Impromptu Weekend Project

Our plans to go to the cottage today were thwarted by rain predicted all day in Wisconsin. Instead I decided to start on a simple little project: stripping the exterior side of the back door.


The Silent Paint Remover (SPR) was enlisted again for this project and it took about 4 hours to get most of the paint off. Of course the paint was layers thick, and chipping everywhere. Once we rehang it I’ll slather on some paint remover for the trim around the windows and let that sit overnight.


I’ll be repainting it, so we’ll just add some wood filler for the nicks and dings that are in the door. It also got a little scorched from the SPR (you can adjust how close the Infrared heat element is to the wood, and I guess we were a little too close!). It doesn’t really matter since we’re repainting.


The inside of the door has never been painted (thankfully), however there are some paint splatters on the door that have bugged me every time I look at them, and it just needs some refreshing/clean-up. We should also replace the weatherstripping while we’re at it.

Now that I’m sprucing up the door, I’d also like to replace the screen door, as that has seen better days as well. We really need one for the front door too, especially since Romy has decided on several occasions to dart outside while we’re saying good-bye to someone at the door. Really don’t want her to be one of the missing pets I see so often on Facebook!

I also started to look into a “smart” deadbolt lock, like the Kwikset Kevo. Seems that there are as many good reviews as bad on Amazon. Anybody have experience with the product? I don’t know if I want to spend almost $200 on something like that, but it’d be nice to be able to open the door just by touching the lock instead of fumbling with keys.

Garden Scenes

It was so nice today! Didn’t do much except for a little weeding. Last weekend I planted all the veggies in the raised beds but they’re not much to look at right now. I didn’t have it together to do seedlings so I bought a bunch of things including: 4 tomato plants, kohlrabi, kale, cabbage, Vidalia onion, and my favorite green, arugula.

The lawn is again looking like crap: lots of dandelions and weeds; I really don’t know what to do about it! In any case, once you look past the lawn, here’s a shot of the foundation plantings, a couple of hosta and a hydrangea I bought a number of years ago at the Native Plant sale and moved to this spot a year or two ago. It’s doing much better here.


Heading back toward the pergola (which I love!).


A couple views from the patio (under the pergola). One of my fave early-blooming native plants: Prairie Smoke. 2015052303  

And I love the contrast in color with this shrub (although I don’t remember what it is!).


We just moved the bench to this spot in front of one of the basement windows. It’s right across from the oak tree and is a nice spot next to the hydrangeas and still a little secluded in the garden.


Another shot of our metal garden sculpture, Purple Coneflower, in its latest spot.


And finally a close-up of our fountain with a brief visit from Mr. Sparrow.


Original Bathroom Remnants

During the bathroom cleanup we vacuumed up lots of debris that had remained in the tub cavity from the PO’s 1990s remodel. Much of it was chunks of old plaster. I was thankful that at least the old plaster walls had been completely demolished in the bathroom instead of installing sheetrock over it like they did in the kitchen because that would have put another wrench in our project.

I found a few pieces of original tile that had fallen behind the tub wall which I found interesting.


Considering the tub is originally a teal green and the mini tiles in the basketweave flooring are a dark gray-green, I’m not sure how a wall of this warm beige/yellow tile would look.

Definitely heavy-duty, thick tile though! They don’t make them like this anymore, at least not in my price range.

Speaking of the tub, I scheduled someone who had pretty good reviews on Yelp  to come out and refinish it, but then I had to cancel (with several days’  notice) because of work. I left a message to reschedule and they never called me back. WTH? So I called someone else, this time through Angie’s List, but it’ll be a few weeks before that’s done. Hopefully that will go as scheduled.

I also ordered our semi-frameless shower door which we can pick up locally from a warehouse.

We still haven’t finished cutting the slate for the rest of the tub deck, but we can’t install it until the tub is refinished anyway.

I hate things that are left hanging and hinge upon each other. We have family coming in July so I just hope it all comes together by then. For now I guess we’ll just have to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. Be safe out there!

Slated for Completion

The stone place I called last week about cutting the pool table slate finally called me back. I thought they were going to blow me off and not call back at all, but the guy who called was super nice. He didn’t recommend using slate, however, because he said it stains easily, it’s fairly soft as stones go, and it can chip. Which I’m sure is all true, but again, because this is a guest bathroom and will be used infrequently, I think it will hold up well. If it doesn’t, then we’ll just have to replace at that point.

We had already decided to try to go ahead and cut it ourselves anyway, because I had found  a couple of articles online about how to cut curves with a jigsaw (using a carbide blade).

I decided to make a template for the tub ledge (or tub deck as the stone guy called it) out of foam core board. I scribed along the wall with a Sharpie to follow the unevenness of the brick and there was also a notch where the mortar was recessed between the bricks so it wasn’t going to be a straight cut at all there.

It also took some adjustments to get the curve of the tub right.


Pete tried cutting the curve with the jigsaw but that really didn’t work at all for him (probably because the jigsaw wasn’t powerful enough). He ended up using a hand grinder tool with a 4″ diamond blade  (which we also used on the wet tile saw) for the uneven cuts and a circular saw for the straight cuts.

With a couple little adjustments he got it to fit really well along the brick!


The curve also looks pretty great. We have to sand it both on the surface and along the edges (we’ll probably bevel/round the edges a bit as well) and Pete needs to cut the remaining straight piece, but that will be a piece o’ cake. We’ll probably finish it off with a couple coats of mineral oil after we fill the seam with slate dust and epoxy.


Over the weekend we also installed the skirting tile (baseboard). We need to caulk all that, but it looks really nice too.


It’ll probably take us  a few more weekends to get all the odds and ends finished up, but it’ll be worth the wait!

Our Little Oak is Growing Up

Almost six years ago to the day, I bought a Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) sapling for our side yard at the annual Native Plant Sale in north suburban Libertyville. It wasn’t more than 2-1/2 or 3 feet tall with two leaders.

May 2009

Shortly after that we started our attic renovation and “protected it” with our little fencing. (We knew this really wasn’t protection, but it was just something that we hoped the workers would be cognizant of and not trample over it.) Luckily it survived.

June 2009

I wasn’t sure what to do about the two leaders, whether one should be pruned or if both would grow above ground on one trunk, so I called the nursery and they suggested that I prune the weaker/smaller of the two, so that’s what we did.

October 2010

After over a year of growth, it’s still a youngster.

May 2011

In the spring of 2011 it seemed to have a growth spurt.

April 2012

2012 is the year of our big hardscaping project. The bluestone path is routed around the oak.

August 2012

By later that summer it was starting to get a lot bushier. Now that it was stronger, we staked the now-single trunk so that it would grow fairly straight. You can kind of see the aluminum pole and rope (which we cushioned on the trunk and moved from time-to-time so the trunk wouldn’t get damaged).


August 2013

A mere kindergartner as of 2014, the trunk is starting to get that characteristic oak texture.

May 2014

Its leaves start out yellowish in spring, but quickly become dark green and lush a month later.

June 2014

Branching out a little more each year, I researched whether or not we should prune it. I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that a roughly 5-year-old tree should be pruned, but to be careful not to trim too much off the bottom third of the tree. Earlier this spring we trimmed off only the lowest branches.

And finally, as she stands today. It’s the warmest day of the year to date, so I think the leaves will be opening and growing quickly in the next few days.


This weekend, May 9-10 is the annual Native Plant Sale at Independence Grove in Libertyville. I won’t be buying trees or shrubs this time, but it looks like there are a variety of Milkweeds that I don’t currently have and there might be a few other things that catch my eye.

While I’ve eased up on my adherence to only planting native species in our landscape , the great majority of our yard consists of Illinois natives (many of which are also native to the Midwest, Eastern U.S. or even most of North America).

As you’ve probably already heard or read, native trees, shrubs and plants are beneficial for insects and wildlife. Native species are also already adapted to our climate and soil conditions, which reduces the need for watering in dry conditions or fertilizing. All-in-all there’s a lot of plusses in growing native, Chicagoland. See you at the sale!

The Bathroom Punch List

We’re in the home stretch on our beautiful new bathroom.

Over the weekend we decided to try cutting the slate from the pool table for the bathroom window ledge since those were going to be straight cuts. First Pete used a rotary saw with a diamond blade to do a rough cut.


Since it was a more manageable piece after that, we used our wet tile saw to cut it to size.


We had to shim it a bit to get it level, and Pete wants to patch the drywall gap below it before we caulk it all, but it is going to look fantastic!


For the bathroom door we had JUST enough leftover flat trim pieces from our attic remodel. For some reason we have waaaayyyyy more of the trim cap pieces than we need though. Maybe I’ll find a new use for those like I did with our extra baseboard cap pieces.


We need to rip a skinny piece to go on the left of the door to finish it, so that’s another little thing to do.


Initially I painted the entire room in the same color, Benjamin Moore’s Gray Owl, but it was just too stark, even for Pete. So I bought a quart that was the darkest on that same swatch, Desert Twilight to paint an accent wall. It’s a nice gray green and goes well with the slate and the inset tiles of the floor.


The photo is one I took during a college photography course and is from the machine shed on my relative’s farm in southern Illinois. It’s one of my favorite photos.


I just scheduled the tub refinishing for next week. I’m not happy with the caulk job I did around the tub, so thankfully they will be redoing that.


There are a few spots that I need to repaint on the walls because Pete wasn’t happy with a few areas, like above the window, so he did some more mudding and sanding.


We also have to do the tile baseboard, aka skirting. I mitered several pieces for the corners, so we should be ready to go with that. The tops of the tiles are not glazed, however, because they’re meant to have tile installed above them. The Tile Shop said the edges could be painted, so luckily the door paint I bought matches the tiles well. I’ll paint those before we install them this weekend.

Finally, there’s the tub ledge. Apparently stone places do not like to cut stone that they don’t supply but I have a call in to one place and there’s another place I can try if the first one says no. If those don’t pan out we may have to go with straight cuts and do it ourselves. Fingers crossed!


All in all, I’m really excited to get this done and am looking forward to working in the garden and then enjoying a nice soak in the tub!

Came up a Little Short

Last week Pete and I worked feverishly on the bathroom to try to get it finished. We had to at least have a working bathroom by last Friday because we were having houseguests for the weekend, and I was also hosting a small gathering of high school friends in preparation for a junior high school reunion the following night.

We were up until about 1 a.m. on Wednesday night. Besides drywall mudding and sanding, Pete worked on the electrical and we had to reattach the toilet and sink. He had some problems with leaks while reconnecting the sink so that set us back a few hours.

On Thursday Pete worked a partial day, and pretty much spent the rest of the day sanding. (I owe him big time!) Unfortunately there were some areas that still needed to be smoothed with joint compound and then sanded, so as hard as we tried the room was not going to be painted in time for my party.

We had someone come in to dust and vacuum the house—between the bathroom remodel and fireplace demo there was dust pretty much on every surface in the house. While she did that I spent the day cleaning up clutter and getting ready for our guests.

In addition to prepping food, I spent Friday trying to make the bathroom look as presentable as possible sans paint job. I scrubbed the floor, cleaned the sink, bathtub and toilet and mounted a new towel ring and toilet paper holder.


I bought new, dark gray hand towels, a bath mat and a rug to cover the crack in the floor. (I was so overloaded with blue and yellow in that room for eight years that all I want in there are calming neutrals!) I even hung a black-and-white photo. I felt like I was on an HGTV show where the designer is putting the finishing touches on the home before the owners return and the doorbell rings. It was definitely down to the wire, but despite the rustic-ness of the walls it cleaned up rather well.


I used the shower curtain I saved from our bathroom at the previous house — its neutrals work well with the brick and floor. I still plan to add a semi-frameless shower screen, but this will look fine until then.


Unfortunately I don’t have any other in-progress photos to show as I was a bit stressed and didn’t think about taking any. In any case the tub area is tiled, grouted and caulked; the shower was used and is functional. Once the room is painted we can concentrate on the slate tub surround, have the tub refinished and hopefully be pretty much done with it.

I can’t wait to have a nice, long soak in the tub.

Bathroom Odds & Ends

Last night we cut and installed the top half of the sink/toilet wall. Sconces will go on either side of the medicine cabinet.


We’re a little shy of 8 feet long, so we had to cut some of the long ends off. Lo and behold the leftover strips from these 2 sheets will fit perfectly side-by-side near the ceiling to complete the wall. I love when that works out!

In addition to the ceiling we still have the door wall to do. I started to cut it out this morning but I need a second person to help move it so that will have to wait for Pete to get home from work.


I thought I might start tiling today, but I decided to finish scrubbing the chimney and apply the sealer instead. I bought the Low Lustre sealer from Behr (Home Depot).

I scrubbed the bricks with a cheap grill brush and then vacuumed it really well with the Shop Vac. I don’t mind the dark spots and imperfections, so I wasn’t going to go crazy with cleaning.


The sealer looks milky out of the jug and it’s very thin. I applied it with a cheap brush and a roller with a nap suited for uneven/rough surfaces. It took no time at all to apply two coats. It seemed to darken the brick slightly (no photo of that yet), but it doesn’t bother me.

After that I thought I better recheck my tiling plan, and it’s a good thing I did. We bought oversize subway tile which I thought was 4″ x 16″, but when I measured one it was really 4″ x 15-3/4″.

For the short faucet wall (on the right in the illustration below), we installed a 32″ x 60″ sheet of Durock and with the wall adjustment we had to make to compensate for the lack of original tile flooring, it made that wall a little wider, so almost 34″ total. The faucet holes are about 14″ on center from the back wall, and I originally planned to center the tiles based on that (and therefore cut about 2″ off the long tiles close to the wall). When I realized the tiles were less than 16″,  it seemed like it was really going to throw things off.

I determined if I use 2 full tiles along with the 2″ bullnose trim it would fit perfectly to the corner/edge of that wall, however that meant the faucet holes are slightly off-center to the tiles and I wasn’t sure if that would look weird. So while I was out running errands I stopped at The Tile Shop where we bought the tile and asked them about it. The guy assured me it wouldn’t look weird at all and that my layout looked good. So I’m going to hope he’s right and just go with it.


Finally, I thought I’d do a quick rendering of what I’m envisioning with the slate ledge/surround. At first I was going to just do a 90° angle where the corners meet, but after trying it both ways I think it’ll look much better if we follow the curve of the tub.


There’s really no room to continue the slate along the back wall nor on the faucet wall, so I’m just going to have it go straight back to the tile. I might try and get some quotes from a stone/countertop installer to see how much it would cost to have them measure and cut the slate. Along with the curve of the tub, it might be rather difficult to get a tight fit against the brick.



More Bathroom Progress

I’m sure everyone has been anxious to see how far we’ve progressed on the Great Bathroom Project of 2015!

We have definitely made good progress, but of course not as far as I hoped. The framing took much longer than I expected but it will be well worth the delay. We had to add framing in some unexpected spots and we’re not even sure how the walls were secured in some of the corners.

When I uncovered the original tile floor, I also discovered that there were a couple of areas where the floor ended sooner than expected. I’ll have to assume the walls were recessed slightly in the 1990s remodel because the newer tile covered some filled-in concrete areas like below.


The original tile definitely was laid this way because I doubt such a clean cut would have been doable in  a remodel (and there’s really no reason why it would have been done). So, I had to decide how to handle or camouflage it. After some thought, I decided to bump out the wall a little bit with 2×4 framing.

In the photo below, 2x4s, along with 1/2″ sheetrock and baseboard tiles,  would bump the wall out enough to meet this edge. This spot is to the right of the tub and behind the bathroom door, so we’re really not losing any space.


There is a similar spot to the left of the tub as you see below, and we did essentially the same thing over there.


However because we’re leaving the chimney exposed, we’re not making this a full wall bump-out but instead part of a ledge/shelf that will be tub-level made with the pool table slate we salvaged.


In addition to the  shelf, the pool slate is going to be part of a tub surround that will widen the long edge of the tub and also cover the gap between the tub and chimney. It might be hard to envision from these photos but I’m sure it’ll become clearer as we go along.


Below is the basic framing, before the additional bump-out was added to mask the missing flooring.


And here it is with the green board covering the tub skirt/apron and the bump-out (still need to add the little strip to cover the rest of the 2×4).


We were able to cut and install part of the long wall where the sink and toilet go. I was not looking forward to cutting out all the holes for the water supply and electrical, but it turned out okay. We want to replace the shut-off valves as one was dripping a little bit, so might as well do all of them while we’re at it.


Hoping to work on it more in the evenings to at least finish piecing the walls together and be ready for mudding by the weekend. It’s crunch time!

Slooooowwww Going

I really thought we’d have the cement board AND most of the green board installed in the bathroom by the end of the weekend.

On Saturday I worked on removing the drop ceiling over the tub (there was a can light over the tub, but there are several light sources in the room and no reason for yet another one), and I chiseled up the remaining floor tile  under the sink and toilet . I also cleaned the original flooring as much as I could in those areas, but I didn’t want to get too carried away since we have a ways to go before the room will stay clean.

We had my mom over for Easter brunch on Sunday but we were both too tired to do much of anything else.

As part of my birthday present yesterday, Pete and Rod worked on redoing the framing on the exterior brick wall. I had removed the framing, thinking that I might leave the brick exposed on that wall, but I decided it’s just too sloppy looking — there are big blobs of cement in several spots that are just not attractive as you can see here.


Pete lamented that we’d be a lot farther along if I hadn’t removed the framing, however I think we were better off redoing it even though it has set us back some. For one thing, the framing around the window covered well over an inch of the glass block at the bottom (because it was apparently easier for them to do it that way).

Secondly, the original window casings were still intact on either side of the glass block (there’s no budget for replacing that window, so it’s going to remain as is) and we discovered that the window weights were still loose inside the casings. In addition to many air gaps between the brick and glass block, here are two open boxes that allowed more heat to escape.


With those cleared out, I filled the cavities with spray foam and also filled the gaps between the brick and glass block. I got rid of the kraft-faced fiberglass batts that were behind the tile.

As far as insulation goes, I did some research on insulating a bathroom — in particular a brick bathroom — and found this thread on, which stated “The simple answer is ‘you don’t’.”

It appears that we are better off simply sealing the air gaps like we did and leaving the walls alone. Taking care of the planes above and below the brick walls is also recommended, so it definitely helps that we installed open cell foam insulation in our attic remodel, and we continually work on sealing air gaps from the basement (but need to work more on weatherstripping windows and doors on the main floor).

Anyway, back to the framing.

I am still going to leave the chimney exposed. I found a great blog post on exposing brick in the bathroom, and I’m going to follow her suggestions on cleaning and sealing the brick (I didn’t plan to seal the brick, but after looking into it more I think it’s a good idea).


The light fixture above the sink will not be returning. Instead I found a pair of sconces that will look nice here, so Pete set up the wiring for that.


Finally, we were able to install one sheet of Durock. Sigh. I guess there’s always next weekend.