Small Step

Been a while since I’ve posted on the renovation — or anything else for that matter. Around the time of my last post, we learned that my mom had pancreatic cancer. While K and I — and K’s parents and our friends — managed to get some good work done on the house since then, I just never felt like writing about it. Writing about one part of my life without mentioning Mom seemed disingenuous. But I also couldn’t write about what we were going through. It was too personal and too hard.

Mom never got to see this house. She said returning to New Orleans and seeing the house was the one thing she wanted to do in the time she had left. But time ran out.

Since returning to New Orleans, it has been hard to muster the energy or even the focus to get back into the renovation. Tonight I took a baby step. I got out some tools and installed a closet rod in the downstairs coat closet.

It wasn’t a large project nor is it very public. But it is a small improvement that K wanted. Being able to do that for her makes me feel somewhat useful again.

I know that healing is a long journey made up of countless seemingly insignificant steps. Perhaps tonight was one of those.

New closet rod installed.


Kitchen Cabinets

I realized as I was about to write this that last night and tonight I have started writing after midnight so the date of the posts is technically wrong. Not a big deal but in the interest of Truth in Advertising . . .

K & I returned to our day gigs so we didn’t do any renovating today. And much of what the guys did doesn’t make for a good photo opp: third coat of mud on the sheet rock, more rock in the downstairs bathroom, etc.

The only real visual change was the installation of a couple low-end kitchen cabinets. Since we didn’t plan to demo the kitchen, we didn’t budget to install a kitchen. But given the fact that we did rip out the old kitchen, we have to recreate some level of functionality.

A trick we learned at The Marigny St. house is that while countertops are expensive, doors are cheap. And once installed as counter tops, doors look and function remarkably well. Many people who shared meals with us at Marigny St. were surprised to learn that our counters were actually doors.

So we decided to finish off our low-end cabinets with a low-end door. So low-end, in fact, that this particular door was salvaged from our neighbor’s house. I wonder if they will recognize the door they threw out when they come for dinner?

K & I spent the lion’s share of our evening back at Marigny St. cleaning and touching up the paint. Everything should be ready for the new tenants by Saturday — probably earlier but given that we still don’t have a shower here it is nice to have access to our old one. What? Your shower isn’t 2.2 miles from your house?

After painting at Marigny street, I wanted to try out the new music room here. Certainly not 100% but even jammed full of boxes and sans AC it felt right.

I think we are going to be ok.


Preparing for Inspection

With the move approaching, everyone is focused on getting the rough-in inspection so we can close the walls and finish the bathrooms and kitchen.

The plumbers are hitting their stride now and new pipe is appearing daily.

I used my time this evening to finish the sanding of the kitchen floor and get the first coat of oil on the floor. The floor was so thirsty it easily drank two coats of tung oil. By the time I left it already felt like a finish was setting up on the surface. I am really learning to enjoy this process.


T minus one week

Next week we make the jump to the new house.

I’ve been practicing showering in the yard to get ready ’cause barring a miracle, we won’t have a tub or shower. While some may see this as a privation, I like to put things in perspective. When I moved in to the house we are living in now, we didn’t even have a toilet. Not because we live in West Virginia — just because my plumber was a moron. But that is another story from another time. At least the tub is near the bathroom.

Claw Foot Tub in the Hall

For me, today was all about floors. Surprising I know.

This morning I put the first finish coat of tung oil on the upstairs bathroom floor. Unlike the varnish debacle in the music room, this time the oil went down nicely and the results look great. This picture doesn’t really capture it because I took it while the oil was still wet. But the oil penetrated deeply into the wood and the finish looks great.

first coat of tung oil on bathroom floor

Tomorrow I will put down another coat of tung oil and that should be it for the oil. K and I talked today about waxing this floor since it will be a bathroom and we are both a bit curious about what the wax and oil combination will look like. No decision yet.

While I was oiling the bathroom floor, K was floating sheet rock in the kitchen. When she finished her first pass, I started working on refinishing the kitchen floor. This time, I started right in with the belt sander. No screwing around this time.

The floors had a fair amount of tar paper on them that even the vinegar treatment didn’t get off. The result was that the sandpaper would gum up fairly quickly so the rough cut took longer than it otherwise would have. I never got past the 24 grit today so the floors are still very rough but I think tomorrow will go much quicker now that the heavy lifting has been done. Here is a before and after pic.

pre-sanding picture of the kitchen floor

initial sanding of the kitchen floor

The floors certainly will not be pristine but I love the story that the wear and tear tells. Even the old powder post beetle trails which have been buried for decades are part of the story of the house to me. Removing the layers of additions — sticky tile, luan, floor covering, tar paper, old finishes — and then touching the raw wood set in place by unknown craftsmen in 1903 using square-cut nails; that is a connection with the past that many people never get to make. Another reminder of the slow movement of time in this city and the fact that we are part of a chain of being.  I used to feel this in Europe when I walked down a street that people used hundreds of years ago or touched a bar that someone else had touched 3oo years prior. But we are a young country and so our connections with the past are much shallower. Our house is relatively new . . . 1903. Nevertheless, it has a soul. You can feel it when you run your hand across the freshly exposed wood of the old floor.


Hot. Itchy.

Yep. We’re talking installing insulation in New Orleans in July. Not too much of it at this point but needed to get the exterior wall of the upstairs bathroom ready to be closed. K installed the tar paper and I started in on the insulation.

A lot has been going on — or at least it seems that way — but I’ve been too busy to post up any photos. By the time I get home, the idea of writing and uploading images just seems like too much to take on. So I will try and do a quick recap of the events since the shoring of the house.

Floor Sanding. Lots of floor sanding.

Most of it unnecessary as it turns out, but I didn’t know that at the time. I started in what will become the music room because a) the floors were in the worst condition, and b) K says this will be “my” room and so she doesn’t care if I screw up the floors in here — so long as I learn how to get it right before moving on to any other rooms.

unsanded wood floor

There are so many horror stories of rookies ruining old wood floors with the old belt style sanders that I opted for the new random orbital floor sander. These are nice for Harry Homeowners because they don’t remove as much wood and therefore it is harder to screw up your floor. However, as with all efforts to protect us from ourselves, there is a trade-off. Did I mention it doesn’t remove much wood? That is the catch. And because this floor was in rough shape I really needed a belt sander to do the initial rough cut and get me to the point where I could work on the finish. But I didn’t know that and I was chicken so I spent several long nights after work following this sander around the room as it did very little. In the end, I had an amazing pain in my neck — literally — and a floor that looked decent.

K and I knew we didn’t want to polyurethane the floors since they had never had a coat of plastic on them. After a bit of research I decided on doing a pure tung oil finish. I could do a whole post on this subject but I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say that in actuality you don’t use pure tung oil — you have to thin it a bit so that it penetrates deep into the wood. That being the case, we bought a pre-mixed tung oil varnish. It went on ok but seemed a bit odd to me given what I knew about refinishing the floors.

It wasn’t until I put the second coat on and got really suspicious that I got serious about reading the label of the can. Somehow the fact that it said Tung Oil varnish on the label hadn’t really sunk in with me that perhaps there was — varnish in the mix. Not a full-on screw up but definitely a ‘learning moment’ — and a fair amount of cussing.

When I moved on to do the floor in the bath room, I started in again with Baby’s First Floor Sander. About an hour in I decided — well it wasn’t so much a decision as it was f – this. I went out and got a grown-up guy belt floor sander. I won’t kid you, there is much greater potential to screw up your floors with the belt sander. But then again, if you need to do a serious rough cut and remove some wood to get back to a level finish, this is the tool you need. 15 minutes in and voila!

First pass with a belt sander

As you can see, there are still some places I need to address with a smaller (hand held) belt sander but that floor sander really took the boards back down to level. And this time, I mixed my own pure tung oil with mineral spirits. Because the room is small, I just quickly put the tung oil on a rag and gave the floor a light coating. That beautiful amber tone came right out. The floor sanding isn’t done yet — I just needed to get the rough cut done so the plumber can rough-in — but even so I could almost live with this as-is.

My uncle, Bruce, was in town over the weekend. This was a great excuse to eat at some fantastic New Orleans restaurants including Cafe Degas, Crepe Nanou, and the venerable Tujague’s.

Door of Tujague's restaurant in New Orleans

Sunday was the 6th Annual Tour de Pants mid-city bicycle pub crawl. Yes two great things that go great together: drinking and biking. I wrote about the 2006 Tour de Pants and what that meant for those of us rebuilding after the devastation of the Federal Flood. Once again it was time to put renovation on hold and connect with the wonderful friends here that keeps us doing all this crazy renovating. The first stop as always was Pal’s Lounge — soon to be our neighborhood bar once we move in.

Bicycles in front of Pal's Lounge in New Orleans

The new stop this year was the Bayou Beer Garden which is located just off the Lafitte Greenway at the end of Bayou St. John. By the time we rolled in there bikes pretty much owned the place.

Meanwhile, back at the house, an old friend returned. Turns out the tub refinishing place was legit and the claw foot tub is back in the house awaiting installation!

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