Category Archives: before and after

Up On The Roof

Finishing a story that began in our last post, we needed to put a roof on the house this spring. When we moved in we had the roof evaluated, and knowing that the existing roof was put on in 1994, we felt we would have about 7-9 years before we had to replace the roof ourselves. But, that’s the fun of owning a house – not everything works out as planned.

To recap from the last post: This winter we started getting significant spots on the living roof ceiling, indicating that water was leaking. At one point, there was water running down the outside of the large living room window as it would run down the rafters, then drip out of the soffits. One of my neighbors owns a Real Estate office and does some property management (and happened to have his roof replaced six months earlier), so I asked him for some recommendations. Ultimately we chose to use a father-son duo (Struble & Son Construction) with about 20 years experience and a specialty in roofs who was also willing to work with me on my plans for insulating the ceiling structure. When we looked in the attic, it was apparent the problem was pretty significant and not a quick fix, so they put a tarp on the roof to stop the existing water infiltration, and then when it got warm in April, we started to do some work.

With a warm week in April, the work got started in earnest. The first step was peeling off the roof and bad roof decking over the cathedral ceiling area to get access to the attic space. The cathedral ceiling allows a lot of heat to percolate up to the roof deck, which causes the snow to melt, leading to ice damming problems. It also meant that we were losing heat (or cool) through that ceiling. I wanted to fix both of these. Originally, we thought that once we opened the roof deck up we were going to find the existing insulation was wet and would have to be trashed. But fortunately, that turned out to not be the case. (Yay! Saved $400 in insulation cost!) We did, however, have to pick out quite a bit of blown cellulose in certain spots, which was contributing to the problems in the roof by preventing proper airflow. In the pictures you can see how damaged the roof decking was in these areas. With the roof deck opened up, and once the cellulose was removed (not fun), we cut 1 inch foam boards to fit on top of the existing fiberglass insulation and then completely air sealed them into the cavity using canned spray foam. This approach lets me guarantee that there is a space above the ceiling and below the roof deck for air to freely flow across. It also ensures that no air from the living space can seep upward to the bottom of the roof deck – so, the ice damming issues should be resolved (we’ll know next winter for sure.)

Because I’m that kind of guy, I was not just supervising this work, but doing most of the insulation work with the contractors. I’m a stickler like that, and I like knowing what actually happened before things get closed up. While the roof was opened, I also took the time to run a wire to add a new sputnik light to the entryway of the house, too.

As we moved through the project, one other thing we were really trying to figure out is what exactly failed with the old roof. Most people point to the chimney – but it was clear from the water pattern and from taking things apart that water was not leaking at the joints in the chimney. The only logical candidates were a general failure of the shingles from old age and an issue with the ridge vent that let water filter underneath the roof. For us, that’s good news in a silver lining way – it meant that short of what we were doing to replace the roof, there was likely nothing else we could have really done to fix it aside from replacement.

The whole project took two and a half days, and I feel the shingles really complement the look of the house now that they are installed. For our project, we chose to use IKO Cambridge AR shingles in the “Patriot Slate” color – this is a mostly dark gray shingle with flecks of red that are the same color as our brick. We added ice and water protector about 8 feet up the cathedral ceiling roof just in case there are any issues in the future as well.

Once this project was completed, next was to get back inside the house and repair the water-damaged living room ceiling (fortunately this is a tiled ceiling using Armstrong Grenoble 12×12 ceiling tile, and to add a new small sputnik light from Practical Props. More on that work in the next post.

Here’s a set of progress shots of the roof, and a before\after:

Before and After: Kitchen

We’ve done a lot of work on the kitchen since we’ve moved in. But, almost all of it was “small stuff” – weekend projects and small changes or additions – because the big stuff such as cabinets (Oak Wood-Mode) and countertops (Corian) had previously been done by my grandparents. The real problem with the kitchen was that while all of these things had been done, each had been done at different times and over the years the cohesiveness of the kitchen was missing. It just didn’t look like everything fit together.

So, we set out to change that. The first steps were very basic – changing out the light switches and outlets (along with the rest of the house) to match, and swapping out lights. Originally there was a ceiling fan light in the kitchen area and a single light above the kitchen table. In it’s place went a simple very bright fluorescent fixture and a dual pendant light from Rejuventation. At this time we had the banquette reupholstered, painted the walls and ceiling, swapped the cabinet hardware for chrome, and I rebuilt the cabinets above the cooktop to make them higher and hold a microwave.

Next, I tackled the flooring. This was quite a project – so much that I talked about it extensively in a post back in 2013 (a post that is among the most popular on this blog.) That flooring was Armstrong Striations flooring in Twilight color.

The final parts came earlier this year, when I tackled another fairly large small project – adding under-cabinet lighting – as well as having the table legs chromed.

With all of these projects together, I felt it was time to take it all together and present a before-and-after set of photos of the kitchen. While the projects have been relatively small, the transformation is large.


Hello, Modbox

In the early summer, we supported a Kickstarter project for a really awesome idea: bringing back the “sleek suburban” mailbox. My grandparents had one of those mailboxes (pictures here), so I was pretty excited to have the chance to get one back. It’s a classic mid-century design.

At the end of September, that order came through and we got our brand new Modbox. It took a few days to get everything installed as I had to set the post (truth time: I had to do it more than once as I didn’t account for the effect of the slanted post originally) but, well, it looks awesome. Originally we had planned on getting the red\black combination, but we changed to the grey\black when ordering because the red would have been a very different shade from the brick on the exterior of the house.

I’ve been talking with Greg Kelly, the guy behind the Modbox, about an add-on: a “paper box” (we get a free local weekly newspaper here, but it can’t be placed in the mailbox itself per law.) He said I’m not the only one to ask, and he’s looking to get one designed to potentially bolt in between the post with the box sitting on top of it. I’m anxious for that, too. Thanks Greg for the work making Modbox a reality!

Here are the progress shots:


Mid-Century Compatible Bathroom Floor

One project I was wanted to finish before the baby arrived was to replace the floor in the upstairs bathroom. About seven years ago, my grandmother had the original flooring, which was a white and green tile that was coming up in many places, replaced with some relatively inexpensive linoleum sheet flooring. This flooring was not particularly bad (it was unobtrusive visually since it blended) but it definitely was not mid-century compatible, and I wanted to fix that.

Having had some experience doing this before when we replaced the kitchen floor I had a lot of experience checking out and examining options for flooring that would fit in well. In the end, we decided that the best course of action would be to use the same flooring that we used in the kitchen but in another color. That flooring was Armstrong Striations – this time in the color Atmosphere. The rationale for doing this was pretty straightforward: Visually throughout the house, all of the wood flooring have grain going in one direction. With the kitchen flooring, I intentionally aligned the pattern of the tile to follow this grain pattern. The exception is the foyer floor, which is laid on a 45 degree bias. This ties all of the flooring together visually and creates a “hub” that is different in the foyer, which is the natural hub space of the house.

Replacing linoleum is pretty straightforward – you pull up the glued linoleum, carefully peel up the luan underlayment to expose the original subfloor, then patch and level. Around the toilet space there was a dip in the floor that I had to deal with by putting some patch in the low spot. I didn’t get it perfectly level, but it’s much better than it used to be. To ensure the tiles are smooth once laid down, I put more patch (the white spots) on the flooring where there were nail and staple holes.

Once prepared, laying the floor took a single evening. Starting at one end of the room you steadily work your way down the room. In a room this size it’s easiest to just make your cut pieces and fit them in as you go – in a larger room you typically lay all of your whole pieces first, then go back around the edges and put in your cut pieces. Because of the way the tiles fell I had one very difficult cut to make around the pocket door frame. It took 2-3 tries to get it right, but ultimately I was satisfied with the look.

Now that it’s finished and has been given a coat of polish, I’m very happy with the results. While new and modern, the floor fits very well with the mid-century aesthetic of the bathroom since it has all vintage fixtures and hand built cabinetry.

Here are the progress shots:


Boom Shellac-Laca

One day shortly after moving into the house, my father in law was over and we got to discussing the fact that I was having a hard time matching the color on the floor with stain for a few spots that needed some touching up. He pointed out that given the age of the floors, they may very well be finished with amber shellac instead. I did some quick research and picked up some from the store. I tried it out and it turns out he was exactly right.

Shellac flakes

Shellac in flake form

What is shellac, you may ask? Well, shellac is a natural resin that has been used for a very long time (centuries, I believe) as a protectant for various items, not just wood. It is produced by insects and harvested as flakes. To use it, the flakes are dissolved in denatured alcohol so it can be spread evenly on a surface. You can order the flakes and make it yourself, but it is usually just as easy to purchase it pre-mixed locally, unless your needs are very specific (like you need a unique color)

Up until the 1950s with the advent of polyurethane, shellac was one of the most popular wood finishes. It is all natural, goes on quickly, and dries very hard and durable. Polyurethane is technically more durable, but is has a somewhat “plastic” look (because it is a plastic coating.) Also, if you have worked with polyurethane you know the fumes are terrible and you have to wait a very long time (up to 24 hours) between coats.

Pre-made shellac

Pre-made shellac

Of course, this meant that I had to shellac all the wood floors in the house.

Because I’m using shellac, this isn’t quite as big of a project as you may think. Unlike polyurethane, when you have a shellac coating, you can simply add another coating on top of the existing – you do not have to strip, re-stain and then put down a new top coat. Shellac, including the stuff on your floor already, can be re-dissolved with denatured alcohol. So when you add a fresh coat, what is actually happening is it slightly melts the original coat, blends them together, and they harden as one single topcoat.

Other cool things about shellac:
1. You can thin shellac as needed with more denatured alcohol.  When you thin it, it makes it more runny and easier to apply evenly to a horizontal surface like a floor without getting “lap marks” (lap marks are the places where you did two strokes side by side and you can see where they overlapped.)
2. Shellac is able to be re-coated in as little as one hour.
3. Shellac is all natural – denatured alcohol has a low odor and unlike polyurethane, you do not have to clear the room for a day while applying it. The alcohol (denatured alcohol is basically distilled spirits with a chemical to make it taste terrible) evaporates away, leaving nothing but the shellac resin when dried.
4. When you have a scratch, you can brush a little bit of denatured alcohol over the spot and it will melt the existing shellac and allow you to “patch” the scratch relatively easily.

It took about two weeks to do all the floors in the house. I went through first and ensured that any nail holes leftover from the carpet tack strips were filled, then I just tackled one room at a time. To do a project like a floor, a lambswool applicator is a must – they are cheap and allow you to do the entire floor in minutes.

Here’s the before and afters for various rooms: