Thursday, July 27, 2017

Start to Finish, Commentary on the Kitchen/Entryway Remodel

I've been dreading writing this post for a while just because it seems so daunting, but I know I will someday want to remember these details (I know I've already forgotten many of them) so here we go. (I hope you appreciate this, future self.)

While they demo-ed Chris and I made spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to keep us organized and aware of every detail we want to change including pages of projected project costs, including various options of appliances, flooring, tile etc. We weren't sure we could afford to do anything to the front entryway/stairs up to the library/loft if it was going to cost a lot to level the floors (Vick couldn't give us a solid estimate on that because it totally depended on what he found was causing the rolling.)  

So one of the first things he did was cut out a section of the floor to see what was causing it. Turns out, it was just improperly spanned in the first place. All the wood was in good condition and there weren't any problems with the foundation. The original builders just spanned the supports too far apart. With some cement blocks and jacks Vick and his guys were able to add additional supports under the places were the dips were the worse. They couldn't fix everything to be 100% completely level because he said it would just cause additional rolling (Not sure I understood that exactly) but the floors are dramatically better.  

Taking out the wall between the kitchen and the family room (behind the old fridge and kitchen sink) allowed them to see some sagging in the ceiling that I hadn't noticed so they installed a beam in the attic to straiten up and support the ceiling better.  

We weren't going to change the ceiling above the old craft room at all, We were going to leave it vaulted, although it would've mean 1/2 the new kitchen would have a different ceiling height than the other 1/2, but we worried about expense for UN-vaulting a room (which seemed like a bad idea.... isn't everything better with vaults?). Vick assured us it wouldn't be too much more money and I'm super glad we did. It really makes the new kitchen feel like 1 intended space. As they were messing with the ceilings they realized the original house builders used 2 x 6 " boards for the joists instead of the typical 2 x 8" which is what is required for recessed lights -- something we really cared about to maximize the feeling of height/space with our 8' ceiling.  So we would need to tear down the existing ceiling drywall and get rid of the old insulation so everyone could easily access what they need to and be able to install recessed lighting.  I wasn't thrilled with this additional cost/need, but whatever... I don't really know anything about building so we went with it. 

Around this point, Vick's dad was able to crunch the numbers so far (bringing in the fact that the floors were so simple to fix and that we had to take out the old kitchen ceiling) and give us a more accurate project estimate for the rest.  We had already met with the cabinet guy and had a quote back from him which was on the lower end of what we were expecting. Also, by this time, we had picked out the exact flooring and had done our own projected price for that. The number from Vick's dad was so encouraging that we felt confident we had plenty of money to cover everything and could move forward with the front entryway and stairs and still finish the remodel with a small but decent savings account. 

We gave them the go ahead on the front porch area and they got started right away. Vick and his crew are so FAST.  Vick's dad had a way better (and easier to build) idea on getting the stairs to the library/loft to integrate with the front entryway steps.  I really love how they turned out and am so glad they figured out a good way to get normal-feeling steps within the allotted space. 

I envisioned a big wrap around front porch but to simplify and keep costs down we did just a small rectangle and didn't knock down the extra brick facade by the old front door and instead closed it in to make a big entryway closet.  

Cabinets. Vick uses a local guy and his wife for cabinets and we were pleased to find their pricing pretty decent. With how things stood with the numbers Vick's dad gave us already, we felt we could splurge a tiny bit and use some of the buffer money to do a built in desk and cabinets for the living room. We went to the cabinet guy's warehouse to pick out exact facings and styles and Chris discovered he was allergic to cats! Picking out the color for the island was tricky.  After we struggled with it (wanting to go bold, but not sure what was too dark) we finally found one and gave it to the cabinet people, who couldn't match it exactly and we had to choose again out of a couple options they gave us.  After we chose and they got painted, I had worries about it matching well with the counters and I was preparing myself for disappointment. 

We felt it was both worth it and possible to spend a little bit more on suspended seating for the kitchen island. Chris grew up with seats like this and just loved them and felt like it really added to the comfort and ease of the kitchen. We debated putting them in now or maybe saving up for it later, but we figured with the footstool needed and the cabinetry customized, it was a smarter play to get it right the first time. 

We were planning on saving money by just reusing our old door and just painting it or something to update it but we didn't think about minor details like which direction it swung open. So had another tough decision to make between using our old door and having it open a bit funny and maybe hoping to replace it later, or just get it right the first time but fork out another 1,000. We decided to get things right the first time and use some buffer money to accommodate a new door. (Which we eventually found for under $800 -- in the meantime we had a piece of plywood nailed to the wall for weeks on end that the workers would take off each day to access the inside)

Our living room AC unit has never really worked when it was really hot. It could never cool the house below 88 in the heat of the summer months. I spoke with the AC guy who did our AC for our first remodel/addition and he said it would be cheaper to just replace the old-under-floor/deck unit with a regular attic one... I was happy about this because I hate the air vents in the floor in the kitchen. When it came time to put in the new AC unit, I couldn't ever get my guy to call me back so we went with someone Vick usually uses and his quote was 1,000 more than the other guys (but the one from my guy was only a verbal ballpark anyway so maybe it would've been the same) 

The check from the sale of stock, took A LONG time to get to us.  The few times we've done it in the past, its come within a week of requesting it. This time after a week when it didn't come, Chris talked to the accountant who told us that because of a meeting reschedule, they weren't able to confirm the sale right away but that they had just done so a day ago and he would be able to write the check tomorrow. Another week went by... and nothing. By now the bills and deposits (cabinets, floors, counters) have been pouring in and we barely had enough in our savings/checking to cover it. We called the accountant guy again and there was some other delay but they were sending the check the next day.  This made Chris and I SOOO NERVOUS and anxious. What if questions were going crazy in my head, What if they somehow canceled the approval and we weren't going to be receiving any money after all? What if we had to live in this ripped apart house for years until we saved up enough of our regular income to cover it? I HATE the feeling of making poor decisions and starting a remodel without the money to cover it IN our account seemed like a pretty poor decision.   Dixie graciously offered to wire us some money to get us by until the check came. A few days later the check blessedly arrived! It still took a good bit of time for it to become available for use and I was embarrassed to have to ask Vick for a check I had just wrote him back so I could split the amount between two different checking accounts. I do not like scraping so close to the bottom!

We decided to save money and do the painting ourselves. I had already done some painting as I got rid of the brown paint in the living room a few months ago, I thought we could handle it. They were making such good progress so quickly we thought we'd get to do the painting over Spring Break.  But I forgot about how much time has to pass between each layer of mudding and some spots needed quite a bit of mud. I wasn't actually impressed with the people who did the dry-way and mudding. There seemed to be a lot of little holes/bubbles in the mud.  I ended up doing most of the painting by myself. I did have one afternoon where 3 sets of missionaries spent an hour or so getting a good first coat on over the primer I'd already done. OH.MY.WORD. As I type this post up MONTHS after the remodel finished I'm STILL finishing small painting details like trim etc and the railing and some exterior trim.  Plus sides: I'm pretty decent at painting now and just today did the baseboards in the kitchen without taping anything off. Down sides: I'm sick of painting and kinda hate it. 

Counters and Floors and Lights. Chris doesn't like to make  decisions quickly, so for each step and each decision we'd both go many times and take home samples and think about it and eventually go back and pick out the real thing. We visited this granite warehouse in the next town over a few times to look at colors and price things out. Same thing with a local flooring shop... only we had a REALLY hard time finding the right color of engineered hardwood that we had MANY trips and took home MANY samples.  We had to eventually compromise a bit on color to keep pricing down, so the floors are darker than I envisioned but I'm still really happy with them, especially in the light of day. We found some inexpensive fans online and got the pendant lights over the island onsale at Lowes and got the entryway chandelier thing with Vick's contractor discount at a lighting store in Columbus. 

Once the drywall and painting were done we could install either floor or cabinets. Different people recommended a different order for these: floors first so if you change cabinets later the flooring is already in place, no cabinets first so you don't accidentally dent floors with the install.  Around this time, I was SO BURNT out with making decisions. I really didn't want to regret any decision so I felt a lot of pressure to get it right the first time.  We ended up doing the cabinets first. 

At this point, we got another big bill from Vick for the past month's labors and it was SO MUCH MORE than he had projected out for by a lot.. and we still weren't finished!  By this time we had the exact estimates from flooring, counters, and cabinets and everything was just a bit more than the projected costs. (Stupid sales tax and bullnose trim was extra on the floors, the soft-closing cabinet hardware was another $800 more, and the desk area was also more when the specific dimensions were put it and the install took another day than they expected and again, stupid tax money we didn't account for)  After crying myself to sleep one night because of the increase expense I got up my courage to talk to Vick's dad (Burnell) about it next time he came over.  Apparently when he gave us the remaining projected cost 1/2 way through he forgot about the front porch labor, and labor and materials for the closets/pantry window seat and they had to install a beam on one wall that they hadn't anticipated that increased just his current cost by more than 5,000.  And it still wasn't the final bill.  I've been watching them work, I know they're not being lazy or short cutting us, or overcharging us. They're honest guys and do good work.  Looking back over that cost estimate 1/2 way through that was so off, I should have realized that just $1,000 allocated for remaining labor was not going to cover all the work that still had to be done.  Vick was aware (a little bit) of the increased cost and offered to not take his 10% on some of the sub contractors bills and let me just pay them directly (like the electrician, drywall, cabinets, floors, etc).

We had enough in our own savings and buffer fund to cover it all, but... JUST BARELY.  I really was praying this whole time for us to make good decision and be good, efficient stewards of the monetary blessings at our disposal. I thought we had make good decisions with the information we had but at the end, I felt like we must've NOT actually make good decisions, having landed us so close to empty when we had so much to begin with.  The only things we could cut back on at this point to save money were the things we hadn't purchased or put a deposit on: new appliances, stained concrete porch, tiled back splash, new kitchen table, the built in vacuum and instant hot water dispenser.  We axed the table, wood-looking stain on the front porch, back splash and new appliances and decided to just reuse our old ones but to still go ahead with the vacuum and hot water since they totaled only $400 and seemed pittance compared to the $10,000 plus we were over budget.  

We could only afford to pay Vick and his guys for basically one more day of labor so we figured we'd finish on our own anything else - which ended up being the suspended seats, building the footstool for it, some trim work and the stair railings, banister and newel posts.  Chris did amazing on the footstool and it took us a long time to stain the suspended chairs and coat them and get them just the right color. The stair rail was a beast of a project to do ourselves and took SO MANY weekends and weeknights as we figured out how to use new tools, stain the wood the right color, and cut things to be at just the right angle and spacing, etc. We ran into some problems half-way but figured things out and are SO pleased with how it turned out.  One of the plus sides of doing some things by ourselves is that we learned some new skills and actually feel like we contributed to the remodel and have a nice sense of ownership around it all... also we have a nice perspective and gratitude that we were able to pay talented, fast and experienced people to do all the hard stuff!

 Whew. I think that pretty much covers everything.  Its too complicated for me to say some summarizing statement like: Overall, I'm glad we did everything that we did.  But whats done is done and I'm determined to love it and enjoy it as it is. Its amazing and totally my dream kitchen and we're so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this remodel.  Maybe one lesson I learned was to NOT TOUCH THE BUFFER MONEY.  It will get used by someone else... that's why its set aside as a buffer.  Hopefully, all these improvements have made big difference on the value of the home and we will feel like our prayers to have been good stewards will seem answered when (and if) we ever sell the house and get a good price for it.

One more set of Before and Afters because they're so fun:

BEFORE entryway: 

AFTER entryway

BEFORE Inside the entryway

AFTER Inside the entryway:

BEFORE (1/2 through the first remodel)  Living room:

AFTER Living room:

BEFORE Kitchen:

AFTER Kitchen:







Any future projects? Well, I'm a Betteridge, so yes. Our dream home will be complete when (and if) we ever remodel the master bath, back porch and guest house. Who knows how long it'll take us to save up for those... and probably we should stop putting more money into this house!  Although if you look at how much we may lose if the renovations don't actually up the value of the house by as much as they cost and compare that to how much we would have been spending on rent during this time, we'll still come out on top. So I guess we could just be paying for us to be living/working on our dreams... if that makes any sense. Nothing is starting to make sense to me which is evidence that I've been on the computer typing for too long! Ok. Done. 

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Summer days: Jam, picking pears, building a sandbox

I was given some fresh figs and an easy recipe for Strawberry-fig jam. It turned out so good and has been a major favorite at our house! I want to make even more next summer, if I'm so fortunate to receive more figs.  

 I was so surprised and impressed with myself for the success with the strawberry-fig jam that when we were invited to pick pears at a neighbors house I blissfully pictured more beautiful jars of pear preserves. Um.. this didn't turn out well. Turns out you can't substitute pectin for expired packets of gelatin. So I now have jars and jars of pear syrup in our fridge/freezer. Its decent syrup, but not what I was hoping for.

We finally made the big sandbox we've dreamed of for a while now. With kids signed up for my preschool, starting in August, its been a good incentive to help us get this built this summer. We measured our desired size that would fit best in our playground area and then had to change it slightly based on the sizes of boards available. I dug away the bark while Chris cut the boards then we screwed everything together.  We used treated lumber for the sides and non-wood, but wood-looking decking material for the top piece that the kids would touch and sit on the most.

Alec helped us lay down black material to help prevent weeds and I painted the lumber to match the top trim.

A few days later we got some nice play sand from Loews and the kids liked emptying them into the box. Chris constructed a pouring ledge and positioned fans just so to blow away the dangerous super fine dust that comes with the sand.

The kids have loved the little pool we got for Gwen's party and Chris decided to surprise them by jumping in (helped only slightly but a push from yours truly) after working outside all day to finish building the sandbox.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Gwen's Birthday!

Gwen turns 7! We were excited this year to celebrate birthdays with friends and do birthday parties and Gwen is the lucky kid with the first birthday of the year, so we had a lot of pent up birthday party energy to spend! She picked an underwater/mermaid theme and Alec and I had fun decorating the house with mostly homemade decorations. We hung blue tissue paper loosely around the ceiling lights to give everything a blueish hue. We made octopus with balloons and streamers, and jelly fish with paper plates and ribbons and hung those from the ceiling, then we used green crepe paper to put sea weed along some of the walls.  Gwen wanted to keep the birthday party small and only have a few close friends who knew each other so she picked some friends from her school classes the last two years. They made a bubble letter craft, went on a treasure scavenger hunt around the house the ended up with a chest full of 'pearl' necklaces, and played outside in a little kiddie pool and slip n' slide.  So fun. We were planning on getting her a bike for her birthday but she used all her saved up money and bought one for herself just a week or so before her birthday.  Alec made her a bookcase for her doll house... one that he designed and built with very little help from me... and he filled it with a lot of origami paper books that he made and a wooden clock.  He was so excited to do it and give it to her. I know Gwen has serious doubts about Alec's love for her so this was really special to experience.  Another favorite gift was the big doll that Grandma Dixie got her. She's named her Cindy and even now as I write this post (2 months later) still enjoys playing with her.

Gwen is a lively, tender-hearted, intelligent girl who loves ballet, reading books, riding bikes, playing crazy with her brothers, and cuddling with her daddy.  He's constantly telling her how many tickles she needs every day and she pretty much eats it up.  She enjoys building things on minecraft, dancing, singing, playing school, and is really consistent and independent with her Saturday chores. We dearly love our Gwendolyn.

I'm frustrated that my phone was too full to let me take any pictures and so we used our regular camera to get pictures of the party, but with our new computer that has unusable USB ports, I'm not sure how I can access those pictures. :(

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

4th of July

The kids helped me finish a project I've been wanting to do forever that was made possible by the workers leaving behind a pallet when the remolded our kitchen a few months back: an American Flag pallet porch decoration thingy. 

Chris set up a new golf pitching game with some hula hoops.

Then in the early afternoon we had our friends, the Leighs over to our house to celebrate our country's noble birth. We grilled some food, played yard games, and board games and set off some fireworks.  I'm so grateful for good friends to make holidays still feel like party even if we can't be with extended family.