All I Want for Christmas Is a Floor

It was such a relief to get the breakfast room opened up, with sheetrock on the walls. However, we were just weeks from Christmas, and my extended family was due to show up for Christmas dinner at our house. Would we make it? Greg estimated that his crew would be done with the interior of the house by Friday, the 16th. Two major projects had to happen: 1) the new walls had to be primed, and all the walls in the kitchen had to be painted, but even more overwhelmingly, 2) hardwood floor and baseboards had to be installed throughout the entire first floor. Up until now, we had had three types of flooring downstairs. The dining room and powder room had skinny, clear-coated oak hardwood that I had never liked. The living room had carpeting that had been off-white at some point in ancient history, and the kitchen, pantry, and laundry room had vinyl. We decided to leave the vinyl in the laundry room for practical reasons.

Months ago, I had visited the flooring store in Raleigh with the express purpose of choosing a warm, dark, solid hardwood. The salesman had discussed our project with Greg, and had already selected all of the solid hardwoods that fit our budget. I didn’t like any of them. The one that I had imagined was far too red, and besides, I wanted wide planks. The salesman told me what every single contractor I’d interviewed had told me: Don’t buy wide-plank solid hardwood. After a few years, it will warp and “cup,” especially in North Carolina’s humid climate. He showed me a few of his showroom samples that were showing obvious signs of cupping.

So many choices! Always take them home overnight.

He started to talk to me about engineered hardwood, but I stopped him, because I thought it was laminate. “Oh, no!” he protested, “it’s all wood. Let me show you.” He proceeded to show me that engineered hardwood has thin layers of wood going back and forth, with the top layer being the wood you want to see, topped by a finishing layer that protects it from scratches. The alternating directions of the wood layers keep it flat, so that you can get wide planks without warping over the years. I called David to join me, since I was nervous about making such an important decision on my own. As a realtor, David is up on everything about home construction, so I felt confident when he agreed that engineered hardwood was a great choice for us. Suddenly, we had many more options within our budget. After we looked at dozens of samples with no clear winner, the salesman pulled two acacia wood samples out of the Mohawk display, and I fell in love. We still took home a car full of sample boards to live with overnight. It was definitely the acacia. It has a lot of variation in the colors, with knots and interesting markings.

It seemed so long ago that we had chosen the floor that I could barely remember it, and then I woke up one night thinking, “What if it’s been discontinued?” But boxes and boxes of it arrived one day to sit in our house and acclimate over the weekend. Wood flooring has to adjust to the temperature and humidity of your house for a few days so that it does not shift after it is installed. David and I spent the weekend packing up everything on the first floor except for the large furniture, moving it upstairs until the floors were done. On Tuesday, December 13th, the floor started to go down.

The flooring is started! Little did we know that it would be ripped out the next day. The anvil bookcase is here on the left. Even empty, it’s a bear.

I could not wait to get home from work to see it. Since it is dark when I get home, and we had few lights that still worked downstairs, at first I could only see beautiful dark wood over about half of the living room. As I looked, though, I could see ripples on the edges of each piece. In despair, I texted Greg, and he came out the next day, took pictures, and ripped out the entire last day’s work. After a discussion with the manufacturer, they started over, but we had lost a day’s work. At the end of the 14th, we had the living room done, although it was still covered with dust, and the furniture placement was waiting for baseboards and painting.

The living room floor is done! You can almost see it under that white layer!

By the end of the day on Friday, the 16th, when we should have been done, we still had not finished the dining room or kitchen. David and I had to go out of town to care for his mom for the weekend, and our house looked like this:

Empty dining room, living room, and kitchen furniture, unfinished floors, and lots of grime– and we left for the weekend before Christmas.

Exactly one week before Christmas, we had no tree up, no decorations, and no working kitchen. I cannot tell you how quickly the adventure of eating out and ordering take-out gets old. And expensive. It was nice to get out of the house for the weekend, to cook in our niece’s kitchen, visit with David’s mom, and to spend some time at my sister’s house. I had a housekeeper scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, and I had taken a couple of vacation days from work in order to get ready for Christmas. At this point, all we could do was wrap gifts.

Draped cabinets and appliances, primed walls, and the old paint color.

In the midst of the floor emergency the previous week, I had also had twenty-four hours of terror over the kitchen wall color. I am completely insecure about choosing colors, and I had visited Sherwin Williams twice to choose just the right buttery, but cheerful, yellow. The color we had was sunshiny, lemon yellow, and I couldn’t stand it. When Landon put the first of the new color on the pantry walls, it looked exactly the same. When he put a streak or two on the newly primed sheetrock, it looked like mustard. I spent hours on Pinterest and every paint manufacturer’s website that night, and texted Greg in the wee hours with a new paint color. Then, at 7:00 AM, the kitchen looked so nice that I re-texted him and said, “Oh, never mind.” I think he was so stressed about the floor that he barely paid attention.

toilet-doesnt-fitNaturally, unexpected issues cropped up. Since the flooring was a different height, the toilet in the powder room did not fit. It had never fit well, but now it needed a definite adjustment. In the meantime, we were without a toilet downstairs, and I am so glad that I did not notice until we returned Sunday night that our toilet had spent the weekend on the front porch. As Jeff Foxworthy would say, “You might be a redneck….”

On Monday, the crew dove into flooring again, and the electricians arrived. It was thrilling to see the lights that I had chosen finally going up. The hand-blown glass pendants were obviously chosen for the island that I will only see in my dreams until I can save up for Phase 2 of the kitchen reno, the one with cabinets and countertops. I still like them, though. The electricians were amused by the breakfast room chandelier. “It looks like an atom!” It does, and the filament bulbs are extra fun.

3-pendants atom

Then came the dreaded news: we ran out of flooring, and the new flooring had not arrived. I knew that we would need more flooring, since we had ripped out half the living room and ordered more, but we were six days from Christmas and still did not have a floor on the last few feet of the breakfast room. By Tuesday, the walls and baseboards had been painted, and the guys were very helpful about getting all the furniture back in place.

This is a beloved table that we had restored after it had been in a barn on David’s family’s farm for decades. We brought it here in boxes full of large and small pieces. Kudos to Bull Restoration in Raleigh. David has used it as his office table for the last few years. Here Greg and Mason help David to reassemble it after they moved it downstairs.

When the maid arrived Tuesday afternoon, I think she finally understood what I meant by “we’re having some renovations done.” Besides the thick layer of white grit over everything, the toilet in the center of the powder room floor and the lack of a complete floor convinced her. I don’t believe we would have made it without her. She took care of all the basic housework– dusting (lots!), bathrooms, and vacuuming– while David and I hauled boxes up and down the stairs, struggling to get everything back in place. I learned how to use a Bona mop. The plumbers showed up, and Jessica had another bathroom to clean. Tuesday night, our son and his fiancée came over to help us put up the tree and the nativity scene.

The living room, at least, was ready for Santa.

By the time I went back to work on Wednesday, I thought we might make it. Greg texted to say that the floor had arrived. He brought it over to our house to acclimate, and they completed the floor and baseboards by Thursday night. We had a luxurious 48 hours to wrap gifts, cook Christmas dishes, and put on fresh sheets before the family arrived.

The new breakfast room seen from the living room, complete with atom.
I’m glad that I finally have a place to put a favorite picture.
The wider opening to the living room makes hosting a crowd so much easier.

We had a beautiful Christmas with our family. Thank you, Greg and crew!


Tear Down That Wall!

When we last left the inside of our renovation, we had progressed from having an open-air kitchen to a much smaller kitchen with tasteless wall coverings:


For several weeks, the carpenters had been working on the inside of the breakfast area, climbing in and out by a ladder. I had no idea what it looked like, and even had to plan lighting placement with the electrician by drawing on the floorplan. I could rejoice in the new porch, even though it was not finished, but I was getting really tired of eating in the living room. Plus, I was so curious to see our new space!

We knew that several things had to happen before they could tear down the wall separating the work area of the kitchen from the new eating area. The framing had to be completed and inspected, then the electrical and HVAC had to be roughed in and inspected, and finally, the insulation had to be installed and inspected. All of these things had to happen one at a time, so that stretched out the days. Oh, and we had to have windows and a door installed! I was eager for natural light in the kitchen again.

Furthermore, you may have noticed that it is December. Tick, tick, tick. My entire family is coming to our house for Christmas. I was supposed to host Thanksgiving this year, but, obviously, we missed that deadline. I let Greg know about my slowly growing panic, and he decided to move all work to the inside. The weather was iffy, anyway, so there was no use waiting for clear skies to nail up siding, when you could easily be inside tearing up stuff.

In the spirit of Joanna Gaines, I had decided to widen the opening between the kitchen and the living room. I had considered this idea and discarded it until I had a group of people over, and we all hung around the island in the kitchen. No one could walk around on the living room side, and that night, I knew I had to open up the space. This was the first task the carpenters accomplished:

old-opening Here is the old opening at David’s birthday party last year.

The day that they uncovered the wall to widen it, they discovered a problem:

Mason and Greg are thinking, “Hmmm.”

The original builder of the house had put the two-by-fours over the beam, rather than under it. You can see that this is not working out well after fifteen years. We had discovered a similar problem on the outside wall, where the breakfast room will be. Both times, Greg and his guys have had to install a new beam. This is not fun for them, since it requires lots of sweating, and, quite possibly, words I’ve never heard before. But they got it done.

Beam replaced, and Saulo moves on to the next task.
The new cased opening from the living room side.


Finally, one day I came home from work to discover a new back door!


The new triple window!

Once the window and door were in, I knew that the opening would be soon. The next day, the wall was gone!

My first sight of the new space, standing in the living room.
As you can see, I’m standing in the dining room, looking at a room that didn’t exist a couple of months ago.
The next day, a delivery of sheetrock let me know that this ugly, brown insulation would soon be covered up.
It was getting pretty impossible to get around downstairs! Those are the new baseboards running the length of the room.

3-level-floor The floors are disappearing. The vinyl in the kitchen will be replaced, but also the stained, used-to-be-white carpeting in the living room, and even the original hardwood that I never liked.


Dining room hardwood is gone!


The pantry needed to have the popcorn ceiling scraped and hardwood floor installed, so it was packed up very systematically, but unfortunately somewhat permanently, by David. No, we did not drink up all the liquor in the boxes before packing, although it might have helped. This was a very stressful evening. After I went to sleep, David moved on to color-coding and numbering the shelving units in the pantry before removing them, along with the hardware. You can see that the baseboards have already been removed throughout the entire downstairs.

pantry-tags-green pantry-tags-orange

drawers Why clean out the china cabinet and buffet drawers into boxes, when you can just remove the whole drawer and bring it upstairs? Unfortunately, my Christmas wrapping paper is in this closet, so no wrapping for me!second-guest-room

These white chairs will go in the new eating area. The contents of the bookcase cabinets landed in this bedroom, along with the paintings from the walls. The oceans of books already lived here.

Never fear, we will find a way to have coffee, and we will not compromise. Saturday mornings are for freshly-ground French Roast. Shower, sip, brush, all in one convenient place.

imag1078 David’s desk in the family room upstairs: sweeteners, cutting board, laptop, toaster, file folders. We are completely squeezed into this one room.


And here is why we have escaped upstairs: everything is coated in sheetrock dust! But it’s worth it, because when we turn around:

The new addition to the kitchen. Waiting for paint, flooring, and lighting– all happening this week!

The View from My Window

Right in the beginning of our renovation project, I started taking photos from my bedroom window, which is right above the new screened porch. Since the outside construction is finished, I realized that this photo-journal is complete! Here is the progress of the view from my window.

This is the roof of the old porch showing the bald spot in the yard over the newly installed septic tank.
Looking down where the old porch used to be. Now it’s just crumbling, old piers.
The new piers are in, and the porch and breakfast room have floor joists.
Framing in progress on the porch and breakfast room.
Rafters coming up!
My new view! I love these shingles. I can still see my favorite elm tree, too.

This Is Getting Exciting!

In case you were waiting to let me know you’re interested in buying the bay window, it’s gone. Who would have known that there was such a brisk market for bay windows? But it was sold in no time. I’ll show you where the money went very soon.

Really, it’s a breakfast room. It looks much better now.

Our house has a new shape! Soon after my last post, the new kitchen was framed up and closed in. I have no idea what it looks like inside, because they have not made any steps. I think this was premeditated. The carpenters can climb in and out by ladder, but I can only peer upwards through the door opening, which is pretty high off the ground. Finally today, the HVAC person has cut holes out for the vents in the floor. Or so they tell me.

Framing has commenced! It’s starting to look like a porch!

Even more exciting— because I can see it— the porch is completely framed and roofed. We are waiting on the inspector, and then we can wrap the posts in white weatherproof material and add rails, ceiling, and door. Greg was flexible enough to make a spur-of-the-moment change for me. When I came home last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, and headed toward the back porch to talk to Mason, a carpenter, the sunset was shining beautifully through the upper triangle under the peak of the roof. I asked Greg whether we could leave the siding off that top portion and just have screen. Today, he figured out how to accommodate the opening, and said yes. So, now my sunsets will all be framed works of art.

Beautiful ceiling rafters! You can see most of my coveted open peak at the end.
Screening is even important under the floor, so that those little critters don’t crawl up onto your feet.
Floor decking almost done!

Inside, the electricians have gotten started. Here is something I never realized before: electricians are messy. They cut through walls and leave a fine layer of sheetrock dust all over everything, and little chunks of sheetrock all over the floor. Here is a sample of their work.

Eventually, they just took the whole wall of sheetrock out. Much more efficient.

However, they have installed some very nice can lights, which I love much more than I expected. They bring the light in the kitchen out to the edges, rather than being concentrated in the middle. The little, hanging squares are where they had to drill through beams to pull the wiring through the ceiling. They assure me that this is temporary.



Tonight when I came home from work, we had reached a milestone that I had been anticipating for ever so long: a porch floor. When David and I stepped out back just after the workers left, it started to rain gently on our new roof. We found some chairs.