Renovating the 2nd House, Part II

If you’re reading this, make sure you’re read Part I of this renovation, which details all the work we did on the bedrooms and bathrooms.  This Part II will show you what we did to the living room and a couple other problem areas, like the laundry room and utility closet.

Since the house did not have central air, the utility closet only consisted of a water heater with a rusted pan, another poorly-placed built-in cabinet (covered in rat poop), and a particleboard shelf with water stains in the very back.  After cleaning everything with TSP and/or bleach, I primed the entire room with Kilz; I don’t think I bothered to paint the walls.  Originally we wanted to put the furnace here, but the ducts would have ran too weird.  We ended up storing our boxes here instead.

before and after utility room
It took me two additional trips to the hardware store and a couple odd looks from the paint counter guy, but I managed to paint the linoleum tiles this checker pattern with only one can of paint.

And the laundry room… this house was so dysfunctional, I KNOW the architect was a single male who never married or had kids!  It was right off the kitchen, on the other side of the main-level bathroom shower wall, and it was a beautiful green and orange!

ugly laundry room
Blue arrow: abandoned water lines. Yellow arrow: where the washing machine’s drain pipe goes into the wall. Purple arrow: Dryer vent hole leading directly into the crawl space. No wonder the rats loved it down there. The brick is there to keep the rats out.

If you recall from Part 1, we borrowed some square footage from the laundry area to expand the size of the main-level bathroom (we built a new laundry room in the addition, so we didn’t need this space anyway.  A little trick we learned from the last renovation, bringing in the wall flush with the fridge made the refrigerator look flush-mount, giving it that built-in look.  Creating a brand new wall also let me easily install a spice cabinet niche between the studs.

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I scrubbed and scrubbed that white floor tile, desperate to save the flooring, and Grout Renew’d the stains I couldn’t remove.  Hiring a carpenter for built-ins was one of the last things we did, and we saved money by painting everything ourselves… again.

As far as the living room:

living room
Notice the benches below the windows and the lack of electric in the ceiling.

There were defunct baseboard heaters under those “window seats” – we tore all this out the first week after closing, convinced it was part of the smell problem.  We were happy to find that the hardwood floors extended underneath the benches, though they had been painted black.  Good thing the floors needed refinishing anyway!

benches with wiring
Notice the electrical in the window seats – even the switch for the ceiling fan was down there!

The interior surfaces of the house were a project all of themselves as we were pretty sure the smells had permeated into the walls and floors, but before we could tackle that, there was more drywall work to do.  The stairwell had funky peep-holes looking into the living room that we needed to remove by framing it up.

artsy stairwell
My husband the first time we viewed the house, thinking something like, “If we buy this thing, and I’m not sure we should, this has got to go.”

I tackled the “stairwell slit” myself, though we hired out the reframing of the stairwell ceiling.  True to form, there was no light in the ceiling, so we had to have that wired in.  If you look closely at the blue arrows, you may be able to see that interior window space that led from the stairwell to the upstairs bathroom mentioned in Part 1.  Re-framing the ceiling here allowed us to simply cover it up.

reframing stairwell
The contractor was nice enough to leave their ladders and plank with us while we finished up the stairwell with prime and paint.  It was starting to smell better!

More about the walls!  There were more ill-placed built-ins that made the hallways claustrophobic.  During our broker open house, one of the agents actually asked me if we had moved the walls to expand the hallways!  Anyway, those shelves were in there pretty good, installed by a craftsman who used dovetails; between removing them and all the drywall anchors from the previous owner’s art, we went through a significant amount of joint compound and spackle once we were done installing the drywall.

patching walls
Left: the hallway to the master bedroom. Right: my husband by the front door.

We debated over and over again about how to finish the stairs.  Re-carpeting would be the cheapest route, but knowing how quickly carpet wears on stairs, and how picky people are about carpet, we finally decided to do wood.  In a house with a lower-price range, I would have just sanded and stained the 2×10 treads, but we didn’t feel we could get away with a short cut like that.  Besides, it really wasn’t too much to buy a dozen or so bullnosed, red oak treads from Home Depot and pay a handyman to replace them.  It took him a morning, and then I got to work sanding, staining, Waterloxing, and painting.  We also learned how to put up a handrail since it didn’t have one – shame!

refinishing stairs with baby
Left: one of my last projects before the baby. Right: about 5 months later.

 

remodeled stairwell
New ceiling and new light in the stairwell, and a preview of the new addition out the former front door.

Now let me tell you about refinishing hardwood floors!  First of all, this is not a project you want to do while living in the house at the same time.  Fortunately for us, we caught wind of a 2-week long pet-sitting gig, and took this opportunity to work on the floors.  Unfortunately, we weren’t done by the time the gig ended, and definitely wore out our welcome in the pet owner’s guest house for an additional two weeks.

I had already feathered reclaimed red oak into the master bedroom and areas in the kitchen, so by now the install was finished.  It was laborious, but installing hardwoods is pretty straightforward if you’re the kind of person who pays attention to detail.  It’s the refinishing equipment that makes the project intimidating.  If I remember correctly, we were able to rent the drum roller and finish during a 3-day weekend, though it was exhausting.  I don’t know if all drum rollers are like this, but the one we had “bounced” each time we let it down, no matter how gently.  We had to go horizontally, vertically, and diagonally across each bit of floor to get the finish off evenly.  I think we only used the drum roller on the lowest grit before we traded it in for an orbital sander.  This one didn’t seem to work as efficiently, but I discovered that tilting it made it work better.  The rental guy didn’t seem to appreciate that when I returned the thing – apparently it is a common hack with that machine, and someone should have told me not to do it when I rented it, but not my fault!

Then the edger!  My poor husband.  By now my arms and back were shot, and while I took to sweeping and vacuuming up sawdust, my husband finished the edges.  This involved being on his knees and using a large vibrating can to support all his weight.  Then doing it all over again once or twice at higher grits.  When everything was sanded and cleaned up, and all the rental equipment had been returned, the floors still did not feel smooth enough.  So THEN we rented a square buffer.  This did the trick to get the floors prepped just right, and got into the corners pretty well, too, but the machine (darn rentals) pulled to one side.  Did I mention my back was killing me?

Originally, we wanted to make our lives easier and finish the floor without stain, but we found the floors to be too discolored by the time the sanding was finished.  There were places the previous seller must have put potted plants directly on the floor, and all the flooring under the window benches had been untouched by the sun for decades and much paler than the rest of the floor.  Alas, we had to go the extra mile to stain the entire floor.  More hands-and-knees work.

sanded floors
Left: some of the worst areas of the floor before sanding. Right: a newly sanded floor where the window seats used to be.

Staining a floor is pretty straightforward, too, unless you go to sleep while it dries, and wake up to see a couple places you missed.  Then, naturally, you take a clean rag and touch up those spots only to find the stain is not absorbing the same now?  And it looks splotchy??  And it has ruined the entire floor, and dear God, I’m going to have to sand the whole stinking thing again!?!?!? @#$&^%!  Five months pregnant, stiff as a board, and at my wit’s end, my husband drove me to my real estate office, told me to stay put, then went and rented the buffer again and sanded all the floors in three hours.  Not all the stain was out, but it was good enough to start again.  This time we were more methodical with our staining, and the one or two spots we missed, we didn’t dare touch up.

The pet-sitting gig was long over by now, and if you remember that we were installing and refinishing the floors in the bedroom, you may wonder where we lived this entire time.  We had the mattress on the floor in the upstairs back bedroom…

sleeping on floor
It wasn’t tidy, but at least it was somewhat clean and kept us as far away as possible from the smells of the stain and finisher.

It was the best place to be since the upstairs bathroom was the only bathroom (and only clean room) in the house at this point, and with stain and 3 coats of Waterlox needing at least a night to dry, we quarantined the cat upstairs with us and just didn’t use the main floor for a while.  The addition and kitchen remodel was well under way at this point, so it was all a construction site anyway.

waterlox floors
The floors finally Waterlox’d and drying. Notice the modem cable hanging from the plastic bag in the far corner! That eventually got moved to the utility closet.

And I really can’t show pictures of the living room without mentioning refinishing the fireplace…

refinishing fireplace
The ugly and smelly fireplace, and my 6-month pregnant self eating a donut.

You can see from the “before” picture that the mantle was significantly singed.  It had a gas insert, but I can only assume it used to be wood-burning.  A lot of cleaning, painstaking sanding, and priming took place before the smell went away I could paint.  We also removed the gas insert and used some sheet metal and spray foam to block off the flue and a musty smell coming from inside.  After spray painting the inside with heat-resistant black paint, we refaced the hearth with marble tile and then just put some candles inside.  We didn’t have any money to put a new insert in, and figured the new owners could do what they want with it.  We also refinished the old front door as it would become a “mud door” for the mud room in the new addition.

refinishing door in living room
Yes, we lived in this mess!

To finish off the living room, I primed and painted every surface (even that dark purple window trim… what were they thinking?), then had an electrician wire recessed lights and a fan in the living room ceiling.  Trim is one of my favorite projects, and the new 6″ baseboards and 4″ window/door trim we put throughout the house made everything look so much better!

remodeled living room
The finished product! Our go-to color for accent walls: Behr’s Cheyenne Rock.

Between Parts 1 and 2, we have now covered the entire existing house except for the kitchen, which you can read about in Part 3, right after I take a mental break from my trip down memory lane!  As you can imagine, this house really took its toll on us, and it’s a bit exhausting to relive it!

 

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