The value of re-making your home

By Caitlin Kelly

Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design
Kotowski Palace in Warsaw, interior design (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As someone passionate about interior design, and who has studied it seriously at the New York School of Interior Design, I enjoy this blog, the public face of an American design firm, McAlpine Tankersley.

I liked this recent post about why it’s worth re-making your home:

Change is always necessary to promote growth and without varying from the comfortable and the everyday, lessons are seldom learned. Faced with potential, however, fear kicks in and says, “let’s just keep things the way they are”; even if a situation is stagnant, it’s my stagnant situation and I’ll sit in it. But how can change have value? An example I can show (because you do tend to come here for visuals to accompany my soapbox) was evident in Bobby’s personal Montgomery home.

In the ten years he lived in this English cottage, the interior underwent three major transformations. As designers, we always use our personal homes as living, active laboratories. We try things out on our tireless, often unsuspecting, families before we suggest them to our clients. Experimentation and change in our environs are personal tools of lesson and discovery.

This is so true!

I’ve lived for 25 (!) years in the same top-floor, 1,000 square foot one bedroom apartment. I doubt I’ll live anywhere else, which is a little depressing, (it’s small and New York is brutally expensive for most larger spaces in neighborhoods we like), but also focuses us intently on making our home the prettiest, most efficient and most comfortable and welcoming we can make it.

It’s absolutely been my design lab.

When I moved in, it was all a bland, boring beige, with cat-pee-stained/stinky oatmeal-colored wall-to-wall-carpet. Gross!

I’ve changed the wall colors here many times, currently a deep mustard in the bathroom, a cool beige in the kitchen, a soft gray in the bedroom and dining room, and a soft yellow-green in the living room and hallway; since there are few doors, the sight-lines make a major difference if the colors and tones relate poorly.

I’d also rather invest in fewer, better items, (like many Europeans do, living in small spaces) than face the expense of designing, furnishing, cleaning and maintaining a large(r) house. Not to mention the cost of new roof/boiler/furnace and all the attendant work of cleaning and maintaining any outdoor property.

If you’re wealthy, great!

But if you’re not, re-using your home-space to its best advantage is often more about being creative and open-minded: re-purposing, re-covering, repainting, moving things around, editing heavily, building your own items and scoring great finds at flea markets, tag sales and auctions.

I read every shelter magazine out there, every month, so I see the blinged-out mega-mansions some people live in.

But I also read blogs like Design Sponge and Apartment Therapy, which feature regular folk with smaller budgets or less opulent taste.

As we finish up our kitchen renovation — one for which I waited 25 years — I already see the enormous difference it makes, emotionally and practically, in our lives. We didn’t pour $50,000 or $100,000, (yes, people do) into our small galley kitchen.

But we did splurge on some items: honed granite counters, high-end appliances (a Bertazzoni gas range and Bosch dishwasher), and spend-y Farrow & Ball paint for custom-made cabinets and walls.

I love the little surprises that (happily) occurred — the shelves we bought have a subtle green-ish gray stain that perfectly matches the cabinets. The narrow grooves in our drawers and cabinets (in lieu of external hardware) create runnels of sunlight reflected from the windows. The new cream tile, with its glossy surface, bounces much more light, both artificial and natural.

At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze ...
At Luxor Design Northgate Mall / louis-quinze style interior. Definitely more formal than our place! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an amazing experience, and the second reno we’ve done; we re-did our one, tiny (5 by 7 foot) bathroom four years ago.

I gained a lot of confidence from the results, and now hope to find some part-time work as a designer using these as my portfolio.

The next major step?

Refinishing and darkening our hardwood floors.

Have you re-made your home?

Changed its colors or designs?

The kitchen renovation: Part Three

By Caitlin Kelly

Swoon!

It’s starting to feel like a kitchen, kids!

We gratefully — while away on vacation in Canada — missed two weeks of noise, dirt and dust while the crew demolished our 30+ year-old kitchen, with its ugly molding, not-nice wooden cabinets and peeling tile floor.

Gone is the dishwasher whose replacement basket, (can you say rip-off?!) would have cost us $300. Gone is the chipped porcelain sink. Gone is the complete lack of a place to safely and cleanly stow garbage; we now have a slide-out bin with two containers.

We still await the installation of: counters, sink and faucet, outlets and the staining and finishing of the floor. And we got herringbone flooring, as my heart had fervently desired, a gift from the contractor who scored it for a fraction of the original price.

The crew of two, both Turkish, speak Turkish to one another and step onto the balcony to have a cigarette or make a phone call. They work crazy hard with no breaks. One, Mike, did our bathroom four years ago and it’s good to have someone I know, like and trust with me in my home all day.

I’m honored that Mike, whose career expertise is working with tile, (and these guys normally work on much larger and wealthier projects than ours), loved my tile choice. Yay!

The workmanship is terrific — the wooden drawers slide smoothly and stop slowly and firmly. When I noticed a 1/8th of an inch (probably less) difference in one, it was fixed within seconds. We could have saved some money by buying Ikea cabinets, but I wanted exactly what I wanted, and the smooth, solid, heavy wood, with dovetailed drawers, made to our exact specifications, feels good.

It’s helpful to actually be here now, as a few surprises showed up — like the installation of the wrong accent tile. The right tile arrived and is even prettier than I’d hoped.

It is both gratifying and terrifying to watch my design — even road-tested with 3D scale models — come into full color and shape. A lovely surprise? The insets which replace drawer handles reflect daylight from the nearby windows. So does the glossy, creamy tile, making the small, narrow room much brighter than before.

Here are some photos of it…the final blog post will be the Big Reveal.

20130923115030

You can see the herringbone floor; gray-green cabinets (which will not have exterior hardware); the stove; wall tile (yet ungrouted), and the space where the accent tile will go.

20130923115050

This is the cost of doing business…a corner of our living room filled with tools for the duration.

20130923115104

And there goes our balcony…needed as a place to cut tile. Mike did it there — in February! — last time.

20130923115132

With his permission, Mike…and the sink side of the kitchen.

20130923152252

There will be three of these Restoration Hardware sconces, each 10″ in diameter. An unpleasant surprise? The illustration on the RH website shows a lovely glow — but not the fact that the bulb protrudes and is visible.

20130922134641

Here’s my lovely husband making a silly face as he grills a week’s worth of meat on our balcony — with our table as a windbreak.

The kitchen renovation: Part Two

By Caitlin Kelly

It still hasn’t begun!

The apartment has been in chaos for weeks, as we excitedly (and too early) emptied all our cupboards in preparation for the work to begin. But because we live in a co-op apartment building, we have to submit a ream of paperwork and get it approved before any hammers can swing.

Here are the “before” photos, and a description of how we got to the decision to do this, and what we chose.

It will probably start next week, when we are (blessedly) far away from the noise and dust of demolition for a bit.

But I’ve already learned a few lessons useful to anyone considering a reno.

Each one ends in “ive”!

Proactive

Every single item that is going to be bought, re-used or replaced in your new room needs to be measured carefully and ordered, sometimes weeks or months in advance, so it’s right at hand when the workmen arrive and are now on a timeline.

English: Electric cables in old apartment building
English: Electric cables in old apartment building (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Insensitive

To mess! Our living room and hallway are now a staging area, full of boxes of our stuff and boxes of the new items yet to be installed. The place is going to be nuts for a while. Focus on how gorgeous it will be when it’s all done.

Attentive

Make a punch list of every single element going into the new room or space and what is needed to have it safely and legally installed. This includes: lighting, outlets, faucet, tile, counter-tops, flooring, appliances, paint, primer, grout, hardware, etc. With so many details, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and forget something along the way.

Keep checking in with your suppliers and contractor to make sure they, too, are on top of everything and have agreed — in writing — to your explicit wishes. If there are points of disagreement, you’ll need a paper trail.

Decisive

This is one of the most tiring pieces of committing to a renovation project, endless, daily, sometimes several times a day, decisions that must be made quickly  — and permanently. (Change orders are really expensive and your contractor may hate you for making them, or — worse — bail since s/he always has a list of other clients awaiting his crew’s attention as well. Make a plan and stick with it.)

After designing our kitchen’s entire color scheme around the cream enamel panel of the Italian stove we’d chosen that color was discontinued by the time we ordered it. Shriek! I had to suddenly decide what to do, (fine, stainless steel, boring), and not freak out or rethink all the other choices and start again from scratch.

I don’t have time to do all of this twice. Most of us don’t.

You have to decide on a budget and then make every decision to fit within it, (or exceed it, and decide how you’ll handle that additional cost.) It’s tiring! And since most of us have never studied design and rarely spend tens of thousands of dollars (even thousands) within a few weeks, it’s a lot to handle.

Assertive

If you really want something to happen a certain way, or want a very specific product or material, say so!

No one can, or wants to, read your mind and it’s up to you, (or the architect/designer you’ve hired), to be very clear and specific with your contractor about what you have in mind. Don’t hand-flap and sigh and walk away in frustration. Some things will fall through. There will be some surprises, and almost all of them add expense — yours!

I went through three contractors to find the one we’re now working with, for the second time. The first two seemed to take personal offense at my custom designs. It’s your home, your taste and your budget. Trust your contractor to offer smart and helpful options, but don’t be afraid to say no if it really isn’t what you want.

A stainless steel countertop
A stainless steel countertop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Responsive

This is the other half of being decisive. In the middle (!) of writing this post, my husband called to ask me to read yet another email and write yet another email to the contractor. Gah! Has to be done.

I’ve probably answered half a dozen emails, so far, from the contractor and I do so promptly. We’re all busy and all juggling multiple projects. You should also expect this from him/her as well.

Creative/Innovative

Very few of us have an unlimited budget or space or timeline for The Perfect Renovation. How can you work most creatively within your space and budget?

Our kitchen is really small, (eight feet long, galley kitchen, no outlet for a stove hood), and our pantry is literally a narrow, tiny closet. We may not buy a microwave, which some people would insist is a must. Not for us; I’ve never owned one so feel no compulsion to have one just because we’re getting a new kitchen. It’s just as cramped as it was before!

We also moved a china cabinet from one room to another and are changing its purpose — we’ll use it to hide ugly cans and bottles and supplies, while we transfer pretty plates, glasses and platters to our new open shelves.

We were also able to reduce the quote by offering to prime and paint our cabinets and walls and by bartering my husband’s photography skills for the contractor — who always needs professional images for his website. That alone saved us $2,000.

Obsessive

I feel like I’m now surgically attached to our measuring tapes! I know the height of the sconces, the height of the legs for the holders for our platters, the width of our shelves…

Expensive

Oh, yeah. Assume that whatever you’ve budgeted is an amusing-but-naive attempt. Unless (lucky you!) you are a multi-skilled DIYer (electrical and plumbing work? tiles?), you’ll be paying other people considerable coin to bring their skills into your home. Tiles, stone, flooring, lighting, cabinet handles…it all adds up.

Sighed our contractor: “Those TV design shows make me crazy! They never include the true costs of this stuff. I have to keep explaining this to clients every time.”

Agreed our saleswoman at our tile/stone vendor, “You know Houzz? Forget it! Clients come in here wanting exactly what they saw in a picture there, but a lot of it is custom work. They have no idea that how expensive it is.”

Any other tips you can offer?

Related articles

The Honey-Do List — Wait For Him Or Do It Yourself?

A picture shows a toolbox belonging to Lampre ...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Most men in a long-term relationship know the moment their sweetie really counts on them — when they’re handed (or asked, nicely, to consider) the honey-do list. For those who’ve yet to get or give one, it’s the list of household tasks summarily delegated to the man of the house.

Blogger Blaine Staat copped to his evasive maneuvers:

You see, the trick to dealing with the “Honey-Do” list is not to actually get things done, but to pretend that you’re getting things done. Let me show you what I mean.

Every Saturday morning when Catherine asks me what I’m going to be doing that day, I grab the “Honey-Do” list off the fridge, give it a very serious look, and say “I think I’m gonna try and knock some of these out.” What happens next depends on what she does.

If she stays around the house, I’ll make tracks outside and hang out somewhere for awhile, usually with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. After a few hours, I’ll spritz myself down with water to make it look like I’m sweating, cross off the first 5 or 6 things on the list, and then proudly show it to Catherine so she can see that I scribbled through some of the tasks. She’ll give me a big smile because she thinks I actually did something, at which point I’ll go upstairs and pretend I’m taking a shower while I rewrite the list in the bathroom and put the things that I had crossed off back on at the bottom of the new list. To her, it appears that I’m making headway, but since the list never actually gets any smaller she won’t add anything more to it.

And bada-boom, bada-bing, just like that I post it back on the fridge and I’m off the hook for another week.

Yet some women love their tools and toolboxes, their drill finger itching at the prospect of the next project or repair. This weekend I’m borrowing a cordless drill (mine has a cord but the garage has no outlet) to polish the grime and cloudiness off our car’s headlights. The living room window needs re-caulking and our balcony bench a fresh coat of paint.

As someone who enjoys working with her hands — away from the bloody computer keyboard! — I love having a list. The sweetie? Not so much. I can’t blame him, by the weekend weary from a crazy job and long commute, by which point the pleasures of the driving range or the golf channel look a lot more alluring than the honey-do list.

I’m not alone in my love for a good set of tools and the satisfaction that comes from using them —  more hardware stores are starting to cater to women. I was bowled over recently at my local Home Depot by the first female I’ve met in that world, Marilyn, a 50-something employee who was the best salesperson I’ve met in decades: smart, funny, super-knowledgable.

“I love hardware,” she told me.

I own my home so I want to take good care of it. While living alone, I designed and built bookshelves and a cornice and my partner and I have built three simple plywood flowerboxes (whose copper flashing feet are both decorative and functional) now heading into their fifth or sixth season. I can’t imagine a life without full toolboxes near at hand.

Barbara Kavovit, who markets tools made specially for women, carries a pile of them wherever she travels — airport security a perpetual challenge:

I love talking to seatmates. Inevitably, when I sit next to a woman in business class, I hear about how their husbands, boyfriends or partners have a list of projects to do around the house. To a one, they always say that the jobs never get done.

I always reply that they can do it themselves. I started my first business after hearing my mom and her friends complain about how many jobs needed to be done around the home and how their husbands were too lazy to do them.

Most of the jobs really aren’t that tough. It just takes some common sense and some good directions. One of the things I’ve always stressed is that women need to be prepared for life’s little emergencies. A good tool and good directions on how to use it can solve a lot of problems.

What’s on your list?

Who, really, will pick up the hammer/pliers/drill and get it done?