Every place I've ever lived has been designed for that "average American family," with lots of bedrooms, living room, dining room, family room, etc. The problem was that I was a single person, not an average family. I needed space, but for hobbies, not people. And because I'm over 6'2", bending over to use sinks designed for children was a constant frustration. Over the years, I collected a list of things I would change if I could have my dream house. As I approached retirement, I realized time was running out for that house; it was now or never.

Dreams are not always perfect, however. I could never afford my dream house, a spacious Southern California home overlooking the Pacific Ocean. But I could afford a modest ranch house, with a 20-mile drive to the beach. It was a very long way from perfect, but it had potential.

This blog documents the process of turning that small average house into something that matches my lifestyle. It will be as close to my dream house as I can make it. I'm doing all the work myself to stretch my resources. By not hiring contractors, I can afford high quality materials, and I'll know the job is always done right. The remodeling will be my primary avocation for a few years, even as I try to fit in my writing and other hobbies.

It promises to be an interesting journey, and a challenging one!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The New Kitchen — Part 7

Short post this time.  I cleaned out the stuff stored on the kitchen floor, pulled up the rest of the old carpet, and then built and installed the bases for the cabinets on the west side of the kitchen.  Then I pulled out the quarry tile I had leftover from the foyer (the same tile will go in the kitchen, but with a different color grout), to start layout and to see how much new tile I needed to order.

At the left end of the cabinet bases is a (painted white) 4" platform I had to build for the dishwasher (since my countertop will be 4" higher than a standard kitchen counter).  Next to that is the base for the sink cabinet, which will be recessed to provide out-of-the-way floor space for the trash can and pet food containers.  The final long run of cabinets will house the electric (smooth-top) cooktop, but other than that, will be filled with drawers.

I ordered the new tile; it will take a couple of weeks to get it.  In the meantime, I need to power-wash the stucco on the back of the house, and apply two coats of stucco paint.  I also have the parts to assemble a drip irrigation line for the trees on one side of my driveway.

I could start putting down the tiles I already have, but since I got those awhile back, I'm concerned the new ones might not exactly match.  I'd rather wait and mix them up, than have half the floor one color, and the other half a slightly different shade.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The New Kitchen — Part 6

Time to put tile on the wall behind the new stainless steel counter.  This took awhile because, 1) I had to wait for the special-order blue accent tile pieces to come in, 2) I had to wait at least two days for the adhesive to dry before I could apply grout, and 3) I encountered the typical unexpected setbacks.  Other than that, the whole process was pretty straightforward.

There wasn't much prep required for the wall itself—the tile adhesive would work well on the painted drywall.  But maple trim pieces were needed on both sides to border the tile, and an aluminum channel was needed on the bottom to provide a neat interface with the counter's integral backsplash.  I didn't do anything special for the upper border (the ceiling); I just ran the tile up all the way, leaving a slight gap, which was ultimately sealed with a bead of white caulk.

There was nothing solid to nail the maple trim pieces to, so I fastened them with construction adhesive, and held them in place while that dried with a couple of pieces of wood and some wedges.  The aluminum channel was just cut to length and was fastened with the tile adhesive along with the bottom row of tiles.  While the trim adhesive dried, I laid out the tile on the counter and measured the spacing to end up with equal width tiles on both sides.

This is what the aluminum channel looks like—it's the same thing I used for the border of the foyer floor, except this was 5/16" high, while the floor tile version was 1/2".

Because of the confined space at the bottom of the wall (and around the electrical boxes), I started tiling by applying the adhesive to the back of the individual tiles, rather than putting it on the wall (and using a notched trowel in both cases).  I have a sliding-table wet tile saw with a diamond blade, which made the job of cutting the tiles a breeze, and making the cuts for the tiles surrounding the electrical boxes feasible.

The next photo shows the tiles ready to be grouted.  I used a 1/8" gap between the tiles, and unsanded grout.  Unsanded grout can be used for gaps up to 1/8", and sanded grout can be used for gaps as small as 1/8".  Based on my experience with this job, I will use sanded grout in the future, as it seems smoother to apply and requires less work to clean off the excess grout and get nice even grout lines.  Since I will be using the same tile for my master bathroom walls, it's a lesson that will be applied.

I used "bright white" grout.  Home Depot also carries "snow white," but that was sold out so I couldn't compare the color samples on the boxes.  (Both sound the same.)  The bright white worked fine for my slightly off-white tile, but was jarring between the ends of the blue accent strips.  So I dug out the white grout while it was still soft, and later, applied masking tape around the new small gaps.

The next day, I filled in those gaps with a medium gray grout (that I already had).  The tape kept the gray grout from staining the white.  That was my first unexpected issue.  The second I encountered when installing the electrical receptacles.  I'm using the "decora" style receptacles and switches in the kitchen.  The faceplates for those are fastened with two screws (versus one in the middle for traditional style receptacles).  The screws go in just above (and below) the electrical box.  If you're screwing into drywall, that's not an issue, but with tile cut closely, the screw will not penetrate (obviously).  So I had to get out my grinder (with a diamond cutting wheel installed) to cut away a little more tile.

With the electrical receptacles and faceplates installed, the job was finished (well, as always, needing a little more trim—between side panels and soffit).

Next, the bases for the cabinets on the other side of the kitchen get installed, so the quarry tile floor can go down.  Getting there.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The New Kitchen — Part 5

This post covers the completion of the basic cabinetry for the east side of the kitchen, to wit, the cabinet that supports the 5-foot stainless steel countertop, and the compartment for the refrigerator.

The base went in first, cut down in height to match the base supporting the oven cabinet.  A straightforward operation.

The basic construction of the cabinet followed my past practice—3/4" cabinet grade plywood with a half-inch plywood back, mortise and tenon connection for the corners.  This time the plywood was warped, so I could not assemble the unit all at once.  Instead, I joined a few pieces at a time using a lot of clamping pressure, cleats and screws.  Somewhat frustrating, but in the end, it will do.

When finished, I fastened that in place (to the base, wall, and adjacent cabinet).  I then built the small cabinet that goes over the refrigerator and screwed that in place.

A partition that separates the refrigerator from the stainless counter goes between the two cabinets (one low and one high).  I made the simple partition from 3/4" plywood to match the side of the tall oven cabinet, similarly faced with white plastic laminate on the side facing the countertop (some symmetry, as it were).

While Aeryn, my big female alpha cat, watches on.

After that, maple trim went on the front edges of everything (with biscuits, glue, and countersunk finish nails), sanded and polyurethaned.  Then the stainless steel countertop was put in place with some construction adhesive.  I plan to make the inaugural pizza on it tomorrow—stretch that dough! ;-)

As always, single and stacked drawers still need to be built and installed in all the cubbies.   Not happening any time soon.  The high cubbies will get sliding shelves—drawers that have side access; they will look like drawer fronts when closed.  Eventually there will be photos.

Next up — tile will go on the wall above the stainless steel countertop, something with a nice finished look to give me a little psychological boost.  Hooray!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The New Kitchen — Part 4

With a new shipment of PEX plumbing supplies on hand, I set about running the new water supply lines for the kitchen sink and dishwasher down from the attic, through the open wall, to where the stop valves will be.  After that, I was finally able to close up the kitchen wall in preparation for building and installing the kitchen cabinets.  This is a significant milestone on the way to having a complete, fully-outfitted kitchen—so a big deal!

This first photo shows the PEX supply lines installed in the open wall, already covered with pipe insulation, fastened in with several brackets to keep them secure.  At the lower end of the supply lines, I added a frame protruding from the wall so the stop (shut-off) valves will have good clearance inside the sink cabinet.

Once the PEX was installed, the drywall went up.  At the same time, I built a short end-wall for the line of cabinets.  The dishwasher will be next to that wall.  Dishwashers typically do not have cabinets of their own, but rather are installed in a 24" space between cabinets.  Hence the need for the little wall (to substitute for a cabinet on the left side of the dishwasher).  I stuffed the wall with fiberglass insulation to mute the noise from the dishwasher.

A little joint compound and paint, and a couple of GFCI receptacles for the two 20-amp kitchen receptacle circuits, and we're ready for the next task.

As this was happening, my five-foot wide commercial stainless steel countertop for the other side of the kitchen finally arrived, with Sophie looking on as I put it temporarily in place.

Tomorrow I will start work on the cabinet that goes underneath all that stainless steel, beginning with the base.  To the right of that cabinet will be the refrigerator; I need to build the partition for that, as well as a small cabinet that will go above the refrigerator.  Then I shift back to the other side of the kitchen, and build the base for that 12.5-foot run of cabinets.  Once that is done, I will install the kitchen's quarry tile floor.