Monday, July 30, 2007

Finishing details -- kitchen cabinets, office, floors

It's been two weeks (or so) since my last post. It's been a hectic two weeks, and any free time I've had has been spent watching the Tour de France (there is only one, you know), and getting over being depressed about my favorite riders getting booted out of the tour. Oh, and also with reading the latest Harry Potter book. But lots has been happening on the house in the meantime, so I'll catch you up to date.

The kitchen cabinets (phase 1) are done. The cabinet installer came back for two more days to install the shelves in the buffet area and to finish installing the remainder of the cabinets. As there were several pieces damaged or were the incorrect size (mostly trim pieces/filler, but also one shelf and the end pull-out pantry unit), he will have to come back to install those once the store figures out how they're going to fix them. The store is trying to repair the shelf, but I'm not sure what they're doing about the rest of the pieces. The pantry will be delivered in October most likely. It's not ideal, but really, at this point what can we do? Of all the pieces to be damaged, it was probably the easiest to deal with after the fact (although I'm not sure my contractor would agree, since he now has to delay putting some of the baseboard on until that unit arrives).

The new ovens and dishwasher are in, and I can't wait to start using them! The hood has also been installed, and the fabricators have come to measure for the counters. So we are getting close to being done.

I ordered some Blum plate organizers for the drawers, but it turns out that the drawers I was planning to put them in have drawers within them (there is a drawer within the drawer), so the plate organizers are too tall to be used in those drawers. I'll have to figure out a plan B. I guess the plates can just stand on their own without being set inside a plate organizer. It's going to be odd to get used to having plates in drawers, but I think it's an idea that makes sense.

Overall, I'm very happy with the way phase 1 of the cabinets came out. (The process was still waaaaaay too stressful, but now that it's over, I'm starting to forget!) Our cabinet guy is in the process of finishing the small part of the kitchen that will have custom cabinets -- some shelves over the sink/in the corner near the sink, and some hanging shelves in between the kitchen/living room, plus the banquette where our upholstered seat will perch.

Downstairs, all the doors and door hardware is in. The carpet guys came on Friday to put down tack strip, and we should get the downstairs carpeting some time this week. Unfortunately, they apparently missed one of the closets in their measurements (how can that be, I ask ya), so I'm waiting for the bad news that it's going to cost more money.

The downstairs bathroom got a sink today and a countertop. We used the same material as we're using in the kitchen -- Caesarstone in the color Pebble (as you might guess, it's a bit gray). I had to switch from Cement (which I'd seen... or was it Concrete?) to Pebble because cement was discontinued. I decided to stick with shiny rather than going for honed, just to save money and the hassle of maintenance. But quite honestly, now that it's in, I'm not sure I like the color choice too much. It's too gray and too even -- I thought there would be a bit more variability in it, but there's not. I'm sure that after I get used to it it will be fine though... I really like the tile I chose, and the vanity looks very nice. The only thing left in that room is to pick out drawer pulls. That should take me several weeks to do...

Upstairs, the hardwood floor guys were here today working on finishing the floor, which has been in for several weeks now. It's acclimated by now, I'm sure. The stone is exposed again (and here I was starting to get used to that paper look!), and I think they're putting the sealer on it now.

The biggest thing that happened today was that they put the fireplace front on. When I first got home I thought "ooh, cool, they've prepped the wall for the quartzite slabs!" but in fact, they had put the quartzite slabs on. The quartzite was honed, and it's so even that it looks like concrete. I was expecting that there would be a bit more variation in the stone, so I must admit to be a bit disappointed. There is not much we can do about it though, as what we have is what we're going to keep -- it's way too expensive to do over. And it's not that it looks bad or anything; actually, I suppose it looks nice. It just doesn't look like I expected it to look. It's way grayer than I expected, and now I fear that it's too close to the color of the countertops in the kitchen and the whole thing may not play together well. It's a good thing we have a lot of colorful art though! I just feel a little silly for paying for stone that looks so much like concrete. I suspect that concrete would have been cheaper.

The office is done, except for the electrical. The office carpeting is in (Interface/Flor carpet tiles), and I think they turned out really nice. I'm thinking maybe we'll use the floor tiles in the other upstairs bedroom -- it would look nice and it might be a relatively easy way to upgrade the flooring in that room (rather than replacing the oak hardwood floor that's there now). But that's later. Much later.

They've been working on the front doors a lot, putting the hinges on, sanding the doors, getting them ready to install. I saw the doors standing up in the light, and I think the broken glass is going to look spectacular in the door -- the sunlight glints off of it in interesting ways. So I can't wait until they've got them installed.

My replaced Artimede Ventana lights with the Lutron ballasts arrived a couple of days ago. So that's the last of the lights! I tried to find bulbs for all these lights, but they're not all so easy to find. Most of the lights take compact flourescents, and they have to be a specific color temperature. I tried getting them locally, but it turned out not to be so easy; no one had them in stock, and I can probably get them cheaper off the web (from!) than getting them locally, so that's what I did. I'm waiting for a few more bulbs to arrive, and then we'll be all set. Hopefully, the electrician is coming tomorrow to start installing the lights/finishing all the fixtures, because that's one of the big pieces we have yet to do.

Overall I'm very happy with the way things are shaping up, but I am disappointed in how a few things have turned out. It's difficult to see how everything is going to play together from little 3x4 samples of materials. Part of the problem with remodeling is that you visualize how it's going to look from these small samples of materials, and in some case, your vision is realized; in others, not. I recognize that some of the disappointment is not that it necessarily looks bad (and I guess it's up to each person to pass judgment) -- it just didn't turn out how I expected it to, so I have to adjust my thinking. In our last remodel, which I have a very hazy recollection of, I think I went through similar feelings, but I really do like how our master bedroom/bath turned out. So I think a lot of this is just normal. Although I will say that it's really important to go see materials in real life before choosing them; things can look a certain way in pictures, but they may turn out differently in reality.

I would say that so far, I love the way the overall floorplan of the house turned out, I love the new deck, the downstairs bathroom tile, the ceiling and the steel beams, the stairs, the windows, the office floor, and the kitchen cabinets. I think I'm going to love the front door when it's in and the hardwood floor when it's finished. The door hardware is very nice. I really like the downstairs shelves a lot. I think I have to get used to the way the stonework came out, but I'm sure I'll like it more after there's a bit more color in the room.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Kitchen cabinets are almost in!

Chris, the installer, and his assistant worked all weekend to get the cabinets to a state where the stone guy can measure for the counters. They did an amazing amount of work in such a short time. The lowers are mostly in, and the floor-to-ceiling pantry units are in. Unfortunately, a couple of pieces got damaged, including one of the thick shelves being used in the buffet, and the pull-out pantry end unit. The fridge door panels also were not the right size (too thick), so they will need to replace those as well. But all in all, most of the cabinets fit pretty well!

Our contractor was over on Saturday, and we had to get into such fine details as whether the counters should be flush with the cabinets or should overhang (the idea being with an overhang, drips might miss the cabinet faces). In our experience with our old cabinets, where the counter overhung the cabinets, it didn't make a difference, and with the recessed pulls on these cabinets, I decided to go with what I thought was a nicer look -- the flush detail. All these little life-or-death details are enough to drive a person mad! Fortunately, they're nearing an end (I hope!).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Welcome kitchen cabinets!

The kitchen cabinets arrived this morning to great fanfare (by me)! Three guys brought them in 57 boxes (!). They had to be officially received and checked in by the salesperson from Arkitektura. She had to inspect any with boxes that were damaged, and make sure that everything was all in good shape (in fact, two of the pieces were damaged -- one drawer unit, for which the damage will not be visible and probably can be used as is, and the pull-out pantry, which will need to be replaced).
The boxes are all piled up in the great room waiting to be opened and installed. The installer will come tomorrow to start the installation. Pretty exciting!

On other fronts, the bathroom downstairs is done save for the plumbing and electrical fixtures (oh, and the door). The deck outside is repaired. The floor in the laundry room is finished, and the painters are almost done. Every day it looks more and more like a real house!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The best hot shower ever!

I just had the best hot shower I've had since well.. back last August. (No disrespect to other hot showers intended.) I never really thought I'd miss good plumbing or a hot shower so much. I missed everything about our shower: the evenness and strength of the spray, the temperature of the water (nice and hot), the smooth and certain action of the Dornbracht faucets, being able to take a long shower, and above all, the heated towels at the end. The heated towel rack is one extravagance we put in our master bathroom that was completely and totally worth it.

If I were to rate showers over the past 11 months, really, our shower comes up #1. Head and shoulders above the rest. Looking down the line, I'd say that Kurt's folks' shower is a distant second: slightly low flow head, water not hot enough, but the plumbing is very solid, and the bathroom comfy. Third place is a tough choice. The hotel in Prague could have been third. Really, it should have been second. But the tendency of the shower head not to stay in place and to spray all over the bathroom knocked it down several notches. Third place had to be the Palo Alto Central condo. It wasn't pretty, but the showerhead was quite effective. Living in a big building also means that you never run out of hot water. Fifth is, of course, the scraper. The hot water lasted for five minutes (if that), and the bathtub filled up with dirty water since the drain didn't work so well.

I am just so glad to be home, especially now that our hot water is back!

We're in hot water!

PG & E came bright and early this morning and put our gas meter back! We now have hot water again!! (I'm sure everyone at work is breathing a sigh of relief!)

Lots of progress on the house over the past couple of days. When they do the finishing details, at some point things start going quickly (or seemingly so). The tile in the downstairs bathroom is in. I had to pick out grout color this evening (when will these decisions stop?). The hardwood floor is completely in, and they've installed the mantelpiece and the stainless supports for the kitchen (bar) counter. The carpet tiles for the upstairs office have been delivered, and I suspect they'll be installed soon.

The kitchen cabinets are continuing to be the most challenging part of the remodel. I was so excited that they had finally arrived, but it's apparently just not that easy. The installer and someone from the store have to be here to "receive" the delivery of the 56 boxes in which the cabinets will be delivered, presumably to make sure that all the pieces are delivered. But perhaps there is some special handling or fanfare that comes with the kitchen cabinets, and I'm just not seeing it. As a result, trying to coordinate between the kitchen salesperson, the installer, and the delivery people is a nightmare. And here I thought that it would be simple, since we have contractors here all day every day. Nope, that would be just too easy, and of course, you wouldn't appreciate the cabinets as much if it were that easy! Originally, we had scheduled delivery for tomorrow, but then the folks from the store couldn't make it that day. So they tried to reschedule for Thursday, but that wasn't going to work for the delivery people. So the store tried to reschedule for next Tuesday, at which point I had a conniption fit, since the cabinets are the gating factor for us finishing this project, and every day of delay costs us more money. So I think we've worked out a compromise and the cabinets will be delivered on Friday, and the installer will start work on Saturday. Because there is a tremendous amount of coordination to be done with the other trades, every time the delivery date changes, we have to reschedule the tile guys, the hardwood guys and the electrician. It's very very annoying! I do hope that I get firm confirmation tomorrow that the cabinets will truly be here on Friday.

Well, after that rant, I think I'm going to go take a shower now :)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Finishing details -- floor and deck

The hardwood floor is coming along very quickly. At the rate they're going, the floor should be in by tomorrow or Monday. They took down the outside scaffolding -- a major milestone, since it means the exterior painting is done, at least on the new part of the house.

The tile downstairs is also coming along; they finished another wall (one more wall to go). The gray Xilo tile arrived, so they should be able to put in the floor soon.

And they finished the upstairs deck, so we have a place to hang out (as long as we promise not to fall off, since there are no rails yet).

We have a bunch of floor tile left over from the kitchen/entryway; it might be enough to use for the laundry room, so we'll see if we can use the same material there.

It's just great to see such amazing progress! The kitchen cabinets will be delivered to the house mid next week, and then hopefully the installer can start installing on the weekend.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


Yes, this title merits all caps. The kitchen cabinets are here! They've arrived at the warehouse -- 56 boxes in all -- and they are awaiting delivery at our house. I had to scramble to get final payment to them, as they would only accept a check or a wire transfer. The latter proved to be too complicated to do, so I gave a check to one of my friends at work, and he kindly dropped it off on his way home to the city. Turns out he lives a few blocks from the store, so it was quite a stroke of luck! (Plus, I saved the wire transfer fee -- a savings which might be enough to buy me a silverware organizer for one of the drawers!)

Now the trick is going to be to get them installed. We have to wait until they finish installing the hardwood floors, which they started on today. Based on how far they've gotten, they should be done by Tuesday, I think. So I'll schedule the cabinets for arrival on Wednesday. The hardwood guys will cover up the hardwood with paper so that they won't be exposed to light (since the wood is light sensitive). And then all the cabinet boxes can go in the great room while they're waiting to be installed. (At this point, I think we've built the world's biggest store room!)

The installer is quite busy, as the cabinet arrival dates are about as predictable as airline arrival times these days. He's really the only installer for these particular cabinets, as near as I can tell. Because they're modular and put together with a gazillion pieces, you really want to use an installer who has installed the cabinets before. But he has been very accommodating and is going to try to fit us in around other jobs so that we don't wait another three weeks for the install. The cabinets have to be installed before we can get the kitchen counters fabricated, so it's really important we don't incur any additional delays on the cabinets.

The curse of the bathroom tile

It's truly the case of you're damned if you do, damned if you don't. If you wait to pick something out until close to when you need it, you'll find that it will cost more than you think or might have too long of a lead time. If you pick something out way in advance, you'll find that you're quite wedded to it, and when they can't get it when you're ready to use it, it's difficult to detach yourself from your earlier choice.

The glass tile that I had painstakingly picked out a year ago, only to find out two months ago that it was out of stock, finally arrived on Tuesday. Perfection! The floor tile, which I had also picked out a year ago, and matched to the glass tile, was also sitting downstairs, waiting for the install. The only problem was, it was the wrong color! Argggh! Fortunately, a couple of calls between our foreman and the tile guy set it right, and they're going to have the tile in the correct color on hand either tomorrow or Tuesday. Hopefully from here on in it will be smooth sailing.

They started installing the glass tile in the shower, and it looks mighty nice!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Cooking with gas, almost!

I may have mentioned that last Friday we got our final gas inspection. The city inspector took pity on us, and had consented to give us a temporary occupancy permit so we could move back into (and protect) our house. We didn't get it on Friday afternoon because there wasn't enough time.

Just before lunch today, Kurt and I went down to the city to get our gas release. We figured we didn't want to rush the inspector. As I walked into the office, there was a gal with her two young kids, accompanied by her contractor, talking to the inspector. It brought on a strange sense of deja vu from last year:

"You know, we'll need to pull your utilities before we can give you a permit."

"But we're planning to live in the house during the remodel. "

"Ma'am, I know you were planning to live in your house during the remodel, but with the second-story addition you're planning, it's just not safe."

"But we planned the whole remodel around having a section we can live in. We don't want to change schools, and we can't possibly find or afford to rent a place during this time. "

Ad infinitum. Eventually, they worked something out so there is a possibility that they can live there if they can get a structural engineer's signoff. But it had such a strong sense of deja vu to where we were almost a year ago. I just sat there and listened quietly until they were done.

When it was my turn, he had the TCO all ready for me to sign. We have until August 27th to final our project or else they'll turn off the gas. We also got our gas release, which, after faxing it to two different PG&E places (because of conflicting instructions from PG&E), and four phone calls to PG&E, we got an appointment to have our gas turned on next Tuesday, July 10th. Woo-hoo! I tried to get an earlier appointment, but it just wasn't possible. I think we can find alternate showering arrangements until then.