At the end of last week, our contractor officially handed over our keys; they were done. It was such a long time coming, that it almost didn’t feel real; our shoulders felt instantly lighter, the weights removed. As you can imagine, months of contracted work, drywall mud, wood splinters and loose electrical snippings created the mother of all messes, and although they tidied up with a broom clean, our home was downright filthy.
But as of Sunday evening, drop cloths were lifted from furniture (after several days of clean up, followed up with an intense, final 13 hour cleaning spree, no less), and the living room suddenly felt a lot more welcoming:
Before leaving for Mexico, we did a smaller clean-up, knocking down the dust on the newly drywalled surfaces and following that up with a quick mop. For everything, we used microfiber cloths to collect and pick up as much dust as possible, which is not only the recommended method (says Google), but works.
After our return (and finding out that it would still be another week until completion), we asked Mike what the best options were for officially sealing out the dust, and he said to really get rid of it, we would need to prime everything that was fresh and new. We went so far as to cover up all the orange paint, and again, we mopped. We wiped down windows, walls and floors. We scrubbed stubborn spots with a bristle brush, and we fell into a rhythm of scrub, mop, wipe.
Even after all of that, we still had to breathe life back into our things – my desk, the stove, cabinets, television, dressers, mirrors, clocks, tables and sideboards. I went around the whole house with a microfiber cloth in hand, then shined everything up using this JR Watkins All Purpose Cleaner:
The amazing folks behind the brand sent a handful of sprays, hand soaps and dish cleaners our way – knowing full well that we had a demolition clean-up in our future; hugs to them! – and we couldn’t have been more smitten with the results. With a full pet household (and two of the three having allergies), we try to use all natural cleaners, and this not only fit the bill, but it really polished off the home. (Not to mention, the White Tea & Bamboo scent reminded us of the beach; or maybe were were just really missing it already.)
Sunday night, we sat on our couch for the first time since the end of August. We kicked off our shoes and dashed from the couch to the kitchen – in our socks! For the last several months, we had gotten used to what we considered “dorm living” – using the guest room bed (our safe quarters) for sleeping, dining and sitting. We had forgotten what it was like to sit on something cushy and soft – with back support! – and be able to rest your feet on the floor.
It was magical.
Our furniture arrangement is temporary, as we simply grabbed what we could from the second guest room (currently being used as our storage). THE LIVING ROOM: Eventually, our couch will move to the second floor studio, making way for something less apartment-sized and more house-sized (we thought we’d never see the day!). The green velvet chair might also make it’s way upstairs, and it’s obvious we’ve yet to decide on curtains, rugs, art and shelving – but all that will happen with time.
THE STUDIO: Even our 6′ farmhouse table seems dwarfed in the space, but we’re looking forward to adding built-in shelving and storage, as well as creating a relaxing seating area and layering in art, textiles and anything that evokes happiness.
We have a full crew of in and out of town guests that we’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving with (and seven people staying under this roof starting tonight!), so although we hit a handful of road bumps along the way, we couldn’t be more grateful that we were able to close the chapter on demolition in time for the upcoming festivities – and to finally start moving forward! We’re still tying up the loose ends in the basement, endlessly researching the best way to cook a bird (tips?) and finalizing the menu among our veggie, vegan and gluten-free friends (meat eaters, too!). We’ll be spending the rest of this week and weekend soaking in the time with others; it’s something we’ve missed, as we’ve been burying ourselves in crossing off the to-dos.
For those toasting with friends and family this week, cheers!
This post was brought to you in partnership with JR Watkins. Opinions, magical moments and the spring in our step belong to these two.
When we pulled up the wood flooring from our home’s foyer, our intent was to 1) ultimately tile the entryway (especially since knocking down all the wonky walls left large gaps in the hardwood) and 2) use those tongue and groove planks to patch other areas of the home. We thought, pssshh! No problem. This will be great!
We very carefully piled the remnants in the guest room closet (tucking them back to back, as to not scratch the wood surface), and once the contractors finished up, our goal was to tile the foyer, patch the living room and studio floors and – ta da! – celebrate with a dinner on the town. However, as the contractors’ stay become much more extended (and our self-imposed to do list grew longer and longer), we decided to have a talk with Mike (the head honcho GC) and get his input on our very well thought out plan (ha!).
After discussing what patching the floors would entail – pulling out strips past the gaps themselves, so we could essentially layer in the “new” planks – and, again, realizing that not only was our personal time valuable, but it was becoming very scarce, we decided to hire Mike and his team to complete the task. The cost of the additional project felt minimal compared to other items we could be checking off (ahem, the basement!), and while we’re looking forward to tackling a tile job and other TBD flooring in the laundry and guest rooms, Scott convinced me that the skill of floor patching is something we could live without.
It’s felt like a long time coming – everything from our bright-eyed, bushy tailed first day selves, to our demolition excitement and finally to our alright, let’s wrap this up! phase – so let’s quickly fast forward to how the main spaces (the living/dining on the first floor and the studio on the second) are looking now:
Above, you can see that we started with a drywalled half-chimney surround on the left (the chimney was, for some reason, taken apart only halfway, then covered up with drywall; this was surely due to cut costs) and another slim floor-to-ceiling drywall bump out on the opposite wall which covered a support beam. After we demoed all the drywall and lathe, Mike’s team pushed that support beam into the wall, giving us a flush finish, finished tearing down the remainder of the chimney and widened the nook room doorway (on the left). Of course, taking down that room divider left us with large gaps in the flooring, which is where our entryway tongue and groove planks came into play.
Below, we have a different story. This was a much larger tear down job, leaving us with – oh, easily – 4′ of gaps in the flooring. The contractors filled these gaps flawlessly – but not without a few surprises along the way…
After our mini vacation, we came to find out that the entire job came to a halt (hence the confusion when we arrived home and wondered, wait, why are all of Mike’s tools still here?) when the abundance of entryway flooring didn’t match up with the second floor. Rather, it seems as though throughout the years, the previous owner replaced the flooring throughout the two apartments at different times, going room by room or as money allowed. (We get that, we totally do; no fault there.) However, with every new flooring job, a different but similar looking manufacturer was used. While it seemed nearly identical just by looking at it, the tongue and groove from the entryway no longer matched the second floor, and tracking down the same manufacturer would have added time and money onto our already lengthy construction project.
We reviewed some options with Mike, and after discussing other areas of the second floor where we could salvage wood, he suggested that we pull up planks from our bedroom. Scott and I are planning a wall of built-in closets, so while it’s not the most ideal scenario, there’s a great chance you will never see the wood underneath the (so far non-existing) closets. We crossed our fingers as he pulled up a single test piece to start, then heaved a sigh of relief when – yes, yes, yes! – it matched the flooring in the studio. From there, he pulled up several more planks to get what he needed:
Stepping back (for just a moment!), when we do begin closet installation, we can always cheat the remaining planks of wood from the entryway (Mike suggested that we shave off the tongue and groove altogether, then simply nail it into the floor), or we can rough-patch it in with 3/4″ plywood, giving the closet a solid surface to sit on. In either case, you’d never see the floor, so that’ll have to be a decision we make down the road.
You might remember that we pulled the second floor kitchen out of the bedroom, which explains the shredded drywall in the photos above. We also weren’t surprised to find sticky blue laminate under the hardwood, as well as large gaps of sub floor that were never leveled properly. (We suppose this is due to the fact that it was underneath a sink? Regardless, we’ve become used to uncovering quick-fix jobs.)
And now, just as the hardwood in the first floor living and dining rooms flow seamlessly, so does the studio. This finishing touch – while it hardly seems earth shattering – is, actually, amazing in our eyes. Libby no longer trips over the gaps, and we’re no longer walking through the center of the room only, as if the walls were still in place.
It’s very obvious that there is still quite a bit of clean-up to do, most of which can’t get started until the contractors officially load up their van and drive off into the sunset … But until then, we’ve been trying to maintain the dust with a microfiber mop and a quick swipe of our most used surfaces (the kitchen island, countertops, stove and desk). We know, it doesn’t look like it, right? The drywall dust is no joke.
No matter; the end is near. De-plastic day is just around the corner (!) – can you feel it, too?
Before leaving for Mexico, we carefully (and hurriedly) set our “out of office” auto replies, secured our pet sitters, wiped down furniture, laid down fresh plastic sheeting on daily use items (such as our printer, studio desk and filing carts), ushered miscellaneous chairs, ottomans and decor into the safety of our second spare room and – most importantly – confirmed with the contractors that they would, indeed, be done with everything by the time we returned.
Remaining on their to-dos? Repair a leaky roof hatch, tie up all electrical loose ends, hang the coat closet door and patch in wood floors where we had knocked down walls. By knocking out their punch list, we would have over a week to start prepping our home for Thanksgiving, including the task we were looking forward to the most – CLEANING.
Scott and I were nervous and anxious to arrive home, imagining a home that was empty and ready. We would mop, dust and run microfiber cloths over every new sheet of drywall! We would prime our walls to help knock off the finest drywall particles that had settled into the nooks of our floors! We would start mapping out our plans for the dining room table – the table we’ll be building – and we’ll gloriously, with the happiest of hearts, lift off every remaining sheet of plastic. We would sit on our couch for the first time since September, and we would excitedly start brainstorming room configurations!
All that to say, it didn’t happen that way.
Rather, we came home to a house that looked, we felt, almost the same as how we left it. Our hearts sank, and we were even more frustrated to learn that drywall sanding hadn’t been completed – a task that has been weeks in the making. After a few flustered calls back and forth with our contractor, we discovered there were a few setbacks – most specifically, with the flooring (more on that later this week). You know the feeling of being so frustrated – so overwhelmed! – that the only thing you can think to do is laugh? That was us. (As a mini consolation, they did leave behind this trinket, found within our walls.)
So, rather than wallow in the feelings of being down on our luck, we redirected our energy elsewhere. (Sure, we were months behind the original estimated schedule, what’s one more week? Hahaha!) This was, of course, after needing to leave the house to take in the cold Chicago air, enjoy lunch elsewhere and toast a beer. An hour or two later, we were ready for Plan B: The Basement.
In the month since we received the city’s zoning approval, we had worked at least two nights a week (usually three) in the garden unit, prepping the space for our future tenant. (After all, there was nothing we could do in our home!) Our contractors have been using the space as their staging area, which, while it has been helpful to cut down on clutter in our living space, has transformed the unit into a jungle gym of sorts. Additionally, we’ve pulled down cabinets to gain easier access to drywall repair (a result of destroying this bizarre half-tiled wall) and have so many of our own supplies splayed about that the basement is looking rough.
We’re currently working with a ready-by-December-1st deadline (an agreed upon date with our soon-to-be garden renter), so while we feel as though we’re floundering in our home, the silver lining is that we can use this time to knock out every last item on our basement list.
So far? We’ve replaced each and every light fixture, grouted tile that was never grouted in the first place (oy!) and painted baseboards, doors, ceilings and (half of) the walls. We’ve purchased and added in-unit laundry, installed new exterior, closet and utility room doors, replaced deadbolts, and hired the pros to epoxy cracks in the house’s foundation. We’ve repaired furnace vents, trim and window screens, and we’ve replaced vanity mirrors, scrubbed cabinets, exterminated and tirelessly worked with the gas company to seal a tiny leak and get us down from three meters to two.
Our two or three day a week basement schedule has rapidly escalated to an every night, every waking hour affair (that is, when Scott’s not dressed in his adorable ties and I’m not painting your wet-nosed buddies), with quite a few more items to check off: Lay new tile underneath the sink (because it was never done in the first place – are you sensing a trend from the former owner?), finish painting the walls, replace missing cabinet knobs, reseal the tile, add switch plates (because, you guessed it – they were never there to begin with!), install window coverings and – finally! – clean, clean, clean.
And then… it’ll be time to whip our house into a real beauty. (We can.not.wait.)
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