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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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!

2018 House Goals

No preamble; let’s do this! Here are 3 big things I want to get done in 2018.

1. Fix Up the Staircase

You’ve seen this central staircase in previous posts (e.g. our half bathroom). What you haven’t seen in great detail is what poor shape it’s in! The balusters have 100 years of paint glommed onto them. The risers are beat up and the treads are poorly stained. The cove moulding is half stained / half painted – maybe there used to be a runner rug?

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If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I’ve started working on this project. (I have process shots pinned to my Instagram Stories, if you’re interested.) This staircase will be a very slow slog, but what else am I going to do with my free time? Relax? Pshaw.

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That’s Doozy doing his Lucille Bluth wink.

2. Install New Moulding

Friends: I struggle with the spelling of “moulding” vs. “molding.” I prefer the former. The latter looks like a verb, but it seems like it’s more commonly used online.

Anyway, I am sticking with moulding-with-a-u, and this is the year it will happen. I want to replace the existing trim on our front door, back door, passageways, etc. I bought a brad nailer (this Ryobi AirStrike) and am figuring out my plan of attack. This photo is from today, when I was experimenting with options. (That architrave would be cut shorter, obviously.)

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This style and scale looks much better and more appropriate for the house than the moulding you see behind it, on the doorway leading to the kitchen, which leads me to my final to-do…

3. Makeover the Kitchen

I had initially thought I would fully renovate this kitchen, which is what I mentioned in this kitchen progress blog post. Having lived with the kitchen for over two years, however, I’ve come to realize it’s not a priority for me.

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Knowing me and my particular tastes, a full remodel would easily cost over $25,000 (and that’s being conservative). This kitchen isn’t a $25k+ problem I want or need to solve. The layout works well for us, the cabinets are fine, and I love the huge island. So, I plan to do a make-it-work makeover: professionally painted cabinets, new hardware, new appliances, better decoration, etc.

So, those are the big 3! There will surely be other projects along the way – including some leftovers from my 2017 list [shame] – I’ll do my best to keep the blog posts coming!

P.S. Shoutout to Megan from Roots Pizza – thank you for introducing yourself and for reading!

Bathroom and Stairs: Progress and Plans

In my last post, I shared then-and-now photos of our kitchen and dining room. I’m continuing my six-months-later series with our stairs and half bathroom. These obviously aren’t After (TM) photos, just progress shots. Let’s dive in!

Before:downstairs14

Now:Stairs

What’s been done:

  • Not much!
  • Painted the bathroom walls and trim.
  • Took down the hardware.
  • Hung a new mirror.
  • Installed new black hinges and doorknob.
  • That’s it.

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Now:Stairs Bathroom

I told the painter he didn’t have to do anything with this staircase. I look forward to tackling it at some point, but it’s not pressing. I need to test it for lead and research the safest and most effective way to remove paint from spindles (e.g. chemical strippers, heat gun, raging fire…).

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Because there are so many weird angles in the bathroom, I chose to use the same color of paint (Irish Mist) on the walls and the ceiling. It helps make it look a little less choppy.

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Not too huge a change, really! But it feels so much better, and “just paint” belies the amount of work a professional paint job entailed. Everything was filthy and uneven, and our painter scrubbed, sanded, patched, primed, and painted the trim, walls, and ceiling. And, new hinges have a surprisingly big impact!

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During:Bathroom Door During.JPG

Now:Bathroom Door.JPG

That dumb, crowded rosette on the top left kills me. I can’t wait to replace all of the trim in this house!

Jarrod declared that the half-bath would be my “stunt room” and I’m excited to make that happen. It’s actually something my mom would do, too, in the houses we worked on: be more daring in powder rooms because you can be. I think I’ll steal heavily from this inspiration:

BAMeganBrakefield.jpgPhoto from Design*Sponge

What I plan to do, short term (within a year or so):

  • Nothing. I don’t want to waste time or money on lipstick for a pig.
  • Well, okay, maybe some art and some plants.
  • Well, okay, maybe a new light fixture if I know that it will work with my future bathroom plans.

What I plan to do, longer term (within two to three years, maybe):

  • Full bathroom remodel: I hope this shouldn’t be overly expensive, because the room is so small (reducing the amount of materials and labor needed).
  • Remove the wall and floor tile.
  • New tile floor.
  • Install wainscoting.
  • Wallpaper!
  • New sink, toilet, light fixtures, door, and trim.
  • For the stairs: refinish the landing, treads, risers, stringers, balusters, newels, and handrail. I would have only known half those terms without the aid of Google.