Unfinishing a Finished Basement

Last weekend, we had a sewer backup that spurred us to clean the heck out of our basement. I plan to share a tour of what the space looks like currently, but first I want to backtrack to 2015. When we bought our bungalow, half of the basement was finished and half was unfinished. I covered the unfinished half in my Basement Laundry Room Before and After post; this post is about the work we did to unfinish the finished side.

Basement-Before3

Basement-Before

Our real estate listing said “nice basement with 1 bedroom in basement.” I think we can all agree that statement is 1) redundant and 2) overly generous. That is the soil stack in the middle of the room – our house’s main waste line.

Basement-Before7

Our inspector’s moisture meter told us the drywall was damp, and our eyeballs told us the space was finished poorly. It was a wet mess. (Let’s all start using “wet mess” instead of “hot mess.”)

Basement Inspection

Our inspector recommended we gut the perimeter walls, which we tackled the week we moved in. (The image above is from our inspection report, by the way; I don’t think I could ever write the phrase “Much moisture at several areas.”) We hired out for the first phase of demo in the interest of getting the wet mess hauled away as quickly as possible.

Basement Wall

The plastic vapor barrier behind the drywall created a waterlogged insulation situation. “Nice basement”!

Waterlogged Insulation

The contractor took care of removing the drywall, insulation, and carpet. It cost around $500 – definitely worth it.

Truck Haul

This poor dummy broke his elbow in a self-caused solo bike crash – sweeping left-handed added insult to injury, given how proud he is of his usual floor cleanup game.

Basement-Before6

Over the following two months, we worked to make the basement as clean and bright as possible. We removed the studs around the bedroom and the perimeter of the basement.

Stud Saw

Usually I’m the one operating the power tools, but Jarrod’s baldness came in handy for using a potentially hair-singeing rotary tool to grind the nails out of the concrete floor.

Nail Removal

The walls were filthy.

Basement-Before4

SO filthy.

Basement-Before5

There were several rounds of wall and floor washing with bleach, TSP, and Simple Green. I don’t know what in the hell this Babadook situation was.

Babadook

Basement Demo

Basement Brick Wall Before

After the walls were scraped and scrubbed, we did two coats of primer and two coats of paint to get us to a nice, clean blank slate.

Basement Brick Painted

Basement Progress

Thanks for walking down memory lane with me – it was a pretty gross stroll. Next up: the current state of our clean, organized basement.

Staircase Refinishing: That’s What the Money is For

In my last post, I outlined my house plans for 2019… and then I disappeared. I’ve been working on our home a lot since then – nothing especially blog worthy – but I’m back with an update on the staircase project! And that update is: I decided I value my time more than my money on this particular project, and I hired someone to do it.

Stair Progress 4.JPG

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen my lurching progress on this stairway over the past two years.

Stair Progress 5.JPG

I’ve removed cove moulding, stripped paint with heat and chemicals, sanded, and more. But I’ve barely made a dent in this 105-year-old beast.

IMG_7452.JPG

It’s telling that the previous owner also started this project and never finished – he stripped the handrail, one baluster, and gave up.

Stair Progress 6.JPG

Stair Progress 3.JPG

All totaled, I’ve spent easily 40 hours on the stairs, and every hour has made me less certain of the path forward. Usually, I’m motivated by that “the only way out is through” feeling, but that was the not the case here. Once I admitted to myself that this project was never going to bring me any DIY joy, I started looking for a wood refinishing contractor.

IMG_5679.JPG

I hired Peter’s Wood Refinishing, which has great reviews on Angie’s List and is affiliated with the Chicago Bungalow Association. I will share an honest review of their work afterward here, of course. I don’t mind over-sharing financial details, so I’ll tell you: this job was quoted at $3,375.

Peters Wood Refinishing Quote.jpg

You’ll also notice in the quote above that it will take 6-7 days. That’s a full week of labor from a team of professionals:

  • Let’s assume (conservatively) that it’s 3 workers x 7 days x 5 hours a day. That’s 105 hours.
  • Let’s assume (conservatively, again) they’re twice as efficient as I am – because they’ve done it before, and because they’re working longer hours without having to set up/take down the job site every day. That’s 210 hours of my time.
  • If I managed to work on these stairs for 7 hours a week, I would be finished in 30 weeks. NOPE. (Actually, not even finished: parts would still need to be painted, which I am also hiring out. DOUBLE NOPE.)

When I did that math, it was a pretty easy decision: that’s what the money is for. No shame!

IMG_2354.jpg

The crew starts this Thursday. They’re going to strip everything, and then stain the following parts to a walnut color (similar to our first floor hardwood floors):

  • Newel posts – the big posts on the corners and ends
  • Handrails – self-explanatory
  • Stair treads – the part you step on
  • Cove – the concave pieces of moulding immediately under the lip of the tread
  • Fascia – the large pieces of vertical wood

IMG_2362.jpg

The stringers, risers, and 72 balusters(!) will be painted white. I learned from stripping the balusters (AKA spindles) that they’ve always been painted – there wasn’t stain or lacquer beneath the decades of paint like there was elsewhere. This week I’m obsessing over where exactly the stain will stop and the paint will begin: the wood profile is so detailed that it’s not as straight-forward as you might think.

ACS_0018.JPG

I’m excited to do right by this vintage staircase. It’s a big part of why I fell in love with our house, and I’m grateful we have the means to restore it. I will post regular updates on Instagram Stories over the next week – follow me at @martipalermo to follow along!

House Goals for 2019 and Beyond

After all of 2018’s work, our house (AKA Hauslermo) is feeling really good. My make-it-work kitchen makeover was definitely the right call for us, in lieu of a full kitchen renovation. The mudroom was an impactful, budget-friendly overhaul. And replacing all of the moulding makes the entire first floor feel more finished.

At this point, the finish line for Hauslermo’s renovation is kinda visible on the distant horizon, so I’ve been thinking about how to plan and budget for the remaining to-dos. In 2019, I hope to focus on some lower-cost improvements while I gather information and save money for the major renovations to come.

In addition to the goals listed below, there are three big, looming expenses: replacing the roof, the furnace, and the water heater. All of those things are functioning fine now, but I know they won’t forever. The roof will likely get worked into my 2019 or 2020 plans, and all three will impact the available funds for my other goals. (And, of course, this house or our lives could throw us an unforeseen curveball at any point in the game.)

Here goes:

2019

  • Finish staircase, for real this time
  • Move junction box over dining room table and install new light
  • Repair brick tuckpointing – it’s failing in a few areas
  • Landscaping
    • Plant another backyard tree
    • Replace front yard bushes (three of them gave up on life – womp womp)
    • Pare down backyard bed
    • Get back into vegetable gardening (Jarrod plans to take the lead on this in his official capacity as our Food Procurement Officer)
  • Finish guest bedroom – it’s a hodgepodge of furniture and decor right now
  • Eliminate private mortgage insurance (PMI) from our home loan – this is an aspirational financial goal for 2019 or 2020. We purchased our house with less than a 20% down payment, so we have to pay $125 for PMI each month. This bums me out because it’s totally wasted money. I plan to explore all of the options for eliminating it (e.g. getting our home reappraised).
  • Sunroom Phase 1
    • Level floor – because our enclosed front sunroom used to be an exterior porch, it slopes downward (just like our mudroom – it doesn’t bother me in that space, but it’d be nice to fix it here)
    • Install new floor
    • Replace or cover ceiling insulation tiles with new beadboard

For reference, here’s our sunroom currently:
Sunroom

2020

  • Sunroom Phase 2
    • Replace bungalow-inappropriate picture glass window with wall-to-wall windows
    • Install new shades
  • Replace all other windows

On Christmas day, we walked around Ravenswood Manor (a nearby neighborhood that has a lot of lovely vintage bungalows) and looked for window inspiration. I took photos for my Home Renovation board on Pinterest. Here’s our house now:Bungalow Window Before 1.jpg

And here’s a slapdash mockup:Bungalow Window Mockup 1.jpg

But it won’t really look like that because the window trim most likely won’t be white and it won’t look bonkers. It’ll look good, I promise. It better look good, because it’s going to cost one million dollars.

2021 and/or 2022

  • Basement renovation
    • Install French drain and sump pump
    • Finish half of the basement with a guest bedroom and bathroom – because our house only has two bedrooms (and they share the upstairs bathroom), it would be nice for hosting to add an additional bed and bath. It’s a walk-out basement with decent ceiling height, so it would count toward our house’s property value.
    • Reconfigure the other half of the basement for improved storage and a nicer laundry room

2023

  • Second floor bathroom renovation
    • At the minimum, I would keep the existing layout and replace the tile, bathtub, toilet, etc.
    • At the maximum, I will investigate the possibility of reconfiguring the layout and enlarging the bathroom to accommodate two sinks – we don’t need some fancy luxury bathroom, but having a sink for both of us would be really nice

As a reminder, our bathroom currently looks like this – totally fine, but not my long-term goal:bathroom-after-1

2024

  • Hauslermo is finished and I never do any work again
  • J/K
  • I don’t know what happens then!
    • We could likely sell our house for a modest profit, but I don’t know if we could buy a different house that’s as appealing – I’m not sure what, if anything, could be gained if we tried to trade up. I’m happy with this being our forever house, but I will want ongoing projects of some sort.
    • Maybe we invest in a two-flat as a rental property?
    • Maybe we buy a vacation house with our other childless friends? (We’ve daydreamed about a house in Michigan that we’d call The Sink Inn, with SINK standing for “Surplus Income, No Kids.”)
    • Maybe I start helping other people with their homes, as a for-profit venture and/or I get involved with a not-for-profit house-focused charity?
    • Maybe I start an entirely different hobby? Weaving, I’m looking at you.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Moulding and Living Room Progress

One of my big goals for 2018 was to finish replacing all of the first floor moulding, and I am stoked to report that it is all done. A previous owner replaced the original millwork with trim that wasn’t as appropriate for the house, and I undid his work. I’m generally not a sentimental or nostalgic person, but I do feel sincerely bummed (and a little angry) when I think about the historical elements that have been stripped from this house over the decades. I’m grateful some remain (like our staircase) and I’m pleased to be able to restore other details to make the house feel more cohesive.

Here’s when we bought the house, looking from the kitchen into the entryway and living room:First Floor Before 2.JPG

And here’s that view today:Kitchen Moulding After.jpg

The headers (AKA architrave) throughout the first floor are now this Interior Primed MDF Window and Door Casing from Lowe’s – it’s a Metrie product.

Kitchen Moulding.jpg

Here’s the reverse view, from the living room into the kitchen:First Floor Before.JPG

And now – it will look even better once I get around to finishing the staircase (my one 2018 goal that I did not a single minute of work on in 2018):Living Room Moulding.jpg

The biggest change is to the west wall of the living room – we went from this:Living Room Wall Before.JPG

To this, thanks to our contractor:Living Room Arches During

And now finally to this:Living Room Wall Moulding.jpg

I found matching baseboard at Evanston Lumberyard (it’s from Metrie) and I made the window stool myself using a router for the first time. Very pleased with how the corners turned out.

Window Trim.jpg

The living room is coming together nicely. It’s not 100% ~finished~ yet: I’m still fussing around with the decoration. The rug is from Rejuvenation; they don’t cary it anymore. The chairs and coffee table are Craigslist finds from 10+ years ago.

Living Room with Fireplace Mantle.jpg
When we bought the house, the mantle was in a state of disrepair: the wood was parched, one of the shelves was missing, and the brick was painted red with gray paint mortar lines.

Fireplace Before.JPG

Back in 2016, I painted the fireplace brick white:Fireplace Painting First Coat.jpg

When we did our basement cleanup, my friend Kimberly spotted the missing shelf in a trash pile (good eyes, Priebe!). I sanded, stained, and rebuilt the bookcases.

Bookcase Front Sanded.jpg

Bookcase Front Stained.jpg

Before:Fireplace Before 2.JPG

Today:Bungalow Fireplace Mantle with Garland.jpg

The lamp is vintage, the arched mirror is from CB2, and the garland is a Black Friday splurge from Balsam Hill.

Bungalow Fireplace Mantle.jpg

Did you know that people use the term “shelfie” for bookcase photos? I’m not going to do that.

Bookshelf Brass Bird.jpg

Left Bookcase Vase Post.jpg

My teammate Grace (1310 Studios on IG) made this drawing, which I love, of Lola and Doozy at our desk. We put Doozy to sleep this past spring – it was very sad (sadder than I even expected it to be), but Lola is feeling better now and we’ve all adjusted to being a one-cat household.

Frame 3.jpg

Here’s the desk area that inspired the drawing. All the details on our two-person desk setup are in this post.

Two Person Desk in Living Room.jpg

Living Room Office.jpg

We’ve had this Room & Board sofa for 10+ years as well. I had it reupholstered last year in indestructible Sunbrella fabric.

Couch Cat 2.jpg

Lately I’ve been daydreaming about adding a pair of windows above the bookcases: it’s a very common detail in bungalows, but our house seemingly never had them (the exterior brick doesn’t appear to be patched).

Bungalow Living Room.jpg

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays! I’ll be back in 2019 with more – evermore – house goals.

Couch Cat.jpg

Bungalow Entryway with DIY Hook Rail

I’ve been working overtime on the house these past several weeks, trying to wrap up as many things as possible before the end of the year. Deadlines are motivating, even when they’re totally arbitrary. As a result, I have a couple of projects to catch you up on. First up: our finally finished entryway.

The last time you saw our entryway – nearly two years ago – I listed three remaining to-dos: installing a new door, replacing the moulding, and making a coat rack. As of last weekend, all of that is now done!

I bought this JELD-WEN Craftsman 6-Lite Primed Steel door from Home Depot and painted it black. In the end, I probably wouldn’t recommend this door for dark paint. The white plastic grid is affixed to the glass, which means you can see the back of it but you can’t paint the back of it – it has to stay white, which contrasts sharply with dark paint. It’s fine – it’s something I notice, but others probably don’t.

White Door Before Paint.JPG

Next, I removed and replaced the moulding around the front door and closet. You’ll have to wait until the end of the post for an After shot.

Moulding in Progress.JPG

Then came my DIY hook rail. I wanted the rail to look different than my door trim, so it was clear that it wasn’t just more of the same moulding. I bought a piece of primed trim with squared edges (the door trim has slightly rounded edges) and, using my table saw, I routed out shallow, decorative notches at the top and bottom of the wood.

Hook Placement on DIY Rail.JPG

I measured out the placement of my 8 hooks and drilled pilot holes – I did this before painting, so I wouldn’t have to worry about marking up or scratching the painted finish. The brass hooks are from House of Antique Hardware; I got them for 15% off on Black Friday. Emily over at The Sweet Beast also used them in her awesome stairway makeover. (Side note: one time I Googled “sweet beast” and ended up here instead of Emily’s blog, and now I just go there on purpose sometimes. Check out this fantastic beast!)

I used painters tape to mark off where the studs are in the wall. I installed the rail by screwing into the studs that aligned with my hooks. That let me cover the screw heads with the hooks. For safe measure, I also used a toggle bolt behind one of the non-stud hooks.

Hook Rail MountingJPG.JPG

With the rail up and the pilot holes ready to go, adding the hooks was quick work.

Mounted Hook Rail.JPG

And here’s the finished product:DIY Brass Hook Rail.jpg

Here you can see the new moulding around the door and closet. I like how continuing the rail around the corner helps balance the off-set door.

Black Craftsman Door.jpg

When we bought the house:Entryway Door Before.JPG

And now!

Entryway with Black Door.jpg