Thursday, January 31, 2008

    After: bathroom

    Next to the kitchen, the bathroom got the most in the way of a facelift. It doesn't look like much, but this one is about twice the size of our last bathroom, which was comically small.



    The toilet, sink and cabinet are all new. Again, that's the slate tile with sealer/enhancer on the floor. The color is what I would call ice blue, but Benjamin Moore calls it "Whispering Spring." The mirror is from Lowe's or Home Depot, the light fixture from Galaxy Lighting in South Salt Lake and was about the only one that we found for not a lot of money but with adjustable wiring for our nutty off-center junction box. It's still a pretty tight space, so we didn't have a lot of leeway in terms of the layout (I was standing in the tub to take the picture above).

    There's still a gap to the left of the sink cabinet because the wall wasn't square (imagine!). That gap may be permanent, because I'm out of ideas for filling it in.

    Wednesday, January 30, 2008

    After: living room

    The living room got the usual treatment: floor, paint, trim, etc. As with the rest of the house, the "before" smell was "cat."



    The paint is Benjamin Moore Aura "Orange Parrot" and took three coats for full coverage. The window covering is the same system we have in the kitchen (where I would recommend it for the narrower width), but I'm not too pleased with it in the living room — the window's width is too large for the sliding tracks. The hanging panels already look worn and stretched out, which especially bums me out because I an entire night fiddling with those things.

    It is so, so apparent that we have way too much furniture for this place. Otherwise, the flooring runs the direction it does because of a bowing, rolling, rollicking subfloor that we didn't have the heart or the need to correct in the non-tiled rooms.

    That is the book case (the other side of the large kitchen cabinet and former walk-through), and this is why it's not finished yet:

    The bookcase isn't attached to anything as of yet, and we're hoping to add some finishing pieces that hide the gaps between the case and the wall. I have to work pretty much every Saturday in February, so I'm hoping the remodeling elf known as Tai gets around to this tedious task one of those days.

    The other major task left in the living room is the question of the fireplace facade.

    One of our friends said she didn't mention it during a recent visit because she wasn't sure if it was a new type of art installation. Yes, we call it "Stumped/Stalled/Lazy." We currently are using our TV cart to hide the artwork.

    Tuesday, January 29, 2008

    After: kitchen

    The kitchen changed the most, and required the most work. (Demolition pictures here, subfloor here and here, tile here, and cabinets here.)


    The kitchen was divided in half by the peninsula in the photo above. The oak cabinets were nothing exciting, and the appliances were serviceable but ugly.

    The parquet flooring was a mess. It bowed, waved, rolled and curled because it was rotten underneath.


    You've heard quite a bit about our grief with the floor. We used the same slate tile for the kitchen that we used in the entryway (and bathroom), and finished it with the enhancer that considerably darkened the color.

    Cabinets are Ikea, naturally. Cabinet handles, backsplash system and shelves also are Ikea. The backsplash is composed of 3"x6" subway tile with regular white grout that Tai completed overnight two nights in a row (multiple gold stars for him).

    We replaced both lights, adding a track in the work area and a basic Ikea fixture closer to our dining table.

    We closed off the walk-through from the living room to the kitchen in the name of claiming a bit of useable space. We added a massive cabinet to the kitchen side of the new wall (with a bookcase on the living room side).

    Still to come: this mess. This is the washer-dryer cubby hole that needs a plumber's soft touch before we can finish up. Right now it's holding our leftover paint cans, the tile for the cubby floor, some drywall and Miscellaneous Crap We Have Not Cleaned Up.

    (We have an appointment with a plumber Thursday.)

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    After: entryway

    We're going to spread this out over a couple of days. So, here's the "after" picture of the entryway:

    I don't have a good "before" picture for the entryway. We didn't take one, evidently. Try to imagine this little alcove with nasty, forest-green carpet (so...take the color off the wall and put it on the floor), dingy paint, a nondescript light fixture, brown doors and the smell of cat.

    The color on the walls is Benjamin Moore Aura "Peppermint Leaf" green from the BM store in Salt Lake. The tile is a basic gray slate from Contempo Tile in South Salt Lake, and we darkened the color to the near-black you see with a sealer/enhancer, which you can find at any tile place or home improvement store. The console table is from West Elm and is officially the last piece of furniture that we can purchase while we live here — we're packed to the gills in this smaller place. The mirror is one that Tai bought several years ago for his condo that predates the original SLC202 (and thus also predates me).

    The skis are...temporary. We have a ways to go before shoveling out that entryway closet, which is where we eventually hope to store the skis and ski boots. For the meantime, this makes us seem much more hard-core than we truly are.

    We wanted to make a splash with the first room that people see. That's why we chose the bright green paint and the wall mirror. Now, if only it would stop snowing so that we stop tracking footprints all over the floor!

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    We don't deserve your pity

    It's hard to feel too sad about a week in Cabo San Lucas when this was the scene this morning in Salt Lake City:

    posted from

    Sunday, January 20, 2008

    Slacking again

    This post obviously doesn't contain any "after" pictures, neither does it have any details about how we're planning to put a face on the fireplace, or finish the living room, built-in book case.

    Instead, we thought we'd let you know that we'll be on vacation this week. I will promise all sorts of goodies once we get back, though. Including — regardless of plumber/plumberless status — actual "after" pictures of our condo.

    We'll say "hi" to Baja for you, in the meantime.

    Thursday, January 17, 2008


    This is the sort of thing that makes a woman wish she had a $2 million salary for a job in L.A. (Registration for The New York Times is sometimes required.)

    I particularly love that the development is built around a courtyard.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008

    Haiku in honor of L'element

    Traditional (5-7-5)

    You were the greatest
    investment we didn't know
    we needed to make

    We could not believe
    Ikea cab'nets fit so
    well, until we saw.


    To the bamboo floor
    you huffed, "eh, bring it on,"
    but your tires rode low.

    Free form

    Your clean lines evoke minimalism,
    but so many people shirk
    from your boxiness.

    You were cheap and easy —
    the only cheap and easy thing
    about this remodel.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Hey big talker

    I've been doing some reading about home LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. (Link is here — scroll down to "LEED for homes pilot version 1.11a and download the .pdf if you've got the stamina for 184 pages.)

    Quick recap: LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a qualification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to encourage energy-efficient, responsible development. Requirements for the certification run through everything from site selection for your project (is it near transit? is it near a grocery store?) to energy star heating systems to climate-appropriate landscaping to grey water recycling, and so on. For our dear Utah readers, the majority of LEED projects — if not all — in the state have been commercial, governmental or multi-family dwellings. Single-family LEED homes in Utah seem to be rare, if not entirely nonexistent.

    From what I can tell, the USGBC has made no provisions for individual home owners/builders to obtain their own LEED certification. Their requirements seem to point to a system of builders in a few states and regions who have jumped through USGBC hoops in order to qualify as LEED builders. I saw no opportunity in their documents for people like us (lowly potential owner-builders) to take ourselves through the LEED process. This is how they put it: "Currently, the pilot LEED for Homes initiative is open to participation by builders in locations served by our 12 pilot LEED for Homes Providers. Home builders outside of these 12 service areas may contact their nearest LEED for Homes Provider to discuss participation in LEED for Homes. In the short-term, not every home builder will have local access to a Provider. However, in the coming year, USGBC plans to establish 10-20 new Providers in new markets."

    That's a crying shame.

    Innovation generally comes from a few individuals who decide to do something different. If the USGBC is truly concerned about spreading LEED certification (and it seems the council is – one of the components for becoming LEED certified is education about the process) then it needs to open up the process drastically. Why would the council allow only certain builders in certain areas to apply for LEED certification? Additionally, why would this system discriminate against owners-builders (cough, cough: us, *we hope*) who aren't going to look to an established builder for help with a home. We hope to use a family member as our general contractor, not Ivory Homes (shudder) or like ilk.

    I like just about everything else I read about LEED home certification. But really, USGBC, really?!? I'm disappointed in you, and this is my disappointed face:

    Wednesday, January 9, 2008

    And Next

    Now that we are mostly done with the condo and living in it, that means I get to forget about it and move on to other things. That being the case, I have been doodling around with some thoughts for a home design on an extremely small lot in the area.

    Pay no mind to the windows. I am really awful at window placement and such.

    The layout and shape of the house is informed by the odd shape of the lot and an attempt to maximize square footage. This would achieve about an 800 S.F. footprint.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008


    Our friend Todd pointed us the direction of the 100khouse project (it's now on our links bar). One of the posts on that site lead me to this article.

    I guess that my first take on that article would be, well, we're not that stupid. Which is both true and false. False: we are stupid enough to think that we will be able to build a modern home on an urban(ish) infill lot near downtown Salt Lake City, possibly in the city's oldest neighborhood. Also false: we are stupid enough to think that this will be moderately easy — sure, we're expecting the usual hang-ups, but we're also expecting that this won't take 10 years and a million bucks.

    But, true that we're not that stupid in that we are learning from experiences such as these. In talks with people who built a modern house in a Salt Lake neighborhood last year, the owner suggested that we be in an owned home while trying to build — he said the financing for building would be easier. We definitely took that into account this fall as we waited on building until we had bought and renovated the current place.

    We also have learned and heard again and again that it's important to keep the house design as standard as possible. That usually means 4'x8' construction in order to capitalize on standard size materials that everyone needs — drywall, plywood, door openings, etc. That doesn't mean we want to build a box, though. The creative part of this process will be making something relatively standard seem exceptional. That may mean taking ordinary materials and using them in unusual ways (for example, the use of commercial glass in residential application). It will almost certainly mean getting creative with the design of the house since it will probably be on an oddly shaped, tiny lot because that's what infill lots usually are.

    Also, that article is more than five years old. I'm not foolish enough to think that America has undergone a sea change in opinion about modern building since 2002, but I do suspect there has been some incremental easing of the pitchfork-and-torch mentality toward this style since then. Perhaps I should say that I hope that easing is a reality.

    Given that we don't have a lot yet and are still unpacking in this place, it's fairly easy for me to predict what we will or won't be able to accomplish with this hypothetical house. But it's sure great to plan on being awesome...

    Monday, January 7, 2008

    The Home Show

    Figuring that we ought to take advantage of the resources in our area, and also figuring that we needed an entertaining way to kill a few hours, Saturday we went to the home show in Sandy. The vast majority of the exhibits were entertaining in the way I think a renaissance fair might be entertaining — kind of a hoot once in a blue moon but really not my thing. For instance, this tile arrangement:

    There were many more alarming examples of wildlife in home decor, such as this lamp base:

    We also noticed a few too many exhibitors of coffins (I wish I had a picture of the white lacquer box with hot pink lining — nothing better to carry you into the afterlife). And etched granite designs featuring more wildlife.

    I was a little snippy with one exhibitor who was displaying a binder of home plans for sale. I started flipping through the binder, looking at the different plans (ick and more ick, I'd say), and the exhibitor asked whether we were looking to build. I said yes, but we'll probably use an architect. He immediately said, do you have one already? Well, no, but we know of a few we'd like to talk to. Then he asked whether we were in the industry. Well, no, but we do have a few connections and are fairly optimistic. The undertone of his remarks felt a little like he was trying to convince us that it would be too difficult to retain an architect if we weren't in the industry. Eh, maybe. But we're still not purchasing one of these. Now, if he were talking about plumbers I might believe him... His house plans were full of gables and peaked roofs and extraneous columns and massive garages and turrets and windows in odd places and, and, and.

    This particular home show was billing itself as an eco-expo; as far as I could tell, there were about 10-12 exhibitors who were advertising green products or services, a few Toyota hybrids on display and a speaker talking about compact fluorescent bulbs. Green washing, anyone?

    Enough griping. We did run across a few gems, including a very interesting booth about insulated concrete forms. This particular brand of the product uses styrofoam blocks that look a lot like hollow Duplos. You stack the blocks in the dimensions of your house, reinforce with a little rebar and few joists for flooring/ceiling/etc. and pour concrete into the middle of the styrofoam. The mass of the concrete makes for a sky-high R value, major sound deadening capabilities and a nearly indestructible house. You save on drywall inside the house because normal construction requires drywall sheets to meet on a stud in order to secure them; that method can make for a lot of waste if you have to trim the drywall. ICF don't require the use of studs at all — they're built into the styrofoam and concrete. (If you read any of our sidebar links, check out the archives of Modern in Minnesota — they used ICF in that very cold climate.) ICF does have its downsides, notably that it makes for thicker walls, which decrease living space on a small lot. Concrete is also pricey, but the overall construction would be only slightly more than traditional building because of comparable rises in cost of lumber, siding, etc. Obviously, it piqued our interest.

    We ran across a booth about solar electric and thermal panels (thermal for heating systems as opposed to electric for running, say, your vacuum cleaner). There we learned that the "starter" solar array system costs around $8,500 to $10,000, including installation and all energy company rebates. That same system provides an average of about 35 percent of a house's electricity; more if you are conscientious and conserve. Wow, that's a lot of money.

    We learned about blown-in fiberglass insulation that fills nooks and crannies better than sheet insulation (without formaldehyde or similar chemicals). We also learned that it is made of recycled glass and sand, so it's fire-proof without chemical treatment (can't say the same for blown-in insulation made of recycled paper). And we met a very nice man who promised to help us out with radiant heat should we decide to go that route — and we would love to.

    In all it was great to hit up a place that offered so much under one roof — the leaping wolves I need for my next table lamp as well as the solar panel contractor I wasn't sure existed in Utah. It was nice to see that all these wonderful things we read about happening in California or the northeast can also happen in Utah. With some work. And some cash.

    Friday, January 4, 2008

    Happy New Year

    Best wishes to everyone out there from everyone in here! As you might have been able to tell from the increasingly short posts up to this point, we had a crazy December. The first half of the month was spent rushing around trying to make the condo livable to make a December 15 move-in date.

    We made it. We made it in time to cobble together a Christmas tree complete with trimmings and that fresh pine scent (a welcome change from the Pine-Sol we used this fall to get rid of the cat smell!). We thoroughly enjoyed seeing family and friends over the past two weeks, and we even scraped together enough chairs to host a few minor gatherings for out-of-towners who might not be around for a late-January/early-February house-warming shindig.

    It feels good. Really, really good, in fact.

    We still have a few things on our list, though, before we're ready for an official unveil:

    1. Finish the built-in bookcase in the living room
    2. Face and finish the fireplace (it's a gaping hole right now)
    3. Get a long-awaited plumber to pull a drain up to our condo for a washer, install drywall and tile in the washer-dryer nook, paint, finish etc., and put in the washer and dryer.
    4. Figure out some solution for a couple of spots where kitchen and bathroom cabinets do not quite meet the wall — we're not crazy about the weird glimpses into the unpainted baseboard and support beams you get from these three gaps

    Otherwise, there are the usual tidying-up tasks, including unearthing our office desk from the avalanche of books, old mail, old magazines, Christmas receipts, etc., that have taken over our second bedroom. We also probably need a little straightening up in the bedroom and kitchen, too. But again — it feels good to have a home again.

    We're already looking ahead for 2008, though. We worked hard to make this place nice, but we always intended it to be a temporary spot. We're eying places to build, kicking around ideas, weighing the relative merits and demerits in the historic landmark districts around here (ARGH), and thinking about how to approach the year.

    In the next few weeks, we'll fill you in on the bookcase process (we had to remove our front door to get the case into our living room...), the fireplace designs and the never-ending search for a plumber. Oh, and a special field trip this weekend that we expect to be entertaining more than fruitful.

    Happy New Year to all of you, and thanks for sticking with us through this process. We hope to have lots of interesting stuff to post this year.