, the various trim bits are leaned up in the corner at the end of the hallway. Sinks and faucets have been displaced to my front deck, where they’re keeping my campstove company.
  • Jon has primed the old walls where wallpaper once lurked so that it will accept the mud that Eddie’s sheetrock-taping-and-mudding gang will be hurling the rest of this week.
  • Sheetrock inspection passed, and subpanel reinspection passed–yay! I owe Jon another half gazillion dollars–not so yay!
  • Jon has brought in the underlayment and thinset latex additive for the floor that will be tiled.
  • We’ve decided the boundaries for the areas to be tiled (foyer to first stair, into closet, hallway to wall; kitchen to peninsula/bar entry, diagonal transition to hardwood).
  • I’ve chosen black for the puck lights on the cabinets over the sink and bar.

The rest of this week is all about sheetrock: taping, mudding, sanding, skip-troweling, and all that. No doubt the cats, David, and I will all have white lung disease by Monday. Next Monday Jon wants to start installing the cabinets and then get the granite guy out to measure for the countertops, and then he’ll start working on the tiles and hardwood while we’re waiting for granite fabrication.

I still need to pick the exact slate and granite choices. Jon’s leaning toward Brazilian slate, especially because it’s gauged really well, which means tiny grout seams and really level surfaces. I’m leaning toward Indian peacock slate, which I’ve already got in both upstairs bathrooms. It’s got a much rougher-hewn surface, so it needs wider grout seams and won’t look as even, but I like the colors and the river-bed look, which seem to bring the forest into the house. I think I need to see the choices together with the wood and the granite before I can decide for sure. We’ll probably take a cabinet shelf or something to the stone shops on Thursday after work. Use that comments link to weigh in before it’s too late!

I also need to decide how to lay out the tile. I like plain square-on, which is what I did upstairs, and diagonal is nice, too. Jon’s suggesting running-bond, which is the pattern a brick wall usually takes. For the backsplashes he’s suggesting doing third- or half-tiles in running bond. I’m mulling. You know what to do with the Comments link!

More change orders under consideration:

  • Run speaker cabling from living room to dining room and music room (through the crawlspace and holes in the floor). $who knows?
  • Replace the back door with something with a window and less ugly. $200ish plus labor.

That Comments link is sitting right there!

It turns out I know the inspector already! He was the same guy who inspected my water heater replacement a few years ago. That’s a long nightmare of a story all in itself, which some of you may have had the misfortune to hear in excruciating detail, but I remember thinking he was nice. I was pretty relieved when he signed off on the conversion from electric to gas, which I had to have done under the table for an extra $300 cash, a burrito, two Cokes, some tequila, and more undesired attention than I care to remember. I’d been worried that if he screwed anything up, it was going to be another whole nightmare getting it resolved. Anyway, the inspector (Joe) is a friendly guy, and he seems to like Jon and his work–yay.

I just noticed in my contract that the final payment milestone is after final inspection. The catch is that final inspection happens before all the work is finished. Jon said he didn’t plan to charge me before the work is done, and I’m not worried about him being a jerk about it (after all, we both know I could sic his wife on him), but I did think it was odd it was phrased that way.

The pot rack (just one long bar in hammered steel) arrived a few weeks ago, and the ceiling hooks for mounting it are so long that pots would be banging into my head while I cook, so I’m playing phone tag with the restaurant supply store from whom I ordered it to switch those hooks out for a mystery part (“UCP set and pins”) and smaller hooks (“C hooks”). These parts are so obscure that Enclume doesn’t even show on their website or price sheets, so it’s not too surprising that the store and I didn’t know to order them, but I’m bracing myself for a fight all the same. Curiously, the 18 pot hooks at $86 ended up costing more than the rack, which was only $46. Shipping and so on brings the total pot rack cost to $208. It never stops! Cheaper than a cabinet and way cheaper than adding square footage, right?

Meanwhile, the lot next door seems like it may have been sold finally. Surveyors have been tromping around, and there’s bits of orange spray paint here and there now. I’ve got a call in to the real estate agent to find out what’s up. My fear is that someone’s going to be building a big ugly house there and making lots of noise at ungodly hours for years. My uphill neighbors bought the lot uphill from them as a preemptive maneuver and have encouraged me to try to do the same thing. I doubt that the lot is anywhere close to something I could afford to buy myself, but I’ll ask.