Analysis Paralysis - Our Exterior Plans

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I've been eagerly anticipating renovating the exterior of our house since before we actually owned it,  so i was particularly surprised by my own feelings of crippling insecurity as final decision time approached.

The exterior is a big deal - we are redoing most of it, and the choices we make can't easily be changed if we aren't happy with them. 

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Above is the current exterior view. 

To-Do

  • new siding (all horizontal)
  • new framing around windows
  • new front door
  • new porch posts
  • move electrical boxes
  • paint
  • possible removal of perplexing partial concrete wall

Done

  • new roof
  • new soffit
  • new fascia
  • new windows
  • new fence

 

Front Door

I looked around quite a bit at front doors. Home Depot has a somewhat affordable ($800+) line of midcentury modern doors, but they aren't carried in store, so we would have to blindly order and hope for the best. Also, they only come in SUPER bright colors that we would need to paint over. Luckily, I came across the post on retro renovation that compares a whole bunch of midcentury modern door companies, and wouldn't you know it, one of the suggested places was right here in Austin. 

Tri-Supply has a series of fiberglass doors called Spotlights. They are a few hundred less than the home depot series and are completely customizable as far as woodgrain/smooth fiberglass and various glass options. AND they all have non-curvy trim!! These are some of the choices pictured below. 

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Progress

I made some mockups of the vision I had for the house and calmed a bit. I left a note in the mailbox of a white house in our neighborhood that we love, inquiring about the paint used. They responded and were so kind and helpful.

Despite these steps, the nerves persisted. Em V deemed this our "analysis paralysis". 

We decided it would be a good idea to talk to our friend Lauren (an interior designer) before moving forward on anything. I sent her my mock ups along with a lengthy description of my hopes and fears. This consisted mostly of the fact that our home is a straight up cottage, but we want to give it a midcentury modern vibe. Our neighborhood is full of redos that fit into this category, and some are much more successful than others. Essentially, we don't want our house to look like a cottage that we slapped a midcentury modern front door on and hoped for the best. My mockups are below-- I left the stove on the porch for good measure ;). 

All White + Various Door Options

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excuse the horrible photoshop of this door. it would have trim around it! 

excuse the horrible photoshop of this door. it would have trim around it! 

Grey Trim + Various Door Options

I added in some grey trim on the roof line, and this seemed to pull things together. 

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Lauren served as the voice of reason that we desperately needed. She felt that we were definitely on the right track-- she preferred the grey trim and rectangle door. She also pointed out some details we missed (evenly sized trim for the door and windows, painting the porch ceiling) and even sent over a mockup that included cement blocks! She is officially added to the list of people who have been SO generous of their time and skills and we are tremendously grateful. Check out her mockup below.

We are probably holding off on landscaping for now, but how great do those agaves look?

We are probably holding off on landscaping for now, but how great do those agaves look?

So...what did we decided? It's less fun if we tell you right now.  Em and I also love to keep our decisions shrouded in ambiguity in case something goes awry so we can trick ourselves into believing that's what we intended all along. In the meantime, let us know your thoughts. Which door option do you prefer?

X

Em O

Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom

I started this process with my heart (naively) set on putting cement tile in the main house bathroom. I didn't really have a particular justification for this, other than the fact that it seemed like all of the tile that had caught my eye in the last year or so was encaustic cement.  I particularly fell in love with the halfmoon pattern from cle tile. The only problem, as with most of the cement patterns I liked, was the price tag. At $15.50 per square foot, we would be spending quite a bit on the floor tile alone. Then, since we did the nicer floor, we needed to do the nicer tub...and a nicer vanity...the typical OVERrenovation trap that we've been warned so much about. 

The one I really loved also had black in it, but they don't seem to carry it anymore.

The one I really loved also had black in it, but they don't seem to carry it anymore.

Despite my overspending anxieties, we decided to move forward with the halfmoon because we really didn't like anything else quite as much. And then I went to "check out" and realized that shipping would be $250. And that was the end of that.

I searched around locally for the next couple of weeks trying to find a similar pattern for a reasonable price, but came up empty handed. 

I ended up having a conversation with a very helpful woman at Castle Flooring here in Austin, and she spelled out for me all of the reasons (in addition to the price) that encaustic cement most likely wasn't the right choice for us. 

Cons of Cement Tile

  • Difficult Installation: we plan to install this flooring ourselves and we were advised that, even for professionals, cement is very difficult. With the already high price tag, getting professional installation is not an option for us.

  • Sealing: Cement is very porous and needs to be thoroughly sealed. Over and over and over. This was a wake up call that, as a rental, we would be setting ourselves up for extra work, and/or extra stress worrying about protecting the tiles from stains etc.

  • Thickness: Cement tiles are verrrryyy thick in comparison to porcelain or ceramic. If you aren't gutting your bathroom like us, you can run into some pretty wonky height differences installing cement tile, such as your toilet being significantly higher than before. For us, the biggest concern is that our bathroom butts up to the wood floor in the living room. It would be quite a step up into the bathroom with the thickness of cement.

Cool porcelain tile at Castle Flooring. Looks so similar to cement!

Cool porcelain tile at Castle Flooring. Looks so similar to cement!

It became clear that all signs were pointing to my cement dreams coming to an end. I started going down the porcelain and ceramic tile rabbit hole and was really pleasantly surprised with how many patterns I liked.

After looking at literally every result under my many queries for "geometric pattern tile", we finally decided on the Merola Tile Twenties Diamond from Home Depot. Yes, my search of specialty tile stores near and far led me all the way back good ol' home deeps. It's funny how that works. 

Low cost, easy (fingers crossed) installation, low maintenance, durability-- ceramic tile just made a whole lot of sense for us. Seriously, you guys, we ended up paying around $3 per square foot. Plus, i'm a fan of the classic tumbling block pattern, but also love that the other orientation offers a completely different alternative.

Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom
Cement Vs. Ceramic Tile: Why We Chose Ceramic For Our Bathroom

Of course, with more choices, comes...more choices. And thats where you guys come in. Please help us end the bathroom tile decision saga by voting for which pattern you prefer on our most recent instagram post!

Alright, that's it for me. We will be reporting back as to whether ceramic tile is really as easy to install as they say it is!

-Em O

Our Kitchen: The Good, The Bad & The Greasy

The kitchen is one of the few areas of our home that was relatively functional when we purchased. We loved the size of it and the existing natural light, but it definitely came with it's own set of "quirks". 

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IT WAS ON A GIANT SLOPE.

Before we had the foundation completely redone, there were lots of areas that felt “off” around the house, none more so than the kitchen. When walking toward the sink, you literally felt like you were trudging up a hill. You can actually even see the slope in the picture above, which was taken pre-foundation. 

GREASE

There was literally grease on every surface of the kitchen. The fact that there was no venting system probably had a lot to do with this, but even with that in mind, the range of the grease distribution was impressive. Seriously, it was everywhere. 

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MYSTERY GAP

There was a mysterious gap between the last cabinet and the wall (see above) that somehow still included a countertop— almost like a perfect opening for a future dishwasher, except for the fact that it was entirely the wrong size. 

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PERPLEXINGLY DIRTY WALL

The left side of our kitchen is a wall with a cutout opening and small countertop. The wall beneath the countertop is insanely dirty. It’s reasonable to assume that perhaps the previous owners used this as a sort of eat in kitchen area, since there was no dining room in the house at that time. Even so, the level of dirtiness that exists on that wall is truly incredible.

ELECTRICAL

The current electrical design included an extension cord running from the fridge outlet through the cabinet to the stove, which, needless to say is NOT up to code. Our resident electrician and plumber (Em V's dad) installed the electrical and plumbing needed to support the stove, fridge, and dishwasher.

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Bad News

Here’s the part where i’m probably going to disappoint you— were not gutting it. The floor tile, cabinets and countertops are all relatively new and in decent shape, and with waste and budget in mind, it doesn’t make sense for us to scrap them at this point. 

Instead we have decided to fix the big offenders listed above, and then add a few elements that will bring the design choices we inherited closer to the aesthetic vibe we are going for with the house as a whole. This doesn't mean I haven't woken up in a cold sweat doubting this decision, because, I have. However, we do like the challenge of trying to preserve some of the home's original elements to give our updated design a unique spin. 

Our Plans

  • White tile backsplash all the way up to the ceiling. I love how refreshing and modern the stack bond pattern feels after seeing so much pinwheel subway tile everywhere. When I came across the backsplash in Mandi’s kitchen, I knew I wanted to try to do something similar in our space. She got her tile from home depot, and we were overjoyed to find some design inspiration that was within our budget. 

Tile: Home Depot

Grout: TEC Silverado

  • white open shelving that will blend into the background and allow the eye to still travel up. Upper cabinets with this ceiling height would be way too oppressive.
  • modern cabinet knobs— still deciding on these, suggestions appreciated!
  • new stainless steel appliances, including the addition of a vent hood and dishwasher. Em V’s parents helped us trim down the large cabinet and reinstall it to the left of where a dishwasher will be installed next week. 
  • paint - we plan to paint the kitchen a nice fresh white to blend in with the white backsplash, which will definitely be a massive improvement from the current custom mixed shade of dirt/grime/grease. 
  • new windows. the whole house is getting new windows, but we particularly can’t wait to see how much more light clean windows without broken seals will bring into the kitchen. 
  • The Sink/faucet. The faucet will likely be replaced but we haven’t made a final decision on the sink yet. We’re not sure if its possible (or worth it!) to replace with an under mount given our current countertop situation or not. 
  • New light fixtures. The current flushmount is not great and gives off barely any light. We plan to replace it with a simple and more functional alternative. Over the sink we will add a globe sconce for accent lighting.

There is a TON going on with the house right now, and its hard to find the balance between getting work done and documenting getting work done, but I promise to be back soon with much more to report on our progress.

-Em O

Addicted to the Demo - Bathroom Update

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As you can see, we showed up Saturday morning with our scrapers and hammers in hand. We'd watched the demo tutorials on YouTube, fully prepared to go to town on this bathroom. If you saw our bathroom before, you know we had plenty of work to do. 

First order of business, remove the toilet. We did all the necessary steps - drain it, un-screw it, disconnect the water supply. But then it came time for my most dreaded step: removal of the wax ring. Every time i watch a toilet removal tutorial on YouTube I always gag when they get to the part about wax rings. Seeing the sticky, yellow, bacteria riddled ring exposed in person was no exception. If you don't have a disease before removing a wax ring, you definitely do after. We got down there with a scraper, removed the old ring, and plugged the hole with an old rag. It was just as #glamorous as it sounds. With the toilet disconnected and successfully relocated to the living room, we moved on to the tub. 

We attempted to remove the first tile and things were clearly not going to go as they were shown in the tutorials. The videos showed the tiles coming right off the wall after a few taps on the scraper behind the tile. In our case the tiles were holding on to the walls for dear life. Going one tile at a time was going to take us a million years. Since we knew there was a leak behind the wall and we would eventually be removing the cement board to find the leak, we decided to take the nuclear option. 

We used the SawsAll to cut a seam next to the tile edge and then using a crowbar, pried off the entire wall which came crashing into the tub. We don't recommend this method if you plan to keep your bathtub and also for general safety reasons. The other two walls came down in a similar fashion and exposed some very questionable plumbing, water damaged framing, moldy insulation, and more roach poop than a lady should have to see in her lifetime. It was just SO much roach poop. We'll spare you the photos. 

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The tub came out easily with the walls removed and exposed that the floor beneath the tub was rotted as well. We removed the moldy insulation and vacuumed up the mix of roach carcasses and feces to the best of our abilities.

With my dad's guidance we replaced the rotting flooring and framing. EmO spent the morning painstakingly removing all the screws and nails from the 2X4s we removed from the central walls so they could easily be re-purposed as replacement for the rotted framing.

While repairing the rotten framing, we added the framing to install a small window above the tub. Seeing the new window framed in the wall we can already see how it is going to transform the space! 

That weekend we also made a bit of progress on the kitchen. We removed the cabinet to the left of the kitchen sink and started preparing for the dishwasher installation. My dad lent us a hand getting started on updating the electrical outlets to GFCI.

Next on the agenda? With our permit in place our carpenter is getting started on removing the load bearing wall (from which we previously removed the dry wall), adding the support beams, and reinforcing the roof. 

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Tiny Rehab lesson of the day: things will almost never be as simple as the YouTube tutorials make it look. It is great to come prepared with a plan, but in renovation you have to be willing to improvise when things aren't going as you expected. That can mean taking a sledge hammer and crowbar to your bathroom or vacuuming up an unexpected amount of roach excrement. Either way - just gotta keep moving forward :D. 

-EmV 

Tiny Rehab Firsts: Bathroom Demo

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Here is the state of the main bathroom in our fixer-upper. We often like to debate which decision came first -- the brown tile, the lime green walls, or the pee yellow ceiling. There is just something particularly unsettling about that combo that I find deeply triggering. 

To be completely honest, I've been struggling to make solid decisions regarding the bathroom. Part of me wants to go bright and white, which, i'm guessing, is a direct result of my allergic reaction to the dinge and gloom of the current space. The other part of me feels morally obligated to give in to my deep dedication to pattern and color. 

This internal debate is probably the reason the thought of doing a bathroom inspiration post has given me anxiety. If I were to show you my current collection of pictures, it would reveal just how mixed up I truly am.

Anyway, I digress. Here is the list of what we will be changing in the bathroom:

  • New shower tile
  • New shower fixtures
  • New tub
  • New floor tile and possibly subfloor (it is buckled and uneven)
  • New toilet seat
  • drywall repair
  • Wall and ceiling paint
  • New light fixture over mirror
  • New mirror
  • New faucet
  • New door & hardware
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As of right now we plan to keep the current cabinetry. It is unfinished wood that we can easily paint white (or a bold color --who knows!? not me!). The countertop is an issue of greater debate. It is in good shape and we could definitely save money by keeping it, but I'm struggling to design around it. 

We're diving into bathroom demo this weekend and as usual, our research will begin and end with youtube diy videos. Stay tuned to our instagram stories for updates. Wish us luck! 

-Em O

Pulling A Residential Permit in Austin Part 1

Extremely important notice located in the lobby of City of Austin Planning & Development

Extremely important notice located in the lobby of City of Austin Planning & Development

The permitting process had been a source of lingering anxiety for me. There is a wealth of information online, but the city's website is hard to navigate and it is difficult to know what pertains to your project and what you can ignore. On top of that, we had been relying heavily on hearsay from the various contractors we had been speaking with to shape our understanding on the process. Needless to say we were left extremely confused and our project stalled. 

When we brought these concerns to our structural engineer, he suggested we take our hand drawn plans (drawn by yours truly) down to the city and take advantage of their free permitting "office hours".  A source of major confusion for us was who should be doing this drawing and how technical it needed to be. Instead of wasting any more time ruminating on how confused we were, we headed to the permitting office with our rudimentary drawing (pictured below) in hand. We didn't leave with a permit, but this step allowed us to learn the process first hand and increase our chances of our plans being approved. I'll also note that if we had submitted without going to office hours, we would have 100% been rejected. 

My first drawing. I did not own a ruler at the time, can you tell?

My first drawing. I did not own a ruler at the time, can you tell?

Our lopsided roof.

Our lopsided roof.

First we met with a city planner who reviews residential development permit applications.  He talked us through the process, helped us fill out the paper work, and answered all of our questions. He was extremely relieved to hear that we had already worked with a structural engineer who had sanctioned our plans. He said my drawing wasn't the WORST he had seen, but it definitely needed to be reworked. 

We then chatted with a technical specialist who answered our questions about the drawing specifically. The most important thing is that the drawing must be to scale. They suggest using graph paper and a 1/4th inch or 1/8th inch to 1 foot scale (they even supplied us with the graph paper - such angels!). Depending on what you are doing with your remodel, there are different requirements for what needs to be shown in the drawing. They supplied us with helpful handouts for us to take home for reference. 

At the advice of our friend and Houston based designer, Lauren Braud, I invested in a laser measure. These are a bit pricey as compared to a tape measure, but it saved me so much time when having to remeasure the entire house to do the scale drawing! 


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Current and Proposed Floor Plans
It is important to have the rooms labeled and the scale clearly noted. You will also want to have a note about either the existing smoke alarms and co detectors or your plan to install them. Finally, most will require noting the location and size of the doors and windows. I did not know this until our second visit to submit our application. At that point, they said it would be fine to proceed without it given that we are replacing our windows size for size. To err on the side of caution, I would include it from the get go. 

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In addition to the drawings, we needed to have a formal survey done (you will likely have already had this done if you are applying for a mortgage) to be submitted to the city along with our application. The survey process was surprisingly painless and took less than a week (although, it is annoyingly expensive). 

We were told that most applications don't pass on their first submission, which is interesting. We asked our pals in the residential review department what are some mistakes that homeowners make when submitting their plans for review and thought we'd pass them along. 

Most Common Permit Application Mistakes: 

  1. Not taking advantage of the walk-in office hours (we couldn't agree more. no, seriously, go!).

  2. Submitting plans that are not drawn to scale.

  3. Not having an engineer or otherwise highly qualified individual sanction your plans before bringing them to the city. This takes a huge burden off both you and the city since many jobs require a final inspection by a 3rd party engineering firm upon completion of the project. Knowing that the engineer is on board from the get-go can help ensure your plans and completed project will be approved.

We submitted our application to the city and will provide an update on our permitting journey in part 2. We are so excited to get the ball rolling on these major projects!

Meanwhile Em O has been feverishly researching all of the finishing we will need for the house which is WAY more interesting than permitting. Expect an update with our choices soon! 

-Em V

Progress Update: Carpenter Chaos & Taking Things Into Our Own Hands

As I mentioned in our last update post, the past few weeks had us feeling confused and honestly disheartened. We spoke with 3 different carpenters regarding our structural engineers suggestions (reinforcing the existing roof framing, adding a beam in the ceiling to compensate for the partially load bearing wall we want to remove) and they all had different and seemingly very complicated ideas. I want to specifically note that we asked all of these carpenters to speak directly to our structural engineer to clarify any questions. They all seemed extremely averse to this idea (only one actually did it), and it really made no sense to us why they would ignore this resource. 

Rich in phone books, but poor in roof reinforcement! 

Rich in phone books, but poor in roof reinforcement! 

  • Carpenter 1 - Felt that using purlins was unnecessary and came up with some wackadoo plan which was the drawing in the previous post. 
  • Carpenter 2 - Did not seem phased by the project, but also made many (what we found out later to be false) assertions regarding the difficulty of individual tasks & disappeared and stopped returning our phone calls before providing a formal bid. 
  • Carpenter 3 - Told us that it would be the same cost to remove the whole roof and rebuild as it would be to reinforce the framing. He hung in there for a while, but eventually lost interest in our project and never provided a formal bid on the work. 

At a total loss, we set up a time to speak with our structural engineer to see if he could help us make sense of the differing opinions we'd been hearing. One, 30-minute pep talk later we were feeling confident again and ready to give those contractors hell! 

First we discussed the overall plan and why everyone seemed to have their own idea of what to do. In the words of our engineer "It is very simple, if it sounds like they are trying to make it complicated, you should move on and find a new carpenter." In his eyes, it is as easy as:

  1. slap a 2x6 next to every 2X4
  2. add 2 additional purlins to support the roof
  3. brace everything
  4. remove the load bearing wall
  5. put a beam in the ceiling to compensate for partially load bearing wall removal. 

He noted that drywall is cheap and easy to remove and it would be silly to pay someone to do the removal. As an added bonus, with the drywall out of the way, the contractors should have a clearer view of exactly what is going on and how they can go about fixing it. A direct quote: "hang in there and start swinging some sledges". Ugh - just love him. 

And so we listened. The first step was to get on youtube an figure out how the heck you go about taking down drywall. Once we had a list of tools needed (mainly a drywall saw) we headed to Home Depot. And the rest is history...high off of the thrill of demo, we ended up taking down a whole damn wall. We took the drywall off of the load bearing wall as well, but we need to wait to remove the framing until the extra support beam is put in.

Wall before we got our tiny hands on it. 

Wall before we got our tiny hands on it. 

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After! 

After! 

Our structural engineer gave us the contact information for the carpenter he uses on his projects. We gave him a ring and we FINALLY had the experience we had been hoping for: 

  • Contractor 4 - Had a few questions about the project but found it to be generally straight forward. After inspecting the space he spoke with our engineer and confirmed his plans. From there he sent us a concise bid which was less than we were expecting to pay. We have all of our fingers and toes crossed that this guy doesn't ghost us. 

Tiny Rehab Lessons: 

  • Bringing in a structural engineer at the beginning of the project was the best decision we've made thus far (not counting the matching jumpsuits) and it is the gift that keeps on giving 
  • Do your research and have a plan. Do not rely on contractors to tell you what needs to be done. Your structural engineer and the city guidelines will be your guiding light. 
  • When life gets you down, grab a sledge and start swinging! 

The electrical and plumbing repairs are taking a back seat while we work to finalize our plans.. 

-EmV with contributions from Em O