Happy 8th House-iversary

EIGHT YEARS! How time flies—I really can’t believe we’ve lived here for 8 years already (technically I’m two days early, but still)! Unfortunately I missed our anniversary last year, but we’ll just chalk that up to the 7-year itch with houseblogging, as I strayed a bit from that last year. :)

On our House-iversary two years ago, I did a little before-and-after of the exterior and yard since we were working on that so much at the time and the year before was a summary of yearly exterior changes.

Now that the interior has changed over the past year with my craigslist “Purge Splurge” among other changes, we’ll focus on the latest updates and how the rooms have evolved over the years.

I’ll keep this thread going in future posts, but let’s start with the most recent update: The Main Floor Bathroom.

After eight long years of bitching and moaning about how much I hated the 1990s-era blue-and-yellow bathroom remodel I finally did something about it (yes, dragging Pete with me, kicking and screaming but eventually relenting). Despite his reluctance, I have a wonderful husband and am very grateful that he puts up with me.

I would also get some opposition from a few friends who would say, “I don’t know; I kind of like it!” or “It’s not that bad!” (many thought it was an “original” retro style similar to the pink 1960s bathrooms, and no, I didn’t hold it against them). I think Pete must have paid them to say it, but I was not having any of it. I can be a little stubborn, especially when it comes to my own design aesthetics.

The first few years were focused on remodeling the attic into a master suite and “bonus” area, but starting in 2012 the bathroom was high on my Project Goal list. Along with Pete’s grumbling however, some other project would take precedence. I guess it just wasn’t time because I’m sure it would have turned out much differently had we done that early on, so no regrets about waiting.

Since I realized I need to update my Before and After pages, I plan to add additional photos and links there in the near future.

In a nutshell, here’s the bathroom over the years, starting with pre-ownership.

The owner (whom we knew as our neighbor two doors away) planned to take the green toilet with him. No problem there!

April 2007

We removed the beige basement toilet and used it here for a while.

July 2007

Trying to embrace the color scheme. With the addition of the white toilet, at least it’s looking fresh and clean.

February 2010. Trying to embrace the color scheme. With the addition of the white toilet, at least it's looking fresh and clean.
February 2010.

Enough was enough, I decided this was the year for this project, and I might as well see what the original floor looked like. I had to tear the top layer off anyway even if we had to re-tile.

January 2015

Luckily, it turned out beautiful!

Demo time!

March 2015
March 2015

Getting the walls up and everything functional before guests arrived for a weekend.

April 2015
April 2015

As of today, it is thisclose to being completed. We installed a glass corner shelf and remounted the toilet paper holder (I decided it was too far away). Pete also finished the window ledge.

June 2015

The tub deck (formerly the pool table slate) is installed now that the bathtub has been refinished. Pete caulked everything yesterday as well. We just need to finish gluing the seams and then install the shower screen door. I also need to do some paint touchups and  general cleaning, but I think we can wrap it all up this weekend and take a well-deserved break over the 4th.

June 2015

It is definitely the best House-iversary present ever!

One Step Closer

The bathroom remodel was on hold for a few weeks until we could get the bathtub refinished. That finally happened Monday!

In addition to the chips in the tub revealing the original teal color, once we had installed the subway tile, I was surprised at how yellow the tub looked (the previous blue-and-yellow color scheme obviously made the tub look bright white).


Here’s how it looks now. I found the refinisher on Angie’s List.


The job was fine, although I noticed there’s a ripple/wave in one of the corners that’s hard to see in certain light, but you can definitely feel it. Disappointing, but I don’t think it’s worth the trouble to complain about. Lena and Romy inspected it and gave it a passing grade.


Now that that’s finally done, we can get ready to install the tub deck. A few weeks ago, Pete decided he didn’t like the original curve he cut in the pool slate for the tub deck and wanted to redo it. I thought it was fine but if he wanted to do it I wasn’t going to stop him.

We used the first piece he cut for the other smaller pieces we needed to complete the tub deck, so we weren’t wasting any of the slate. The new curve he cut does look better, so I’m glad he did it. We also made curves for the other corners instead of having straight edges and that looks good too.

On Sunday he took all the pieces outside to sand and also beveled the edges a bit.


Looks like rain again this weekend (ugh!), so maybe we’ll be installing it, in addition to all the other little things I want to finish up, like paint touchups. We also bought the shower screen, so we need to install that as well.

Family is coming to visit in less than a month, so now we’ve got to hustle to get it all done!

Much Better Now!

Well of course my “impromptu” back door project took longer than I wanted/expected it to, but it looks sooooo much better than before!

I can’t believe it, but I don’t have a decent shot of the interior side of the door. It was splattered with white paint from one of the PO’s paint jobs and while it was never painted or refinished, it was super grimy and needed a good cleaning. I happened to have a refinishing solvent which dissolves the finish and allows you to refinish it with tung oil (or I guess whatever you want to use). I normally wouldn’t buy chemicals like that, but seems we’ve had it for a long, long time so I thought I’d use it instead of disposing of it at the Household Waste center.

I haven’t put the final finish on it, but it lightened up the color a fair amount so that it’s a closer match to the kitchen trim, and I was able to scrape off all the paint dots and sloppy brushstrokes along the edge.

Below is the fully stripped and sanded exterior side of the door, ready for “prime time”.


For this side I decided to paint the door a nice green that would look good with the kitchen wall color while the door was open. I originally thought I’d paint it a pale green, but any lighter paint swatches I looked at really washed out the kitchen wall color — it looked so much better against a darker green. I chose Guacamole from Benjamin Moore (2144-10). It works deliciously well with the wall color, Wasabi (AF-430).


This is the only “before” photo I could find of the exterior, which dates back to 2008.


And how it looks now.


We also ended up buying a new screen door (in a putty/taupe color that matches the garage siding) because the old one was just hideous. It also swung open from right to left instead of toward the brick wall. While the screen door handle is now opposite the exterior door handle, it makes it easier to open and hold the screen door this way as you unlock the door.

The upper screen rolls into the door as you lift the storm window, so it’s super easy to switch it back and forth, and the door itself has a nice, sturdy feel to it and closes quickly but gently. Another one of these “why did I wait so long to change it?!” projects.

Speaking of which, a bathroom update is next, so stay tuned!

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.