Room of Requirement | Downstairs Bath Inspiration

The Gingerbread Diaries

Since I wandered into the eventual bathroom remodel territory on the last post, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the possibilities and what we could do with the small space in there. It’s just under 50 square feet, there’s only so many places things can go, and it’s so small that I’ve concentrated on keeping things light in there to make it feel less claustrophobic. What is the real potential of this little room?

Let’s start with where we are now, with some quick cell phone snaps taken last night.

Downstairs bath: sink corner

Downstairs bath: sink corner

I really need to add a towel hook for by the sink!

Downstairs bath: commode and etagere

Downstairs bath: commode and etagere

Downstairs bath: unfortunate window placement

Downstairs bath: unfortunate window placement (obviously I have not gotten around to replacing these tattered blinds with curtains yet–it’s on the list)

Oh, and did I mention there’s another door in here?

Downstairs bath: door to my office

Downstairs bath: door to my office

That door, I believe, originally led from the owner’s study/the back parlor to the back porch. Now it’s a completely unnecessary door between my office/studio and the downstairs bath. And, yes, this is where I want the sink to go. While we’ll very likely seal this doorway (functionality wins out over the historical footprint of the house in this case), the fact that it’s already somewhat recessed will be, I believe, a great start for a recessed medicine cabinet above the sink to come.


Click the image to go to the current Pinterest Board for this project.

At dinner, last night, Todd and I went over some of the things we’d discussed in passing about fixtures and finishes. If you notice the monkey clock in the second photo and I purchased the dancing monkey clock a few years ago through a flash sale site and we’ve agreed to keep it in the room as our accent color inspiration. Everything else will be white or cream/khaki to keep the room bright.

Downstairs Bath

Downstairs Bath by scrapsoflife

The clawfoot tub (currently hidden behind the shower curtain) needs a good scrub with a wire brush and a fresh coat of paint. Someone had the questionable idea to add what appears to be a wallpaper border to the outside of the tub in years past, that will also get removed (though if its anything like the wallpaper in the entryway, it won’t put up much of a fight!).

We’ll pick up the burnt orange color from the clock in textiles and small accessories, maybe even replace the knobs on the current etagere (just a basic one from Target, but it serves it’s purpose and fits the space nicely) with pretty glass ones like in my polyvore board. Orange isn’t necessarily my favorite color, but I think a little bit here and there would be a nice touch in an otherwise neutral room.

Originally I’d thought we’d install in-floor radiant heat in both bathrooms. I’m not sure that’s really necessary downstairs anymore (especially since it’d only be installed in the middle third of the room–less than 20 square feet; you don’t put the heating elements under or too near the fixtures, only in the open areas), though I suppose I could feel differently when there’s ceramic tile on the floor instead of the wood-look vinyl flooring the contractor put in during the bank-required renovations. Still, I think a sizable, colorful bath rug could take care of creature comforts for anyone who actually needs to shower down here.

Considering the size of the room, I suppose it’s not surprising that this remodel could be done for less than $2,000 (it’s only a bit over a grand for the fixtures and accessories, but I’m allowing for a lot of the unknowns in my semi-educated guesstimate: drywall and it’s related materials, insulation, the plumbing supplies, and whatever else pops up). Thank goodness it can all be done by Todd and I, as the biggest chunk of any renovation project is the labor.

While I’ll be keeping an eye out over the next few months for orange accents at good prices, it looks like I’ll be shopping for a new ceiling fan for my office in the more immediate future. The motor started making a grinding noise last night that’s a bit disturbing.

That’s the fun of old houses, right???

Happy House-iversary to Us!

The Gingerbread Diaries

I’m so glad I finally told the roof tale last week and got it out of the way before today, the anniversary of our buying the Gingerbread Dollhouse.

Flashback to a year ago to-date.

Flashback to a year ago to-date.(And no worries, we changed the locks shortly after this picture was taken.)

We had some ups and a number of downs this year, but overall we’re still very happy to be homeowners, especially of the Dollhouse.

For the paper anniversary I’m afraid we haven’t done anything special for our pink lady–unless you count throwing dollars at her! As I mentioned, before, we were waiting until our taxes were tallied for 2014, just in case we owed anything (we did, but it wasn’t as bad as we were afraid–a busy convention season helped offset some of it), before starting any major renovations. Taxes were submitted on Sunday so we’re more or less clear to plan, right?

Except for a little analysis paralysis, that is: too many choices, too many places we could start.

But let’s go back to paper for a minute, shall we? Namely: wall paper.

Our rose-filtered entryway.

Our rose-filtered entryway.

We get a lot of compliments on the pretty rose wallpaper in the front hall and stairwell, but it’s just not in great shape. I thought I had my mind made up that we wouldn’t paper any of the walls, but I’m so used to seeing this pattern I’m afraid the entry would look terribly boring if we just chose a color scheme and painted.

If I’ve learned one thing from all the Victorian home magazines I read while we not-so-patiently waited (3 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days) to close, it’s that Bradbury & Bradbury is THE place to go for period-perfect wall papers. They are beautifully silk-screened art wallpapers made in California and the weight of the samples I received is amazing: not too flimsy, but not as heavy as some wallpaper samples I’ve crafted with in the past.

It so happens that Bradbury & Bradbury is also the wallpaper of choice for a very popular “landmark” of a slightly more modern era…

Image via Disney.Go

Image via Disney.Go

Yup, the Haunted Mansion.  In fact, they use patterns from the Victorian-Era Dresser II (named for designers Christopher Dresser, 1834-1904) in the Ashes of Roses colorway.

Screenshot from

Screenshot from

I ordered samples of both the Ashes of Roses colorway as well as the Terra Cotta/Burgundy colorway as well.

Screenshot via

Screenshot via

The “Lily” pattern is a touch too busy for my taste, but the Roland could definitely work, at least going up the stairs at about chair rail-height, topped with the Pinstripe Border. Above that, we might stick to just paint or use one of the more subtle patterns (not grabbed in the above screenshot), the Plaza Ceiling with its metallic pattern.

Now, it goes without saying that these are beautiful patterns in their own right, but the fact that they have a tie to one of our favorite places without being obnoxiously obvious is the kind of fun trivia that makes the decision more compelling.

I don’t know when we’ll bite the bullet and repaper the stairwell, but I’m almost certain it’ll be with this paper. Of course, there’s the not-so-small matter of needing to replace the front door (and the back door, and while we’re at it maybe the kitchen door, too) and frame, which means finding one I like that doesn’t look too modern for the house and in a material that Todd’s comfortable with that (of course) won’t break the bank.

Here’s to many long years ahead of us in the Dollhouse!

We've come a long way, baby!

We’ve come a long way, baby! From this before

To the after (so far)!

To the after (so far)!

3 Things I Wish I Knew To Ask For, Contractor Edition

The Gingerbread Diaries

To say that buying a house is a learning experience is an understatement. Pair a home purchase with am immediate renovation and you’ve got education out the wazoo! As much as I like to learn things, and as often as not I tend to learn them the hard way, here are three things I wish I knew to ask of our contractor before we got started.

Maybe it will help someone else getting their school of hard knocks degree in contractor negotiations.

1. Where will they pee?

Yes, it sounds funny that this is the first question I wish I’d known to ask, but it’s indicative of all those little considerations that just don’t occur to you until after the fact. This particular one (of asking the contractor to include a Port-o-Let in their estimate) was suggested by an article on Houzz after our renovations had ended and I really wish I’d read it 6 months sooner.

I remember thinking, after discovering the busted pipe a few days after closing (that Todd was able to fix, thankfully) that we needed to make sure it was safe to leave the water on while the workers were here so that they’d have access to the facilities and to water and whatnot. It was a kind thought, and I give myself credit for that, but I regretted it soon.

The first week the work crew was in they used up almost all the paper goods we’d bought right after closing. That amounted to a case of paper towels and a a large package of toilet paper, and left trash everywhere. And if that wasn’t enough, they also helped themselves to a pair of work gloves Todd had left out on our makeshift dining room table, ruining said gloves by using them to remove the old roof, and sopping up who knows what with one of the bath towels I’d brought up, leaving it crumpled and soaking wet (and filthy) and thrown into the closet under the stairs. Had we put off our next trip up by a week, May’s heat and humidity would have rendered that a mess of mold and mildew right behind our downstairs a/c filter.

It was a small but shattering sound heard as my goodwill towards the work crew evaporated.

Lesson learned: hide everything you don’t want them touching. Which we did in a giant storage tote tucked into one of the downstairs closets.

2. Who will actually be on-site?

This doesn’t mean I expect to vet the work crew before agreeing to the bid–that’s a lot to ask even of the most corporate outfits. No, I mean who’s actually going to be on-site and in charge during the day-to-day of the project. It never occurred to me (that’s a theme, here) that the contractor I made all these arrangements with might leave someone else in charge of the work being done on the biggest single purchase of my life. Especially not when this is, ostensibly, a one-man-and-his-crew operation and not some big corporate contractor.

But that’s exactly what happened, at least in certain instances that I can be sure of. Overall, I’m left to wonder how often the man I trusted my home to was really there.

The first inkling we had was when we discovered the house key sitting on the top ledge of our front door. Apparently no one person could be bothered to be in charge of our key, so they just left it “hidden” for whoever showed up first the next day. Another time we found the key in the lock on the back door when we came home (after we’d already moved all our stuff in). To say I was not pleased was an understatement, but at least they were making sure the doors were actually closed and locked (more than once in the early days I came home to find doors yawning open).

But the most damning evidence came at the end of the job, when they started to work on the exterior. They’d removed the loose materials and the first coat of our chosen color (Del Coronado Peach, from Valspar’s National Trust for Historic Preservation color line) was going up! Only problem was, it looked like crap.

Not the color (though haters of our peachy-pink might disagree), the surface. They put the first coat of paint on (no primer, by the way) and that same afternoon Todd went by and the paint was already bubbling, peeling, and showing every single rough edge where the still-adhered previous paint was firmly stuck. When I voiced my concern our contractor explained that it was just the first coat and that once 3-4 were on, none of that would be a problem.

House Photos 017

Ignore the purple-look in this picture, trick of the light or something. But it’s a great example of the insta-peel paint feature we didn’t ask for!

House Photos 009 House Photos 011

So then I sent these pictures of what we were seeing on the front of the house, to be very specific of what we saw as the problem. That’s when he replied, “oh, I wasn’t actually there, yes, we’ll make it right” and they spent the next week prepping the entire exterior, feathering out the edges of the well-adhered paint and sanding the bare clapboards, like they needed to do in the first place. And when the weather cleared (barely) enough for them to start painting again? A coat of primer was also used.

Now, some of this might have been unfortunate timing: we’d had to push back the closing so many times and then wait on the last-minute update to the contractor’s license before permits could be pulled and work could begin. I fully acknowledge that the more than 2-month delay made it necessary for our contractor to split his time between our job and whatever came up in the mean time, but I still think it’s a question I should have asked.

3. Can I get that in writing?

And by “that” I mean the warranty–not just the contractor’s guarantee of their labor but, and perhaps more importantly, the materials warranty on something like your roofing shingles. According to my contractor, he (verbally) guarantees his labor for 2 years. Okay, so for the first two years if something goes wrong I can call him and he’ll deal with it. Sounds good (and this conversation was had when I’d already had to do just that, the week after we moved in). The shingles he put on our roof, though, they come with a 20 year manufacturing defect warranty. Now, a lot can happen in 20 years. Our contractor may have picked up stakes and moved away (or worse) by the time something comes to light with the shingles. Could there be a recall down the line? How would I know?

These days when you buy electronics or appliances, there’s a little warranty card and lots of legalese in the packaging. That plus your receipt can help you out of jam should something go wrong sooner than normal usage would allow. But a roof? I didn’t purchase the materials outright so that’s not much help, and aside from the conversation we had while he was back up on my roof, I’ve got nothing to go on. As much as it pained me to contact him (dislike of confrontation and/or rocking the boat, I admit it), I did put on my big-girl pants and email him a request for something in writing. We’ll see what becomes of that.

There’s more to this story, of course (isn’t there always), and I’m almost ready to tell it. Almost. This first year of home ownership has not been the easiest. Every time we think we’re finally past the triage stage, something else comes up. We knew it was going to be a long term project and that we weren’t in a hurry, but, well…

That’s a story for another post.

Honesty is the Best {Renovation} Policy

The Gingerbread Diaries

During one of our many trips to Lowes, I remembered our Brita pitcher had been flashing “change soon” the last few pours. But I had a dilemma: did I buy the single filter or the 3-pack? I waited for Todd to catch up to where I’d wandered and asked him:

Will you have the water filter installed in one filter’s lifespan or should I get the 3?

We got the three-pack.

It wasn’t that Todd was putting off the filter decision and installation on purpose, it was more than we had so many other things going on that using the filtered pitcher for drinking water bumped the whole-house filter down the list quite a ways. Plus, I appreciated his honesty.

I think this is one of those examples of why Todd and I have never fought in the 7 years we’ve been together: we ask questions and respect the answers. I could have just picked up the single pitcher filter with the expectation of him completing the larger task in the 1-2 months it would last and been frustrated when it wasn’t, that disappointment leading to an argument. He could have assured me that he’d get it done despite knowing that he probably wouldn’t, setting up yet another opportunity for drama. No, instead he was honest about the likelihood of getting to that line item, we got what we needed, and avoided that whole sitcom-level miscommunication bit that the media conditions us to expect.

And, for the record, he installed an under-sink filter in the kitchen during the second filter’s tenure.

Which brings up another lesson we’ve learned in the last few months:

Just because it's the right thing to do, doesn't mean it's the thing to do right now!

Just because it’s the right thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s the thing to do right now!

That bit of wisdom was realized during a leak issue that I’m not ready to talk about just yet, but it applies to the water filter decision, too. Originally the plan was to install a whole-house filter for particles, etc. and then an under-sink filter in the kitchen for taste. Todd bought the whole-house filter but when the time came to install it, he realized it wasn’t quite that simple.

Because of the way the house was built and then later added onto, we have 3 different supply lines running into the house. Basically, one for each of the bathrooms and one for the kitchen that has an offshoot to the water heater. This meant that a single access point to place the filter was not feasible. It also means that when we start the room-by-room renovations (of which the kitchen and bathrooms are foremost in importance) we’re going to be doing some rerouting of the pipes.

With the recent drop in temperatures we also realized that these 3 supply lines meant that we’d need to leave a faucet in each wet room running to prevent burst pipes during the overnight freeze warnings. The right thing to do is obvious: repipe the house. But it sure as hell isn’t the thing to do right now!

So we punted. Todd bought an under-sink filter for the kitchen and got it installed a few weeks ago. Of course, we’re so used to the Brita pitcher after the past few months that we haven’t gone back to our old habit of refilling water bottles to keep in the fridge, but at least now we can drink from the kitchen tap or fill a pot without worrying about how the water will affect the flavor of the meal. I’m also happy to report that the filter does not appear to slow the flow from the faucet at all (a big concern of mine with the under-sink option) and the actual filter will only need to be changed twice a year.

Of course, the filter is sitting perched on a plastic container inverted into another, larger, plastic container to keep it level and to catch any drips (just in case) because there’s no clear space to actually mount it to the wall under the sink thanks to the aforementioned creative plumbing solutions of the previous owners.

Again. Right thing versus right for now.

Something That Looks Strangely Like Progress

The Gingerbread Diaries

I’m happy to report that things are progressing well, over all, at the Gingerbread Dollhouse, even though we haven’t been up there in a couple of weeks (first missed weekend was spent at a convention, then the next one we just needed a quiet weekend at home to recover from the previous one!). Of course, when we were last there, we (and by we, I once again mean Todd) went for another round with the hot water heater (which I realize is rather redundant, and yet I seem to always default to that instead of just water heater–I’ll work on it).

[Direct link for feed readers: Gingerbread Diaries, Ep. 1.4: Todd vs the Hot Water Heater (redux)]

Look out, y’all! I found the speed controls and some background music; before you know it I’ll almost look like I know what I’m doing! But seriously, I’m making an effort to keep the videos rather short and single-topic, so this is the first part of “weekend 4” and there’s at least 1 more part to add to our Gingerbread Diaries Playlist on YouTube, so make sure you subscribe to not miss anything (not all of them will be embedded in posts).

While Todd was working on the water heater, I was taking care of another small chore that I’d been meaning to do since we bought the house: smudging.

You might think I’m a bit off, or maybe you agree with me, but with new spaces (and old houses especially), you just never know what kind of energy has been left behind. Between the 100+ years the house has stood and in light of the last 10 years or so spent as a personal care home, there’s bound to be some negative vibes hanging around that we could just do without. I actually don’t mind if the house is haunted–it might add some character, you never know–but I’d like only happy haunts if you don’t mind. To that end, I went room by room, window by window, and door by door, with a smoking bundle of sage and sweetgrass to help cleanse the area. If nothing else, it felt like a productive thing and gave me a bit more peace of mind when I went to sleep that night.

In fact, it might have been the first night I slept easily and soundly in that house!

We even slept in until 10am–almost unheard of for Todd–and only got up when the doorbell rang. It was a neighbor from down the street wanting to chit chat about the house and it was only after he’d left that I looked in the mirror and realized what a mess my hair was, not to mention the raccoon eyes and lack of bra. Great first impression that one. (At least I was wearing shorts and a long-sleeved tee instead of something more nighty-like!)

He wasn’t our only visitor this weekend, either! One of Todd’s former coworkers knocked on the door to take a peek inside the place and we were happy to show her around (despite the construction clutter). We haven’t even moved in yet and we’ve had more people stop by and say hello from the neighborhood than we have in the 3.5 years we’ve lived in our current home! Once again, Thomasville shows itself to be a true southern town.

The new flooring in the upstairs bath.

The new flooring in the upstairs bath.

Since that visit Todd’s been kind enough to drop by the house and take pictures of the progress so I don’t feel so out of the loop! In the last 2 weeks they’ve replaced the vinyl flooring that was in horrible shape with a rather nifty sheeting that looks like wood planks. Since I’d told them to find the cheapest replacement out there I was expecting plain white or brown flooring so this is an unexpected treat. We’ll be replacing it all as we do the room-by-room renovations (hence the request for cheap and serviceable) over the years but this’ll hold us better than expected while we decide what to do next.

They've repaired the brick pillars at the back (the culprits for our "structural" issues) and installed lattice skirting to enclose the crawlspace.

They’ve repaired the brick pillars at the back (the culprits for our “structural” issues) and installed lattice skirting to enclose the crawlspace.

There were almost enough recovered cut-work spindles to reassemble the railing on the side of the porch, looks like they only had to cut 1 new one.

There were almost enough recovered cut-work spindles to reassemble the railing on the side of the porch, looks like they only had to cut 1 new one.

And they've even built us new railings on the ramp/stairs (the ramp is staying until we get moved-in, we figured it might make things easier for moving furniture).

And they’ve even built us new railings on the ramp/stairs (the ramp is staying until we get moved-in, we figured it might make things easier for moving furniture).

Aside from a few odds and ends inside, the last big push is to get the exterior scraped and then the big finish: painting!