On a Mission for Dog (and no, I'm not Dyslexic)

I had the best dog ever. (Don't all of us dog people think that?) I can't even begin to describe her awesomeness, but gushing about dogs is a lot like gushing about children. Nobody really wants to hear it. So I'll spare you. Anyway, after 16 years of companionship, I had to put my best girl down. I couldn't handle even the slightest notion of having another dog, and soon after, I sold my house and spent the next 6 years living in apartments - not a good doggie environment. After that amount of time had passed, I realized I was ready to have another dog, so I decided to buy a house, for that and a few other reasons. Not the least of which was that my parents are getting older (do they ever get younger??), so I wanted to move closer to them.

I knew what kind of dog I wanted. When I first moved out on my own, I got that sweet dog who kept me sane for 16 years. She had been picked up as a stray - a beautiful little spaniel-type dog - smart as a whip and sweet-tempered. I named her Jersey for her spunk, attitude and kind heart. I had her for a few years before someone stopped me on the street and told me she was a Boykin Spaniel. This was pre-internet for the masses, so I only knew what this stranger told me about the breed, but at least I knew what she was. I had her for 16 years, and we were inseparable.

When I decided I was ready to get another dog, I couldn't imagine having any other kind of dog but a Boykin, so I began to search for a breeder. This proved to be a challenge since these dogs are 'gun dogs' and breeders don't want to sell them as companion animals. I ended up finding a woman who was going to breed one of her dogs and was more concerned with the puppies going to a good home regardless of what their role in that home would be.

Over the last year or more, we have become email-pals, and she has been following my renovation project with unwavering support. (Thank you Jane!)

I love the restoration process - sometimes it's a struggle, but it's rewarding and self-satisfying. However, it is a means to an end. A house is not a home until you make it so, and for me, part of making it so, is sharing it with a canine companion. My "future puppy" has dictated some of the decisions I've made, particularly when it comes to flooring. I could have restored the wood floor in the kitchen, but since that is the main entry to the house, I will put ceramic tile down to make it easier to clean up muddy, snowy paw prints, and other doggie accidents. I have also put slate in a half-stairwell that leads from the kitchen to the backyard. That gives me a beautiful transition from outdoors to indoors in terms of materials, but it also gives me another surface that is more easily cleaned and is not water-permeable in any significant way.

So, I've been working hard to get the house done, but once I found out that "future puppy" was actually on her way, the time table became more urgent. I was on a mission for dog! Yesterday I got the very sad news that there were complications with the litter and none survived. Fortunately "mommy dog" is OK. Unfortunately, she will not be able to have pups. I am so sad for Jane and her dog, but it was simply an unforeseen complication that she had no way of anticipating.  Nature can be cruel, and it hurts, but we have so little control that you simply have to learn to accept the cruelty as part of life.

I came to get Jersey in a 'meant-to-be'  kind of way, so I believe that I will end up with the dog I am meant to have. Jane has become a good friend, and she will help me find a dog, so I think it will be another one of those 'meant-to-be' sort of things. I'm still on a mission for dog!

Since the last blog we have finished stripping all the woodwork downstairs - my dad doing the bulk of that work. It appears to be red oak, and the previous owners must have waxed the woodwork fairly regularly. That in itself is fine, but the reason we had to strip it all was that they didn't strip the wax off before they urethaned the woodwork to 'freshen' it. The end result was all this beautiful woodwork was covered with a thick, alligatored texture that was dull and held any sort of dust and dirt in all the crannies.

I hated to have to strip it all, because that is a nasty, time-consuming, thankless job. I've done it. Blek. My dad tackled it with a vengeance and got a pretty good system down. He used an orange-based stripper to keep his chemical exposure to a minimum (strippers are some of the worst!), and we followed up the stripping process with a denatured alcohol wipe. That removed what was left of the stripper goo and let me see what the wood could look like with a coat of urethane on it. I used a toothbrush and a small flat screwdriver to coax the dried stripper goo out of the corners and crevices. All stripped, the wood looked so much better already.

The picture to the left is looking into what I call the sitting room from the living room. The columns and the newel post and banister all had to be stripped. The window frames and door frames, we ended up cleaning to remove the wax rather than go through the more time-consuming process of stripping them.

The windowsills and the window seat in the dining room (pictured below) all needed, ummm, remedial sanding. The previous canine tenant, and human tenants as well, did a job on them. And 85-odd years of sun and condensation had wreaked havoc on them as well. So I sanded and repaired what was needed, stained it all a light brown, and put two coats of urethane on it.

We painted the living room, dining room and sitting room, finished painting the stairwell, and put up all the finish electric in those rooms. The only task left in these rooms is to have the oak floors sanded, stained and urethaned. I am on the schedule for the first week of April, which is good because we are using those rooms as a staging area for tools, etc.That's why I don't have any finished pictures yet. I'll wait until the floors are done and the rooms really sparkle before I take their photos.

Once we finished the other three downstairs rooms, we were able to put a laser focus on just two areas - the stairwell and the kitchen. These are the last areas that I have to do before I can MOVE IN! I'm doing things a little out of order, but to keep the project moving and maintain my momentum, that's the way it's going to be. I have the kitchen plumbing roughed in, and my dad is working on the electrical rough-in. He had most of it done already, but a few things have changed since I decided not to try and salvage the original cabinets. That opened up some options that required a couple outlets to be moved and added fixtures to the lighting circuit. Not a huge deal, but still needs to be done before the sheetrock goes up.

I decided the best use of my own time was to get the floors tiled. Feeling quite courageous from the bathroom tile adventure, I was up for it. I got a couple friends to help us one Saturday, and we got the backerboard down in the kitchen and stairwell. All of a sudden those areas looked HUGE since the floors were infinitely cleaner and lighter in color than they were before. From here it only gets better and better.

We didn't backerboard the stairs that day because that required a lot more carpentry gyration than we had time for, so my dad finished those during the week, and the following weekend, we set the tile.

The stairwell is comprised of a landing that comes off the kitchen, four stairs down to another landing. From that landing, you can either go directly out a door to the backyard, or you can turn 180 degrees and go to the basement. The back door there is pretty hammered. The previous canine resident gouged the molding on the windowpane 1/2 off, but I will replace all that molding, sand and urethane the door, and brass plate the fittings - good as new!

The walls in the stairwell have wainscoting - pine beadboard - that has aged to a beautiful dark golden brown. That just needs to be cleaned and freshened with a coat of urethane. Above the wainscoting, they had put wallpaper, which my mom diligently stripped one weekend while I was sanding the upstairs woodwork. The plaster walls just need to be washed and walls and ceiling will get a fresh coat of paint.

I decided to put peacock slate on both landings and the stairs, thinking it is earthy, but colorful, not slippery, and is a nice transition from an outdoor material to indoor materials. Apparently I had a little too much time on my hands over New Year's (I think I took New Year's Day off...), because I came up with this design for the slate in the stairwell. Because of course, I can't just put tile down - noooooooooooo- we can't have that! I have to come up with some goofy damn design that makes me and my dad crazy! :) But it came out really nice, and I am happy with it. Some things didn't go as planned, but I think it will be fine...

I had never worked with slate before, so I ran into some things that I hope will not present a problem later (I am telling myself they won't). Slate is very flaky and has striations in it, issue #1 I didn't think about.

The tiles I ordered were all different thicknesses ranging from 1/4" to 1/2 or 5/8", issue #2 that I didn't really realize when I ordered the stuff, and didn't really think about. To really get this job absolutely correct, I should have done it in 2 weekends so that I could build up the parts of the floor with thinset that the thinner tiles were to be set on. However, that wouldn't allow for the variation in thicknesses even among the same type of tile.

Another issue that we had to deal with was that when we cut the tile for those long narrow strips, sometimes the tile would split off 1/16 or 1/8" of slate from the top. We also ran into that same issue when trying to cut the 1x1 mosaic tile for the edges and cut pieces we needed to finish off the tile to the walls and woodwork. Issue #3 that I didn't think about.

I had done some research on tiling stairs, and on tiling in general. I didn't think about doing any particular research on tiling with slate. So I did the best I could, given the circumstances. The tile in the picture (here and above) is complete except for the grout - I love all the beautiful colors in the slate! They gave me one big piece that was gold, so I used that at the top stair and as the pad at the bottom of the stairs. Then I cut the scrap up to work into that ribbon of long narrow tiles that outlines the 6x6 tiles. This let me pull that gold through the entire design.

As for dealing with the different thicknesses of tile, I tried building up the thinset under the mosaic, but it didn't really work very well, so I just set it all and let it find its own height. I figure a combination of things will happen. First, I don't wear shoes in the house, and my dog will weigh all of 30 lbs., so there won't be heavy traffic on it anyway. Frequent, but not heavy. Second, it is a natural material, so variations in height, color, etc. are to be expected. Third, the grout should stabilize the striations in the tile to a point. Fourth, if the tile flakes off at its natural striations, the coloring will still be there, and it is unlikely that it will flake off below the overall level of the floor itself, so I am hoping that over time, if it wears down or flakes, it will just serve to level the floor out a bit from where it is now.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!!! :) I can't even think about this stuff becoming a cracked up mess, so I'm staying positive about it. If it disintegrates, I will deal with it then.This weekend I will grout the slate and next weekend I will lay the kitchen floor. That will be ceramic, so I won't have these issues, but I'm sure there will be issues. There always are!

Meanwhile, I'm on a mission for dog....

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Comment by Christina Donnelly on March 2, 2011 at 8:29pm

Whew!  I got tired just reading about it.  Congratulations on getting so much done, Karan.  The slate tiles really do look beautiful.  You've always had a gift for color.  This palette sets off the woodwork beautifully.  It won't be long now.




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