• The Last Lap Crash

    Posted by Steve on Thu, 08/31/2006 - 11:40am

    Most people will experience a major home renovation only once in their lives. This is my third one and I think I've discovered a thus far unreported affliction which I call Home Stretch Complacency. Let's give it an acronym so it sounds official: HSC.

    HSC doesn't appear to be a unique defect in my genetic makeup. I know several tyromaniacs like me who have suffered and are suffering from this dibilitating condition. The symptoms of HSC are, after spending years on a difficult and time-consuming renovation project, crashing on the last lap. That final room doesn't get done, the trim doesn't go up, the primer doesn't get painted. You sink into lethargy and just live with it.

    Some people crash earlier; some only a few feet away from the finish line. One of the early warning signs of HSC seems to be Normphobia: a sudden avoidance of TV home improvement shows. Perhaps it's a mutation of the diY-chromosome but we won't know for certain until more research is done. Maybe we need a telethon.

    In my last reno, a large downtown loft, I spent three years building out a former paper bag factory to a residence with a big commercial recording studio. Fifteen years after I took a "break" from the construction the walls still had no baseboards, most were still covered in primer, some didn't even have that. I'd framed walls, hung 150 sheets of drywall and fifteen doors, sanded and refinished 3000sf of floor, built a kitchen and a raised bathroom, and completely wired and plumbed the space. But I couldn't muster the energy to even hang the pictures. That's HSC, my friends.

    So here I am once again, facing my final major project in this renovation: the gutting and rehab of the master bedroom and upstairs hall when, out of the blue, HSC strikes. Five years ago I was really looking forward to this particular reno not just because it would be the end of the ordeal but because it was also going to be the piece d' resistance: lots of woodworking, wainscotting, cabinetry and homebrew stained glass.

    I had planned to get started on it last December. Since then, I've almost managed to get a materials list together. Almost. It's not as though I haven't had the time either. After all, I work from home.

    So now I'm thinking of ways to psych myself up. Maybe I need to buy myself a cool new tool that I'll want to use. Maybe a new bandsaw or a lathe. Yeah... a bandsaw! Then I can resaw my own hardwood.

    Or maybe I should just spend less time on this computer.

  • The Plan

    Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/01/2006 - 9:35pm

    So I psyched myself up and put down the plastic for the next and final major renovation project here: the master bedroom and hallway.

    The way I figured it, if I had a pile of lumber in the shop I'd want to do something with it. I didn't spare much expense in this project although I'm not completely irresponsible with my money. For instance, I'll be using red oak plywood in much of the window and doorway trim rather than solid oak. That alone will save me several hundred bucks. And while an engineered floor is actually more expensive to purchase than a 3/4" raw hardwood floor, it's cheaper to install and maintain while also providing a more durable finish against doggie nails, or so the sales literature says anyway. I made another cut from the original wish list: a day kitchen. The bedroom is actually perfectly located to install one but I couldn't justify the expense or the real estate it would take. I'll settle for a beer fridge.

    As always, I'll keep a running photo diary of the project. But here's an overview of the job:
    • Demolition of all the trim in the master bedroom
    • Rewire bedroom to a pair of new breakers
    • Move the large steam radiator on the inside west wall to two smaller radiators hidden in cabinets under the bay window.
    • Extensive plaster renovation + skim coating
    • Construct a 5' high bump-out against the west wall for utilities - finish with red oak rail&stile paneling, capped with red oak shelf
    • Construct new 8' x 4' closet with overhead cabinets for dead storage
    • Strip and refinish existing closet door
    • Strip and refinish the existing baseboard trim I want to salvage (because I don't want to have to build curved baseboards!)
    • The room currently has two entrance doors because it used to be two bedrooms. The south facing door will be converted to a pivoting stained glass panel over a knee wall. The east facing entrance will get a renovated solid oak door.
    • Rough up and level existing floor
    • Install Mannington engineered plank floor, staple-down, Asheville Oak style, in bedroom and hallway
    • Rebuild bay window with fresh lumber + two aforementioned radiator cabinets + one raised panel center cabinet, insulate
    • Reframe anteroom entrance
    • Build pedestals for and install two seven-foot renovated wood columns on either side of anteroom entrance
    • Build pair of 28" closet doors (red oak, style TBD)
    • Finish closet interior with cedar paneling
    • Rebuild anteroom window trim
    • Install custom 8" baseboards to match existing ones
    • Move existing upstairs security system panel from hallway to bedroom
    • Install baseboard and door trim + crown mouldings on six hallway doors + three bedroom doors
    • Construct custom cabinet for bedroom media system
    • Paint, curtains, etc.
    Mannington floor order: $1500 (hoskinghardwood.com)

    Master bedroom and hallway lumber order (awaiting quote from Dykes)

    Red oak plywood3/4" x 4 x 85
    1/2" x 4 x 85
    Doug fir studs2 x 3 x 1030
    Red oak lumber1/2" x 4 x 106
    1/2" x 6 x 144
    1 x 4 x 104
    1 x 6 x 101
    1 x 8 x 86
    1 x 8 x 141
    1 x 2 x 810
    5/4" x 4 x 61
    Casing #60510'10
    Crown #5318'9
    Baseboard cap moulding (red oak) #4358'6
    3/4" quarter round (red oak)8'6

    There's a lot of detail work here and the holiday season is less than three months away so I'm shooting for an estimated completion date of Feb 15, 2007. This could, and probably will, change based on work demands. If it's done by the beginning of next spring I'll be happy. Surprised, actually.

    This picture was taken on inspection day, in April 1998. About the only thing I've done to this room since is knock down that wall on the right to expand the room and sand the floors. Oh, and add split unit AC. So this will give you a good idea of the starting point.

  • Phase 7: The Wrath of Details

    Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/08/2006 - 11:36am

    Today officially begins the scheduled start of the next major phase of the renovation at Brooklyn Row House: the rebuilding of the master bedroom and upstairs hallway. It started like most of my scheduled projects. In other words, it didn't.

    Dykes Lumber, which was given instructions to call me before delivery, arrived yesterday when I must have been out walking the grovelers. Granted, it's a contractor size order but, sheesh, even GC crews take lunch breaks, guys. They didn't call to confirm that they were even delivering yesterday so I could at least hang a note. For that matter, I still don't know what the charge is, although I'm figuring in the $2500 range.

    The delivery was rescheduled for Monday which isn't much of a setback because my weekend is shot anyway.

    Speak of the devil, the flooring just arrived from Hosking Hardwood: thirteen cartons of Mannington engineered flooring and accessories.

    I used Mannington flooring in my office and guest room renovations and the jury's still out with it. I'm already seeing some scratch marks from the dogs' claws. I probably won't be ready to lay the floor until around Thanksgiving at this rate. Before then I have to make some serious progress on building a new referral management system for Children's Health Fund. At least the flooring will be well acclimated to the house by then.

    Referring back to an article I wrote last week, Last Lap Crash, I guess I was successful at psyching myself up for this next phase of the renovation. For the past three days I've been running around the house taking care of unfinished business. Yesterday I bought a bunch of drawer and cabinet pulls from The Great Indoors and finally finished off the kitchen, five years after I started it.

    Also just arrived: the Insteon devices to replace the four X10 modules that must have been fried when my stove's computer blew out last week. X10 hardware is notoriously sensitive to anomalies like spikes in the household powerline. I wrote a series of articles about the good and bad of X10 in a home automation with X10 Drupal book here.

    Anyway, as the legacy X10 devices blow out I'm gradually upgrading the house to Insteon, which seem to be better quality than the Leviton X10 stuff. It also works primarily wirelessly so it's less susceptible to powerline issues.

    2PM Update: Dykes called and said they're sending the order over now. Next order: two small cast iron radiators and plumbing to get rid of the current eyesore and to move the heat into the soon-to-be-built cabinets under the windows. Following demolition early next week, that's the first job.

    4PM Update:: My shop is now so full of hardwood and hardwood ply that I'm first gonna have to figure out where to put it all before I can can start building the cabinets.

    I also got the final bill: $2737. I was pretty close.

  • Phase 7: Plan A, Step One

    Posted by Steve on Fri, 09/08/2006 - 10:31pm

    Here's what I have planned for next week's start of the master bedroom renovation.

    Tomorrow evening, I have to move myself into the guest room. I also need to take an updated picture of that room.

    It just occurred to me that a lot of things in that room were gifts: the sofa bed (Karen), the macrame curtains (Betsy), the side table and the large, mirrored O'Connell-Flynn whiskey sign too. I even have a couple of wall hangings given to me by magician, Doug Henning, back when we worked together on The Magic Show.

    Anyway, I really hope that sofabed is comfortable because I'll be sleeping on it till next spring.

    Monday morning, demolition starts. All of the woodwork, except the curved base mouldings, are going. I don't want to have to replicate those! They'll be stripped and I'll replicate the rest of the base mouldings from its profile in my shop.

    All the old aluminum BX is also going, if only because the floor outlets are cut into the base mouldings. I prefer an 18" high outlet anyway.

    While that trim may be nice old oak it's covered in a hundred years of paint and much of it has split and splintered. Besides, experience with this house tells me that I could spend three days stripping the windows only to find an ugly piece of poplar hiding in the most visible section.

    Research into this neighborhood has taught me that these houses are actually a cookie cutter style peculiar to several south Brooklyn neighborhoods. In all likelyhood, they're the product of a large construction company and were designed to be somewhat flexible with interior appointments, all of which I figure were made in their own millwork shop.

    While half the houses on this block look exactly the same on the outside (pre-garage era, that is) their original interiors range from elaborate to spartan. I figure that my house was probably "budget line": paint-grade mouldings, no parquet floors on the second story, no gingerbread, utility basement.

    However, a few blocks away you'll see another block of houses that look exacltly like these except they'll have a cement stairs instead of brownstone like mine. A few blocks beyond that there will be another strip of these houses except they'll have a brownstone stoop and a carved brownstone balustrade with lion's heads. But I digress.

    Anyway, all of this demolition debris has to be reduced to haulable bundles for Wednesday morning's garbage collection. One perk of living in NYC is that the Dept of Sanitation collects everything except hazardous waste. They're also pretty good about picking up occasional large piles of stuff, although it probably helps that several of my neighbors are with DoS.

    Demolition is one of my least favorite jobs, especially on a house this old where there's a century's worth of funky soot, dead mold and who knows what lurking inside. And I mean piles of it laying on top of headers. Fortunately, the house is uninsulated so I don't have to worry about asbestos.

    By next weekend I should be ready to frame out the window base cabinets for the new radiators as well as frame the new closet and the bump-out on the bed wall. Dykes sent me some nice, kiln-dried doug fir for this, not the green twisto-matics you get at the Borg stores. It's practically impossible to get a flat wall with damp 2-by framing and especially problematic if the wall has door openings. I've seen rough openings expand or contract by as much as a 3/4" with poorly seasoned framing lumber.

    Pix to follow.


  • Phase 7: Plan B

    Posted by Steve on Wed, 09/13/2006 - 12:30pm

    The animals aren't particularly happy about my relocation to the smaller guest bedroom. The cats seem determined to remain in the master bedroom demolition site regardless. But at least the fold-out sofa's pretty comfortable.

    I began ripping out the funky old woodwork today which is when Plan B started to take shape in my head. No matter how much time I put into planning, drawings and so forth it's not until I actually start the project that the ideas start coming.

    So here's Plan B: the first project will be a new walk-in closet in the master bedroom's alcove, which used to be another (tiny) bedroom. It will be a six foot expansion of an existing closet in that room. The reason I want to do this now is to get rid of the pile of 2x3s, plywood and drywall that's making my shop unnavigable at the moment. I'm gonna need lots of shop floor space to build the cabinets.

    Let me see if I can explain this because I'm graphically challenged.

    I'll build a new wall parallel to the back wall coming forward to the inside edge of the current closet's right hand side. The header and wall above the existing closet will be removed. This new wall will cut back to the existing rear wall about 42" from the window on the left. That will give me a closet with around 24 s/f of area, not including cabinets above it for dead storage. There will be an opposing pair of standard doors in this new closet, with probably two pairs of cabinet doors above. I may construct those doors myself depending on how sick I am of this project about four months from now.

    To the left of the new closet will be a built-in: four large drawers with cabinets above, in red oak. It will be set back from the window on the left, about 16" back from the front of the new closet.

    Visualizing this however, there's a problem. It's a small room and lots of right angles in a small space like this would look, well, like somebody glued a big box to the wall. So here's the plan.

    The left corner of the new closet (where it cuts back to the rear wall) will be radiused -- I'm thinking about a 10 inch radius. Just enough to eliminate a sharp edge but not so much that it looks like it was built in the early 1970s. This will take the focus off the "edginess" of that corner and also pick up the two radiused corners in the main bedroom.

    So how to do this? Back in my scuffling musician days I used to work with a master carpenter who was a curved wall freak. We used to call him Mr. Natural. His loft was full of curved surfaces. The main hallway almost made you seasick. But he taught me how to frame and soak drywall to create the sinuous, organic wall systems he liked.

    The problem is that this will be a sharp radius. Half-inch drywall can be radiused to a maximum of ten feet, or about 10 times larger than I want. Quarter-inch drywall can be radiused down to about seven feet. Still way too much.

    One option is to soak the drywall. Back in the olden days, we used a shallow 5x9 tub. We would stack a few sheets of drywall in the tub with spacers between them then drown the drywall in warm water for about 15-45 minutes. This would soften the paper and the gypsum core so it was very flexible. We used canvas straps to lift each piece out of the tub, which took four guys to do because the wet drywall was so heavy and fragile.

    Using this approach I might be able to get 1/4" drywall down to a 16" radius. But there's better way. I just have to find a source for it. Its called High Flex drywall. With this stuff, you can easily bend a two foot radius, dry, or as small as 10 inches, wet.

    My next task after posting this is finding a place that carries it. The Borg stores almost certainly won't.

    Update: I've been unable to find flexible drywall in Brooklyn except by special order, and I don't need a skid of this stuff. However, Karen says she knows a place in Long Island that's got it.