29 April 2010


The glass shower door was installed on Tuesday. Take a good look; it’ll never be this clean again.

The double towel rack we ordered arrived yesterday and Jerry mounted that. He also did a neat job of encasing the cord for our electric toothbrush -- another small, why-didn’t-we-do-this-years-ago? adjustment.

Our towels are hanging, there’s a new rug on the floor. The skinny cabinet is loaded with our toiletries and sundries (there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore).

On the one hand it’s slightly depressing to clutter this pristine space with our funky old stuff; on the other, it’s fun to organize, shake things up, view objects in a different light.

Moving into a re-built environment involves a process of adjustment: Oops, the door opens that way now. Oh right, the mirror’s over here. Band-Aids are on the middle shelf of the upper cabinet. One must now place one’s front paws in the sink to get a drink of water.

When we completed our big Berkeley remodel, Stewart Brand came to the addition-warming party and asked us a lot of questions. He was writing a book called How Buildings Learn, and was interested in the adaptations that structures make, over time, to meet the needs of their inhabitants. At that point all I could tell him was that we’d most likely never close the pocket door on the walk-in closet and probably shouldn’t have spec’d it. What we didn’t know at the time was that the new flight of stairs would become magnificent loge seating at singthings, the magical musical gatherings that we would eventually host.

I don’t expect any profound social opportunities to unfold from this simple bathroom remodel. But we’re already starting to think about the next project. That’ll involve knocking down walls and dramatically altering spaces. Who knows what might happen then?

26 April 2010

Fairy Condos, Hobbit Houses and Troll Sheds

We’re not the only ones involved in a construction project this spring. A developer named Emily just put up a condo complex for fairies on SE 36th Ave. It appears to be loaded with amenities. If you lived here, you’d be home by now.

Elsewhere in the ‘hood, a treehouse for hobbits appeared and, on the same lot, a funky troll shed sported a new coat of paint(s). This is infill housing I can live with.

23 April 2010

The Hammered Glass Cannot Be Tempered

We’re just about done with this project. The tile backsplash is set. We thought at first we’d go with a single color but I’m glad we decided to mix it up, loosely echoing the tilework in the shower. Steve did a good job of transitioning from the slight curve required to fit flush with the ledge at the back of the sink to a straight line along the top. He also cut the end tiles so they’d line up with the edges of the sink; extra work, but it looks much better that way.

The upper door of the skinny cabinet now has its patterned glass panel. I love the ripply effect, even empty. The pattern is called “Hammered.” We’d considered another called “Rain,” as well as the vertical ribbed type I associate with cabinets in old-fashioned drugstores and medical offices. Originally we wanted glass in the lower door as well, but code dictates that glass installed close to the floor must be tempered so it doesn’t shatter into a million lethal shards if you accidentally kick it or something. Steve checked to see whether the pattern we wanted was available in a tempered version. The answer appeared as an email subject line: "The hammered glass cannot be tempered.” That sentence seems to resonate like a poem or proverb.

The shower has been user-tested and found delightful. We’re using our old shower rod and curtain until the glass door arrives next week. We spec’ed this fixture largely on the basis of its sleek design and apparent functionality. One of the plumbing showrooms had a spray booth set up, with a dozen or so shower heads and an external control for each one, so you could observe the jets in action and get a general sense of how they worked. But that’s not the same as taking off your clothes and getting in. This one is adjustable in four different directions, not just the spray but the height and angle of the shower head. Everything works smoothly and the spray options are optimal. The shower head is Grohe, by the way, and the control is Delta. We wanted independent temperature and volume settings integrated in the same control; Delta seems to be one of the few companies that still makes them.

I love the look and feel of the faucet, also by Grohe. It goes beautifully with the sink. As with the shower, we went by appearance and manufacturer reputation but with no guarantee that it would actually function the way we wanted. China Rose finds the arrangement satisfactory, too. That, of course, was the goal of this entire project.

Since I took these photos, we’ve begun settling in. Jerry remounted the medicine cabinet, now painted to match the trim, and the small glass shelves on both sides. We sacrificed one of the six shelves to make room for a hand towel holder. He fixed the funky electrical outlet and replaced the decorative switchplate, the colors of which go perfectly with the tile. My job was to load and organize the new storage cabinet. Other incidentals, like the bath towel bar and a wall-mounted swiveling mirror, normal on one side and merciless 8x magnifier on the other, will go up shortly. None of this is very exciting, but I’ll put up a few more pix later.

Steve came by this morning to install the grab bar and hooks in the shower. We wrote him an even larger check than the last one, reserving just enough to cover the cost of the door. Funny; that was the first item we spec’d, and it’s the last to be installed.

19 April 2010

Flushed with Success

Saturday was our 28th wedding anniversary. We spent most of the day hanging out while the tile guy/floor guy installed the subfloor and then the Marmoleum flooring. It’s covered with protective paper at the moment, but I think the color will be fine. That evening we celebrated (marriage, not Marmoleum) with a lovely dinner at Iorio. Still adore you, Jer, after all these years. (Oh yeah; that’s a closeup of the recessed shampoo/soap shelf, above.)

Sunday was the warmest day of the year so far, with temps in the 70s. I’d committed to volunteering at the Hardy Plant Society spring sale, a huge event at the Expo Center. I spent three hours processing credit card payments: Swipe card, enter last four digits, enter amount, wait for approval, present merchant copy for signature, print customer copy, stamp register receipt “paid.” Lather, rinse, repeat. I got into the rhythm pretty quickly -- a good thing, since at times the traffic was non-stop. I hadn’t felt an adrenaline rush like that since my restaurant line-cooking days. Afterwards I connected with my friends Deb and Maureen, and got to relax with them for a while, snacking and schmoozing in the warm sun.

Early in my shift, I watched a customer proceeding toward the cash register in the midst of his forest of perennial picks; it looked like Birnam Wood creeping toward Dunsinane. His purchases added up to a mind-boggling $663.00. I will never again feel guilty about dropping a few dozen bucks at a nursery.

Some time later, I spotted a guy wearing a brown t-shirt that read “I take mine with cream, sugar, and the 2nd Amendment,” an obvious, if eye-rolling, reference to the recent Starbucks-gun rights controversy. I hadn’t been taking particular notice of the names on people’s credit cards, but I did on this one. It was Lars Larson, Portland’s home-grown equivalent of Rush Limbaugh. Ick.

We’re taking the prudent path and not talking politics with any of the tradesmen who’ve been swarming around our bathroom-to-be. This morning at 8 a crew of three arrived to install the custom cabinet next to the shower. We’re still waiting on the glass-fronted upper door, but the main structure is in (facing the toilet, above) and lookin’ good. Notice the magazine storage shelf midway; that was Jerry’s idea, which I fought at first but now concede is brilliant.

Steve had scheduled the plumber for noon. The cabinet guys were finished, cleaned up, and out the door at 11:57. The plumber is here as I type (a little after 2). We just heard the first flush from the new toilet. This is at least as exciting as the first robin of spring. (6:30 PM update: Followup user test flush: Successful)

So here’s the gorgeous designer (Philippe Starck via Duravit) sink. We did run into a glitch with the installation. Most pedestals, we learned today, are open in back so you can just slide them in around the fittings. This one? A hollow column, sealed most of the way up, with an opening too high to line up with the existing fittings. Solution? Either open the bathroom wall (argh) and re-plumb the piping by a few inches. Or, if you have nerves of steel, take your diamond-blade sword... I mean saw, and enlarge the opening on the back of the pedestal -- without, of course, shattering the custom-ordered item into a million pieces. Steve chose option #2, and succeeded. Whew.

Steve had hoped to set the tile for the backsplash this afternoon, but because of the sink issues, and the fact that the p-trap is still not tightly sealed, will hold off til tomorrow. Hopefully that and a few other incidentals will wrap up the active phase of this project.

It was a difficult day in some ways, especially for the plumber, who is experienced but new to this company, and wants to demonstrate his competence and unflappability. Sophie has great confidence in the outcome, and so do we.

16 April 2010

Grout Expectations

I first encountered groufitti in a bathroom stall at the main library on Berkeley campus. It consisted of dozens of bad puns involving the word grout, written on the grout in every direction. Groutesque. Alexander the Grout. The Groutful Dead. You get the idea.

First thing upon arriving this morning, Steve assured us that last evening’s bucket spill would not have damaged the drywall in the guest room ceiling. Alright then. He then negotiated Greg into working tomorrow to keep on schedule. The floor has to go in before the toilet and sink are installed; the plumber’s due back on Monday.

Last night after Greg had tidied up and departed, I noticed a minor glitch in the tile pattern. If you look at the picture featuring China Rose from yesterday, you might be able to discern, in the right corner, a sliver of dark blue tile on the third course up from the floor, and a sliver of lighter tile on the second course. Most of the pattern is random-esque, but I really wanted a dark-to-light thing going on at the borders. This morning Steve and I discussed the concept of wabi sabi. Greg reversed the colors. A small error presents a dilemma: Will it fade in your consciousness over time, or will it annoy you forever? I’m glad we fixed this while we had the opportunity.

Today Greg finished tiling, including the intricate cutting involved in lining the recessed soap-and-shampoo shelf. Grouting and polishing was the final touch. I’m glad we chose clear glass, rather than patterned, for the shower door. A: We want to see the tile. B: There’s enough pattern going on already.

So the tile guy will be back tomorrow -- yes, Saturday and, as it happens, our 28th wedding anniversary -- to lay the subfloor and then the Marmorette (tm), Armstrong’s version of Marmoleum (tm). It’s been so long since we chose the color; I hope it works with what we’ve got going now.

15 April 2010

Tea for the Tiler Man

I’m starting this post at 5 PM -- tea time -- because I couldn’t resist the pun, which fans of the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens will get. The tile guy is still here, mortaring the walls and talking to himself. The schedule calls for grouting tomorrow. The square hole in the wall (below) will be the recessed shelf for soap, shampoo, etcetera. Tiled on all surfaces, that’ll take a bit of what quilters call “fussy cutting."

The door guy showed up mid-afternoon to take final measurements for the glass door and panel that will form the front of the shower. At one point four of us plus one dog managed to fit in the bathroom. (I was going for five but Greg, the tile guy, demurred.)

Jer and I had originally spec’d a 20-inch-wide door, narrower than standard, thinking that would leave room on the (thus wider) stationary panel for a second towel rack. But Steve pointed out that we’d have to turn sideways to dodge the shower control. So we added four inches to the door width and will rethink the towel rack placement.

The glass will take a couple of weeks to fabricate, so we’ll be living with our old shower curtain and a temporary rod for a while. No biggie.

Two hours later, done for the day. There was a mishap involving a bucket of water, a stripped-bare subfloor and the guestroom directly below. Oops. But I’m happy with the tile pattern. It’s pretty much as I’d visualized it, solid borders gradually devolving into random floaty chaos. I can relate to that.

14 April 2010

Forecast: A Shower

Progress on the remodel this week has been undramatic but significant. The waterproof shower pan liner, which we tested overnight to verify that it is, indeed, watertight, went in Monday. Had it failed, we would have awakened to the telltale drip... drip in the guest room downstairs.

Yesterday the liner vanished under a layer of cement. Cement board went in on the walls as well. Cement board, I gather, is used instead of sheetrock in wet and to-be-tiled environments. Now we have a real sense of how large (i.e., small) the finished enclosure will be.

Today, the cement floor acquired a layer of 2x2 matte tile in four colors, which you’ll soon see echoed in 4x4 glossy on the walls. Designing a simple symmetrical tile pattern, I assumed that the drain would be smack in the middle of the shower floor, and of course it’s not. But that adds visual interest, don’tcha think?

There’s a cutout in the wall opposite the shower fixture where a recessed shelf will go. We spent a while today discussing with Greg, the tile guy, how to finesse the tile in and around that area. I have to be out of the house for a few hours tomorrow, and made the perfectly reasonable suggestion that he and Jerry text me with jpegs whenever decisions must be made.

Yesterday Steve rehung the bathroom door so it opens out, into the hall, rather than in, to the bathroom. The change was essential to avoid banging into the new shower door, but we should have done it years ago. Instead, we dodged that damn door every time we got into the tub, made bathroom rug choices based on what would clear the bottom of the door as it swung, and tried not to leave the door agape, with the toilet on display, when visitors were in the living room. It’s a relatively trivial fix, yet we lived with the low-grade annoyance for almost five years. Inertia is a powerful force.

Okay. The tile shower floor and ledge (where we get a preview of the glossy 4x4s) are mortared in. Tomorrow the walls. Then grout. That mere hint of color is promising. We’re entering “finish” mode now.

Speaking of color, as I skirted around the construction zone to put laundry away, the lilacs outside the dressing room window took me by surprise When did they burst into bloom?

11 April 2010

A Person of (Limited) Color

The remodel continues. The last few days have been undramatic: drywall, primer, first coat of paint. For the walls, we chose a very light green to tie in with the tilework you have yet to see.

A couple of years ago, after the garden window was installed in the bathroom, I painted the trim a medium-value greenish blue. Against the stark white tiles and semi-gloss walls, I thought the blue would make a Statement, but it didn’t have much to say. (It was a flash in the can.) Now that the walls are sporting -- however modestly -- some color of their own, the trim brings even less contrast.

There’s a fine line between subtle and boring; clearly I haven’t yet figured it out.

I love color but, when it comes to the house itself, I seem reluctant to commit. We just painted the medicine cabinet -- about the only legacy item that’s going back into the new bathroom -- the same color as the window trim. Determined not to repeat my failure of nerve regarding that trim, I advocated at first for a more assertive, contrast-y, shade. But Jer likes this soft green-blue. I can live with it. And, of course, we already had the paint.

I think the house itself is pulling us toward its preferred sector of the color wheel, which also happens to be mine. The first family to live here -- they owned the house for 40 years before selling it to the couple who sold it to us -- had a thing for blue-green. Notice how close in hue our newly-painted cabinet is to the built-in cupboard under the basement stairs.

The bathroom walls, once stripped of tile, revealed a bolder green than we would have selected. At the back of the kitchen cabinets, the original wall shows: blue. But the short-term owners from whom we bought the house painted the kitchen a bright yellow, and installed a pure green Marmoleum (tm) floor. I love that combination. It’s like green grass on a sunny day, an especially beguiling fantasy during our Pacific Northwest winters.

Although I’m not afraid of color, blue-green is my comfort zone. The very first quilt I made reveals that predilection. I’ve since learned to work outside that range, but it’s clearly where I want to live. And, apparently, bathe.

07 April 2010

Turning the corner

Though we layabouts didn't break a sweat, yesterday felt like a marathon day. Demo is done, construction is underway. The framing is essentially finished and the rough plumbing is in.

The new layout is already shaping up. The room feels so spacious; too bad we have to fill it up with sinks and toilets and stuff.

China Rose is inspecting (above) where the new pedestal sink will go (below). Don't the fittings look pensive, waiting?

As you can see from the photo below, the sink itself is on edge. Must be the anticipation. (Okay, time to stop anthropomorphizing bathroom fixtures.) Good thing we're down to one car so there's room to store things in the garage. Behind the ceramics, to the left of the file cabinet, you can glimpse the shower-floor tile, laid out more or less as we planned it. We modified the pattern slightly so the drain would fit within the solid area in the center. We'll see how that works out.

The cabinet guy was here yesterday, too, measuring for what certainly will be one of the skinniest storage closets in Portland. The blue masking tape marks the placement of an open shelf for reading materials. There'll be a patterned glass-front cabinet above that, and a wood-paneled cabinet below. We're hoping the cupboard will hold the contents of the old vanity cabinet plus the backup toilet paper supply that we now keep in the garage. It'll be two feet deep and almost as tall as the ceiling so, with careful planning, it should work. China Rose remains skeptical.

Here's another view of the same area from a different angle. You can see the framed-in box that will become a recessed shampoo-and-soap holder in the shower.

Speaking of showers, Stella Luna is wondering what happened to her personal water fountain.

China really wanted to get up on the window sill (below). She could easily jump to it from the toilet, when one existed. I think she wanted reassurance that the outside view, at least, was unchanged.

Whew, yes. Okay; it's still there.

Steve decided to go ahead and install the insulation right around the time that mere mortals would be quitting for the day. Had the sheetrocker been available today, we'd be a day ahead of schedule. (“Sheetrocker” sounds like a derogatory term: "You sheetrocker, you." Should I be saying "drywall specialist"?) As it is, we have a break until tomorrow. The cats are pussyfooting around, wondering why it's so quiet.

I like this archeological phase of remodeling, when the old layers are uncovered and artifacts of past settlers exposed. Terry commented along the same lines on my last post, adding "Don't you feel a little like family, with unknown people who lived in your house before you? I think living in a brand new house would be so boring."

I hadn't thought about it in those terms but, as I told her in email, the only brand-new house I ever lived in was our Sea Ranch one, and somehow I never bonded with it. It was a spec house, designed to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible. We hadn't designed it, and we had no emotional investment, going in. It was comfortable, and a pretty place to live -- lots of wood, big windows, a huge windowseat where I loved to hang out -- but the house itself felt characterless and generic. In the decade that we lived there, we put in a hot tub and replaced the cream-colored wall-to-wall carpeting with hardwood. There was not much more to do, no other family's design decisions to reverse, no real quirks or shortcomings to overcome. The house was complete, immune to alterations. Maybe the fact that it had no history contributed to that sense of sterility. I wonder what its current owners think of it. Have they made any major changes? Did our family leave a mark?

This house, though, has a past. The first time I saw the do-it-yourself cupboards under the basement stairs, I thought "my dad could have built these." Months later I discovered a pint of homemade jam at the back of one of those cupboards. The container was the old-fashioned kind; they haven't made canning jars like that for ages. The jam was dark brown and tasted -- yes, Jerry opened it -- sweet. I had no idea what kind of fruit it was til last fall, when I overcooked a batch of plum compote I'd made from our backyard tree. That’s history.

05 April 2010

Going, going... GONE

Like her sister, Stella Luna has drinking issues. Her preferred watering hole is the tub, though, not the sink. Last night was last call at the ol' bathtub saloon.

Jer and I slept very well on the guest room futon. Nice to know that there's nothing inherently flawed in the accommodations Casa Jereva has been proudly offering visitors since 2006. There's a slight logistical challenge in figuring out what needs to live downstairs for the duration (backup reading glasses, everyday jewelry, robe, slippers, underwear, at least one set of clothes) and what we can grab as needed from its usual place adjacent to the construction zone.

Shortly after Steve arrived this morning to tear things apart, I had to leave for a meeting. Poor me; I missed some major noise. I'm kind of sorry I didn't get to see the old cast-iron tub reduced to a pile of shards. I got home around 1 PM, by which time the tub, toilet, and most of the vanity were history.

Jerry reported that Steve had carried out an entire wall section of tile, whole. That must have been some mighty grout. I thought the pattern (below) left by the adhesive was kind of cool. I wonder who installed it, and I'm struck, not for the first time in this house, by the similarity between the original owners' color palette and ours. The paint we've chosen for the bathroom walls is a shade or three lighter than this, but definitely in the same family.

Steve told us he removed four, count them, layers of linoleum. We laid the blue-green Marmoleum (tm) on top of the intolerable red that was there when we bought the house. I'm sure today was the first time the subfloor has been exposed since the house was built in 1954. Goodbye, Standard Plebe toilet and what I assume are the remains of the tub.

By the end of the day Steve had completed a lot of the framing for the new shower surround and the adjacent built-in cabinet. China Rose went in to inspect. I imagine her thinking might be summed up as: "WTF?"

So, Day 1 went pretty well. The power saw popped the circuit breaker a few times (old house, old wiring), and one of the studs in the photo below will have to be repositioned. Steve will be back in the morning, and the plumber is expected to show up after lunch.

The animals have been holding up okay, and so have we thus far. It's a cold, wet blustery day, with gusts up to 26, according to our weather station. A big limb came down from a tree across the street. All five of us are in the living room at the moment, watching Rachel Maddow. This might be the evening for a stupid movie over dinner. Men Who Stare at Goats should do it, I'm thinking.

04 April 2010

Hopping down the bunny trail

These giant tracks appeared on our block this morning, each pawprint spaced about 10 feet apart. That's one big rabbit.

Our Easter Sunday has been spent clearing everything that wasn't screwed down -- plus several items that were -- from the bathroom, carrying some essentials downstairs to the guest suite, and organizing the space where we'll camp out for the duration. Here's China Rose enjoying one last drink from the old sink. We chose its replacement, a pedestal model, with her quaffing behavior in mind. Yes, we're insane. I'd like to imagine that she'll appreciate the effort we went to, but who am I kidding? She's a cat.

She and her sister Stella Luna are very much aware that something's up. Familiar stuff has disappeared, or moved to unaccustomed locations. The focus of activity is about to shift to another part of the house. In the cativerse, that's huge. So far Sophie seems unfazed. That's more than I can say for Jerry and myself, creatures of habit that we are.

Steve the contractor emailed to say he'd be here between 8 and 8:30 tomorrow morning. Whee.