Last time I checked in, I had just finished the slate tile in the stairwell off the kitchen and was planning to set the kitchen tile the following weekend. There has been much progress since that blog - I finished the tile floor in the kitchen, had the awful, urine-soaked floors in the dining room, living room and sitting room sanded, stained and urethaned. The stairs to the second floor have also been sanded and stained, and we have sheetrock in the kitchen that is now primed and painted. While I am waiting for the kitchen cabinets to arrive, I am working on finishing the cabinet built-in that goes in the master bedroom upstairs. It's so nice when a project gets to the finishing stages where everything you do is final, finish work.

Of course it never feels that easy when you are in the throes of that work.... The kitchen floor was another one of my brainstorms that just aggravated my dad to death, and added a couple more layers of callus to my knees in the execution... but it was totally worth it once I could straighten up and peruse the finished floor. I wanted to use a penny or hex tile to fit the era of the house. I couldn't find penny tile that was in the budget, so I opted for a white hex tile.

Since I'm not a big fan of vast expanses of white, I wanted to break the hex tile up with something else. With the help of Theresa at a local tile store, we came up with a matte 4/4 tile in the same dark brown that I used in the upstairs bathroom. Since I am using more of the salvaged rose-beige tile in the kitchen, it made sense to couple it again with the dark brown.

Soooo, again with the extra hour of free time... I came up with a pattern that turned out really great, but could have been a complete nightmare. Luck and room dimensions were on my side. I set an outside band of the dark brown tile on a diagonal, and then put an 8" band of hex tile inside that. Then I set one course of the dark brown tile butted together (not on a diagonal), and then filled the center with the hex tile.

I had to dry fit the entire floor in sections to make sure that my dimensions would work, and to troubleshoot any issues that might arise. It all went pretty well, and I learned a lot about laying mosaic tile in the process! I had two corners I could run my error into, so that was a blessing. My only real issue was making up the difference in thickness between the hex and the 4x4 tile. I ended up using 1/8" shims and a skimcoat of thinset to raise the hex up to the level of the 4x4 tiles. It was a lot of extra work, but totally worth it.

Once we got the floor done, dad had to finish the electrical rough-in, and we ended up (well, HE ended up) having to shim the walls by 1/4" so that our sheetrock guys could use 1/2' rock. He also had to put in blocking for the kitchen cabinets. We had planned for 3/4" rock since that was about the thickness of the plaster and lath we had removed from this room. All the woodwork was set to about 3/4" depth.

Well, getting the sheetrock up was quite another thing altogether. I ran across a guy who had done some restoration on his house, and he said he could sheetrock the kitchen for me. I wasn't super happy with the job the previous contractor had done upstairs - he left a huge mess of globs of mud, dust everywhere, and not a real good job of keeping everything flush and plumb in critical areas of the bathroom where I was going to tile. We spent a couple weekends fixing those issues and I was scared to death to even start the tile - my first tile job and I have to deal with issues! So, I said fine, but I need this done before my floor guy comes in to sand and finish the floors because I don't want this sheetrock dust all over the new floors and new urethane, etc. I was very clear. Told him the date. Oh, no problem, he says.

I just had a bad feeling about this, but I was running close to the deadline - I had two weeks before the floors would be started, so I was just as specific as I could be. Apparently I wasn't clear enough. This guy screwed around for two weeks and then called me two or three days before the floor guy is due, saying oh, my kids have this, and my wife has that, and I have plans with the family, blah, blah blah. Meanwhile, he was calling my parents and telling them about all this other work my house needed (like he had a clue), and how he could take care of all that 'for me' and it would be cheap because he "wasn't in the business of screwing people." Really?

I told you I had a bad feeling.... I already sensed that he saw my house as some kind of cash cow for him and his buddies to make a buck on, and I warned my parents that he wasn't to be trusted. When he started working on them (why, I don't know - maybe he thought they were footing the bill? nothing is further from the truth) they both politely told him that the work he was talking about had already been done. Which it had. So, there was another guy he had called in to 'help' him, and I knew that guy - he had done work for me before - so he ended up calling me to find out when they were going to start. 

OK, I am just going to stop here and say this: I have a lot of respect for people who work for a living, especially doing physical work. It is tough, and not terribly rewarding, and most people who hire you think that because you end up dirty at the end of the day, you are somehow beneath them. When I hire someone, I am selective about who gets the job because I don't want hassles, but I also treat them with the respect I would treat anyone else I would hire - attorney, accountant, whatever.

So this other guy called to find out the scoop, and I told him look, I haven't hired one single person on this project yet who does work on the side like you guys do. The reason is that I have things that need to be done when I need them done, and I don't want to hear about the wife, and the kids, and the dog, and the minivan. Those things are not my problem. What I need is someone who will come in, do the work on time, and get paid. That is all I care about. He got it. I waited another week after the floors were done so the urethane would have time to cure, and then he got in there with another guy (not the blow-hard who originally said he'd do the job) who did the finishing, and he hung the board, they finished it, and all was well. They did a beautiful job.

Considering the huge amount of work we have done on this house, it is amazing that this was the only real aggravation as far as contractors go, and even more fortunate that I was able to get it resolved quickly without losing any money, and without losing more than two weeks in the process. I know people who have ghoulish, nightmare stories about contractors, and of course if you watch Holmes on Homes, you KNOW. So, I was very lucky to have seen through the charade quickly and get the project back on track just as quickly. If anything, take this as a warning. If your gut tells you something doesn't feel right with a contractor, don't hire him. Or at least sleep on it first.


Moving on... the floors in the dining room, living room and sitting room, as you well know from following this blog, were severely damaged by the previous canine resident. Huge and repeated urine stains everywhere. When I pulled the carpet in the house, the urine had crystallized and powdered all over the back of the carpet, the carpet pad, and the floor.(As pictured.)

We weren't sure how the wood was going to sand, or what it would look like. Turns out, it sanded beautifully. There are still some visible stains, but fortunately, they are in the center of the rooms where I will cover them with area rugs anyway. A bonus was the color range in the oak. I have always thought of oak as bland and colorless. It was not my favorite wood. But when Mark hit this oak with his floor sander, the colors that came out were incredible! He said he thinks this is probably red oak, which has far more variety of color than the white oak I am familiar with.

In order to even out and camouflage the stains as best we could, Mark (my floor guy) and I tried a couple different stains. I was fully prepared to have to go as dark as we went in the upstairs bathroom. However, the stain that looked best was Minwax Provincial - the same stain I used on the woodwork in those same rooms. Perfect.

I was a bouncy pain in the butt the entire week Mark was working on the floors. It was so incredible to me the transformation from crystallized urine to beautiful, smooth, clean floors... There are no words... He also sanded my stairs and installed cove mold that I had stained and urethaned. There were gaps between the risers and the stair treads that made the otherwise beautiful stairs look rickety, so my solution was to cover it with the same cove mold that was used as a decorative trim piece under the lip of the stair tread.

The photo of the finished floor is basically the same area in the 'before' photo just above it. I have waited a year and a half to get from the first photo to the second. Tell me I'm not happy!

And there's more....

While I am waiting for my kitchen cabinets to arrive, I have been working on a project in the master bedroom. I have limited closet space in that room, and I have an antique bedroom set that offers little in the way of storage, so I decided to install a "built-in" cabinet that would hold clothing and my TV/stereo.

First I went to Lowe's to have it quoted, and it priced out at close to $7,000.00. After I recovered from sticker shock, I decided to see if there was some way to do it cheaper. My inner cheapskate would not allow me to do anything else but! So I found a company online that sells unfinished cabinets. I emailed them for a quote, and it came back at about $1,700.00. Still steep, but more palatable. I ordered them, and they have been sitting in the bedroom for months. I took some time to think about how I wanted to finish them. There is so much wood in the house already, I decided I wanted to paint them instead of stain and urethane. Then I thought about latex paint and how rubbery it can be, and the fact that no matter how good I am with a paint brush, there will still be brush marks in it. I didn't like that image in my head!

So, I remembered that I had seen or heard somewhere about milk paint, and I did some research on it. There are a couple things being sold as milk paint. The first is true milk paint. It comes in a powder that you mix and apply with a brush. The other kind is an acrylic paint in a can. This is what I bought to experiment with. And of course, me being me, I can't just paint the stupid cabinet and be done......... nooooooooooooooo. I have to come up with some complicated, multi-step finish that requires two paint colors, a glaze and several clear coats between and on top as a finish coat.

I have done a sample block to prove out my process and see how it will actually look (pictured here). First I coated the block with a dark brown paint. Then I applied a clear coat meant to be compatible with these acrylic/milk paints. According to their brochure, this clear coat between colors provides nicer separation when you antique through one color to reveal the one below. Once the clear coat dried, I applied a couple coats of the yellow. I had to use two coats to get sufficient coverage on the dark brown. When the yellow dried, I used a sanding sponge to sand through the top color to reveal the brown, and in certain places, I went right down to the bare wood. Once I got it "distressed," I put another clear coat over it. Then I applied a dark brown glaze to blend the yellow and brown together, dull the yellow down a bit and provide continuity between this piece and the rest of the colors in the room.

Although it sounds complicated, the paint goes on nicely, you can relax and not worry about a 'perfect' application, and it dries quickly, so the time between coats can be as little as 2-4 hours. I'm quite happy with the results on my color block, and plan to get most of the cabinet through the process over the weekend. To save time, I chose to stain and urethane the interiors of the cabinets, and I also stained and urethaned the 'counter-top' that sits on the base cabinets and provides a flat surface for the upper cabinets to rest upon. My mom - the stain and urethane queen - helped with that part.

Meanwhile, I figured out how to apply a crown molding to the top, and also how to make the cabinet look like a built-in by cutting a profile in trim pieces to make it look as if the cabinet itself fits against the woodwork. I didn't want to cut up my original woodwork, so I figured out a way around it. To the left is the unfinished cabinet in place without the crown molding.

Once I realized that these unfinished cabinets were good quality cabinets, and very affordable, I revisited my kitchen with an entirely different perspective. Originally, I was going to try and salvage the cabinets that were there. I knew without even trying to get a price quote that cabinets for that kitchen would run me $15-20K easily, but once I bought the unfinished cabs for my bedroom, I decided to get a quote on the kitchen. Turns out I could get all the cabinets I needed, including custom sizes, and 48" upper cabs for my almost 9-foot ceiling for under $5,000.00. I almost fell over. The only thing is that I have to finish them, but I can manage that without spending the $10K difference in price between buying finished and unfinished. Even if I hired someone to finish them, I'd make out better.

As I was casting about for ideas, I saw a beautiful kitchen in one of the many restoration mags I subscribe to, and they had painted the cabinets this gorgeous shade of periwinkle. I fell in love with that color and decided to try and mix the milk paint to a periwinkle shade. That's the limitation of the paint - it comes in a limited number of colors, and you have to mix colors together, or add white or black to lighten or darken the color as needed. It's not a huge deal unless you want, well, periwinkle....

I know a little bit about color in terms of working with it, decorating with it, etc., but I have never really mixed color since my fingerpainting days, and I seem to remember back then, that everything would end up a very ugly shade of green or brown. However, I knew that the basics of making periwinkle was to start with a light blue and add red to it until it just begins to turn violet. Then you stop. That's periwinkle. So, I got a pint of blue and a pint of red milk paint and proceeded to mix a periwinkle. I messed about with it for a half hour, and ended up with something close, but because I was working with colors that were already mixed themselves, there was too much gray in my periwinkle. Both the blue and the red had a lot of black in them to darken them up, so when that black was lightened with the white paint I was using, it just turned gray, and made the periwinkle look muddy.

Fortunately, my friend Jane is an artist, so as I related my doubts to her, she suggested getting a true red and a true blue from a craft store and mix my color from them into a pure white. Those paints are also acrylic, so they are compatible with the milk paint I am using. Ha. Problem solved. In about 5 minutes I had the perfect color! Mix-master Jane to the rescue. Now if I could only convince her to come for a visit and help me paint! As the old joke goes... First prize: one week in Buffalo, NY. Second prize: TWO weeks in Buffalo, NY. She very respectfully declined. Ah well. I can't blame her!

Anyway, once I got the correct color mixed, I did a test color block for the kitchen cabinets. Here's the idea. I am going to stain the base cabinets With Minwax Provincial stain, and 2-3 coats of urethane. This will work with the brown floor tile, and provide continuity through the rest of the first floor since that's the stain I've used everywhere else downstairs. Then the wall cabinets will get the antiqued periwinkle finish pictured above, capped with crown molding - the interiors of the cabinets will be urethaned, not painted. It will all be finished off with subway tile backsplash and tile wainscoting and white Corian countertops. The walls and ceiling are already painted a soft butter yellow.

So we have made much progress in the last couple months. I'm hoping to get the bedroom cabinets done by the end of next week, and the kitchen cabinets should be arriving about then, so we can start on those as soon as they get here. I'm getting closer! Aside from about 100 details on my punch list, the big things to finish are the bedroom cabinets, painting the stairwell where the slate tile goes, and finishing the kitchen. Whew!


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