Home improvement

Bathroom remodel – the framing

So apparently, none of the walls in my house are straight. It happens. Nobody’s perfect. The problem is when you buy straight things to fit in rooms with not-so-straight walls. Like a bathtub for example. Then, you gotta straighten those babies up and it requires some framing, and since I’m not a carpenter (not yet!) then I called one.

I have to say he did a great job, putting in the new subfloor, straightening up the walls with wood strips, he even installed little metal pads for the bathtub feet.

New subfloor and little metal pads.

He was only slightly pissed when I announced that the tub ordered was cast iron, weighed over 350 lbs, and was sitting in the driveway, waiting for him to just “slide it in”. I have to admit I had not thought of the practical aspect of sliding a 350 lbs mass 10 inches on raw wood. Well, practically, it doesn’t “just slide”. “We’ll do it tomorrow when you’re at work,” he said, “that way you won’t hear us because there is going to be some serious language flying around.” Really, dude? I’m French, I grew up with more nudity and cursing you will probably be exposed to in your lifetime. We don’t have blips on our TV. Sergeant Murtaugh says “I’m too old for this SHIT” and all the Battlestar Galactica characters use fuck, not frac…oh, and you see A LOT of Mel Gibson’s ass. Also, since I grew up in a different language, none of the curse words or embarrassing subjects trigger the feelings of shame they usually would in a english native brain. So I’m all set. Curse all you want. In fact, if you stay in this house too long, I might shock YOU. Seriously.

The drop in tub.

My Kholer Highbridge. Isn’t she nice? Now all she needs is some really big guys and a little cursing.

Bathtub in place with the knee wall

Bam, she’s in. Then the knee wall is built.

The valve

Time for Jeffrey to put in the Kohler valve before the Durock goes up.

So, then I called my tile guy, told him it was all set and he said “I’m gona rock your bathroom tomorrow,” and I got really excited. Yeah! Awesome! I like this guy! and then I realized it was short for Durock. Less exciting.

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Things I ate in Seattle

Dungeness crab, Seattle

Chinese seafood soup, Chinese banquet, Seattle

Manilla clams, Seattle

Manilla clams with garlic, Chinese Banquet, Seattle

Conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Seattle

Salmon sushi

The Seattle roll, Seattle

Crab wontons, Cheesecake Factory, Seattle

Roasted artichokes with garlic aioli and balsamic dip, Cheesecake Factory, Seattle



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How Ikea made me push my cats to drugs

I am a new mother, I am brand new to pethood. Well, there was always Victor the canary who had come in a box for my birthday and hopped from perch to perch until he hopped no more. And the fishes I found flapping on the sand one morning after the fish tank seal had burst during the night…But I had never had REAL pets, with major needs and attitude. So when Louis brought home a box one afternoon and I looked inside to find two kittens asleep, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And I had no idea how much I would love them.

"Are you my mommy?" PS: Mya looked like the devil.

I had heard of catnip. But I didn’t really know what to think of it. My initial thought was that until I researched how it affected them, there would be no catnip. I did some reading online and didn’t really like what I found: “the nepetalactone contained in nepeta binds to the olfactory receptors of cats, typically resulting in temporary euphoria.” “Consuming much of the plant is followed by drooling, sleepiness, anxiety, leaping about and purring. Some will growl, meow, scratch, or bite the hand holding it. Often eating too much can cause cats to be overly aggressive, typically making them hiss.”  No catnip. My kids will not do drugs.


I wasn’t even sure that my cats would be sensitive to it, about a third of cats are not. Then one day, I went to a plant swap and brought home some species of the genus Nepeta. I didn’t think it was true catnip, but this is what happened:

Obi destroyed it. I mean total annihilation. She rolled and chewed, and rolled some more until there was nothing left of that poor thing. Ok then, not quite immune to it….

Then, last thanksgiving week-end, in the bargain room at Ikea, I fell in love. It was sitting there, all white, leathery and beautiful, it was perfect. A quick inspection revealed that it had a small tear in the fabric covering the springs, under the cushions. That’s it! A tiny flaw that made it perfect for my tight budget. True love. Would it fit in the Suby? I sat on the couch and guarded it while Louis went to measure. Some guy was already eying it. “Nice couch,”  he said all nonchalant, “yeah keep walking buddy, it’s mine.” Seriously.

The Karlstad!

And then a thought crossed my mind: what about the cats? My heart sank. I had cats. Cats with claws. Sharp ones. The last couch, an awful 50s orange plaid given to us by the neighbors, had died, clawed to death, and the trail of foam bits and loose threads at the crime scene was still fresh in my mind.  What about a scratch post? no, that hadn’t worked before, they had ignored it from the day I had brought it home. Then what? I couldn’t leave this couch here, it belonged with me. What about…..what about a scratch post …..laced with catnip? I couldn’t…. could I?

"Feeling good, man...."

Well, necessity is the mother of all….compromise? So my cats get high sometimes. At least I have an awesome couch. Louis keeps saying that catnip is a gateway drug. If they start shooting up, I’ll just blame it on the Swedes.

"Karlstad, mon amour..."

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Boston reclaimed hardware store

Today, I had a medical test done at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. When I finally got out, I decided to take a stroll through Beacon Hill and buy myself something really big. Then, on Charles street, I stumbled upon this place:


Vintage hardware? yes please.

Did I ever mention how much I love vintage hardware? I’m obsessed with it. I once almost got crushed by a giant backhoe because I was trying to salvage a victorian glass door knob from a discarded door at the dump. I saved it. It’s so pretty. It’s like a giant diamond. Anyway, hardware is the best. It’s like vintage jewelry for your home. And that place was full of it.

Magical door

Even the door was pretty. So I pushed it and entered. Inside, it was like Olivander’s wand shop…

Endless drawers full of endless things

or Ali Baba’s cave….

House jewels

The guy behind the counter was younger (and cuter) than I expected. When a customer that was looking for a very specific piece marveled at his knowledge of the inventory, he responded with a grin: “this is a family business, I grew up in this store, I know where everything is…”

Love that door knob!

Definitely going back there sometime soon…

I didn’t buy anything big for myself, not this time, but I have my eye on a few things for next time…

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Bathroom remodel – the demolition

Honestly, we had not planned on doing the demo ourselves. We both have been very busy lately, and since I had a carpenter coming to do the tub framing, I thought “why not have him do that too?” But then I saw his estimate and changed my mind. There is really no reason to pay 3 guys $45 an hour to rip shit out and destroy. I can rip shit out and destroy just fine, and it saves me money on therapy .

Here is a before:

The bathroom before destruction

The vanity was easy. After disconnecting the water and drain, placing a rag in the drain pipe and removing the doors and drawers, the whole things came apart just by using a hammer. Piece of cake.

Removing the vanity top

vanity demo

Taking apart the vanity

We found weird writing on the inside. They totally stole my idea of weird messages under wallpaper (see  https://findingamandine.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/wallpaper-city/) except the execution was poor if you ask me. Go big or go home.


Removing the toilet was also relatively easy. After shutting the water valves flushing once and disconnecting the water, we removed the bolts, the tank and then the bowl.  A little bit of water spilled out on the  floor but nothing that a towel cant fix. Word to the wise, have a empty bucket near by. Also once the toilet is gone, place a rag into the drain to avoid breathing septic fumes. All was left to do is scrape off the old wax ring.

Removing the old wax ring. I probably should be wearing gloves.

I wasn’t sure how to disconnect the fiberglass tub so I called Jeffrey, the Plumber of Last Resort (all caps because it says that on his business card, I swear).

"Someone called a plumber?"

After taking off the shower trim (that’s the part with the handle), he turned two screws (on the top right and the top left) to shut off the water.

Turning the water off to remove the tub stall

After watching some Youtube videos online, I thought I needed a special magic plumber tool to disconnect the drain. Jeffrey used the handles of a pair of channel lock pliers shoved in the drain and a screw driver to make it turn. Genius!

The plumber's magic trick

The floor was a little more involved, multiple layers of  plywood and linoleum on top of the old original hardwood.

Layer number one reveals layer number two

Layer number two reveals old bathroom floor plan on hard wood.

Then it was the turn of the fiberglass tub/shower stall. Now everyone told us that we would need to cut it to get it out, and that it would create evil fiberglass dust that would get everywhere and cut your skin and make you want to rip out your own eyeballs (contractors are drama queens, just saying). Well it is true to some extent but we were very careful. We bought a respirator, a real one, the Darth Vader kind ($35), and a saws-all for $99. Louis got into a Tyvec suit, rubber gloves, I taped up the suit at the wrist and ankles. He wore  a hood and the respirator. He went into the bathroom alone with the fan on and a shop vac.

Removing the nails that hold the tub surround in place

After cutting the tub in manageable pieces, he vacuumed out and wiped down a bunch of the dust. We threw away the rags and the suit, and took the whole shabang to the dump ($16 of dump fees). That’s it. We lived. But not the mouse we found in the wall.

RIP mouse

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When in France….

Did I mention that during the bathroom remodel Louis kept joking around about including a bidet? “This bathroom plan is worthless if you don’t include a bidet. We need to rearrange everything…. don’t fight this, we need a bidet.” I explained that I wasn’t even sure I could find a bidet in the US and that changing the plumbing would cost way too much. “No bidet” I said, “you can use one when we go to France”.

Well, we are in France, visiting my parents in Paris. Last night, I was brushing my teeth when I noticed the bidet in the corner.
Me: “Louis?”
Him: “Yes?”
Me:”It’s time.”
He popped his head in.
Him: “Time for what?”
“Time for the bidet,” I said while turning on the faucets. There was a mix of fear and excitement on his face followed by a look of extreme contentment as his butt cheeks touched the warm water.

The bidet

The next day, after breakfast, I am trying to get ready to go out. I knock on the bathroom door.
Me: “Can I come in? I need the mirror to put my hair up….”
Him: “Just a minute.”
I wait……
Me: “What are you doing in there? are you…???!!?”
Him, screaming: “I’M IN FRANCE!”

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Bathroom remodel – the plan

Believe it or not, picking everything is not the easy part. Especially when you are quite indecisive. Me? …hmm …never. Anyway, I did a tremendous amount of research to plan this bathroom remodel, compiled a lot of information and ended up with this:

My inspiration board

The tub: I wanted cast iron, nothing else. I don’t like the feel of the other stuff, and I wanted the durability and the heat retention capabilities of cast iron. Well, they don’t have a whole lot of choice out there when it comes to cast iron. Here are the best options:

The Villager: the most affordable cast iron tub around, $350, by Kohler. It has an apron front so no need to tile the front. The problem with the Villager is that it is really shallow: 8.6 inches to overflow. 33 gallons capacity. Great to bathe your kids, not so great to bathe yourself.
The Mendota: $800, by Kohler. Apron front. Depth to overflow: 10.8 inches. Better, but still not a great soaking experience. 45 gallons capacity.
The Bellwether: $600, by Kohler. Very slick clean lines. Apron front. Depth to overflow:  11.3 inches, getting there. 44 gallons capacity.
The Tea for two: $1,500, by Kohler. Needs a special drain that cost about $300 to $400.Drop in tub, which means that a carpenter has to built a knee wall which has to be durarocked and tiled (more $$). Depth to overflow: 13.6 inches, nice, the deepest from Kohler. 60 gallons capacity, not so great if you have a 50 gallons water heater.
The Highbridge: $ 1,350, by Kohler. Needs a special drain that costs about $150. Drop in tub (see above). Depth to overflow: 12.8 inches. 50 gallons capacity. The highbridge has a really large front lip to allow built in storage but you can just built a knee wall and tile it if it is also going to be a shower.

I chose the Highbridge. I really wanted those extra inches of soak and it was more affordable than the tea for two. I ordered it through Faucet direct.com and it was delivered 5 days later.

The tile: I love glass tiles, love. I had always planned on dimensional glass tile until I saw their price. Holy thinset! It’s $20/sq ft and up, and when I could find tiles for $5-6 per sq ft that are really great, well, I just couldn’t justify the expense. Especially in the bathroom where I needed 77 sq ft for the tub surround and 50 sq ft for the floor. You do the math.

Here are some good affordable choices:

Marble mini hexagon, Crema Marfil: $6.99 sq ft
http://www.mosaictilestone.com/Hexagon-1-Crema-Marfil-   Tumbled-p/m-hex-cre-t.htm





Lantern white porcelain tile, Merola: $6.95 sq ft





Large multicolor slate floor tile, Daltile: $4.84 sq ft




Penny tiles, Merola: $5.94 sq ft http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?storeId=10051&productId=202647813&langId=-1&catalogId=10053&MERCH=REC-_-product-1-_-202964637-_-202647813-_-N&locStoreNum=2667/



Ceramic white pebbles, SomerTile: $8.6 sq ft





I went with mat white penny tiles for the tub surround and white ceramic pebbles for the floor.

Vanities:  Vanities are sooooooo expensive. It’s insane. I looked and looked and found a few options I liked at Lowes that could have worked but Louis wasn’t sold on the traditional look. So we went modern with Ikea’s Godmorgon. We bought a 55 inch vanity AND a high cabinet for extra storage, all for $700. And that includes the sink/top! and it looks really slick. So yay for IKEA.

Faucets: For the faucets I did not go with IKEA. I wanted something a little more heavy duty. So I went with Danze D236010 single handle faucet from the Prince Collection for the vanity, and Kohler K-T10581-4P from the Bancroft Series for the shower.

Lighting: Turns out recess lighting is pretty much rocket science and I will be dedicating a full post to what I learned while trying to make sense of it all. Let me just say that I picked halogen compatible gimbal trims and IC rated new construction cans that have yet to be installed.

Art work: A Picasso lithograph that was in my bathroom growing up and that my mom gave me.

Toilet: I almost forgot the toilet! We went with a Sterling Karsten double flush round. It is really nice. It saves a ton of water and also takes less room than the old toilet.

All is picked and planned, now let the work begin….

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Wallpaper city

When trying to tackle wallpaper removal, it really comes down to this: are you feeling lucky? If you are lucky, the previous owners primed the wall before putting the wallpaper up and all you will need is a round scorer thingy, a spray bottle with warm water or wallpaper chemical remover and a little bit of elbow grease.  After scoring and spraying, the paper will come off in large chunks if you pull nice and slow and keep wetting as you go.

Exhibit A, the living room wallpaper. Nice and easy.

The sexy school teacher removing wall paper, the day after buying the house.

Finished in a single evening. Voilà!

Now if you are unlucky and the wallpaper was put up on a non primed wall, watch out. A non primed surface will increase removal time about ten fold. And if you are really, really unlucky and there was a sale on glue at the hardware store the day that they put said wallpaper up, then you’re really screwed.

Exhibit B, the den and hallway. A daunting nightmare.

See, it looks like the paper is coming off, but don’t be fooled by this lovely blurry picture of Louis in action. The wallpaper is actually splitting in two layers leaving a second layer of paper and glue on the wall. Then there is no way around it, power tools are needed.

Behold, the steamer!

The steamer looks like a good idea, and mainly it is because it will save your ass when nothing else has worked, but don’t you go thinking that it will make the task a piece of cake.  The steamer mainly works EXACTLY where the steaming paddle rests which is a rectangle of about 8’x10′. And it needs to rest on the wall for at least 7 seconds to work. You do the math….it takes FOREVER! On the up side, you get a facial at the same time.

Thank god Louis and I had rented the steamer on a friday so we were able to keep it an extra day no charge. Yes, plan on the whole week end. And it’s not over. After steaming the second layer of paper, we were left with that:

A horrific amount of glue (top). Now grab a sponge, a bucket of warm water and wall paper remover and wash those walls until clean (bottom). Change the water often.

PS: after hours of working, we decided that if we were to ever put wallpaper up again we would write creepy messages on the wall first for people to find later. Messages like :”I’m standing right behind you” or “the walls have eyes”…..

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Buying a fixer upper

In 2009, I was a 31 year old single professional with 10 years of savings in the bank looking to finally own a place of my own. My real estate agent was a really sweet nervous guy, the complete opposite of the archetype shark you imagine. Thankfully, I knew what I wanted and the right questions to ask.  I also knew what to watch out for:  water stains on dry wall, electrical outlets without ground, mold etc….by the time I was looking at my 20th house, I was a pro.

The problem was that the houses I could afford were seriously scary, unsanitary scary. And when they weren’t too scary, they were “slit your wrist” depressing. Nothing cute, no character, no potential, just terrible. And the attitude of the agents showing me these “gems” was just laughable. My favorite was the male agents that kept suggesting that I better come back with my boyfriend or husband. One day I snapped at a particularly obnoxious one and said: “You do know that 1 out of 3 first time home buyers is a single woman these days, right?” “Of course” he had answered looking shocked. That had felt really good.

One day of September, I heard of an open house in a neighborhood I liked. My mom who had been visiting for a week was leaving that day, and we drove by the house on the way to the boat. I liked it instantly. It was a one level bungalow with a big oak tree in the front yard, a little brick patio and a trellis overgrown with trumpet vine (see below). Someone had loved that house.  I dropped my mother off and went back for the open house.

The inside was quite shocking.  Probably the worst collection of wallpaper I had ever seen, mustard yellow shag carpet, cobalt blue painted kitchen cabinets. The house was seriously stuck in the 70s. But it had a good feel to it, it had potential. I stood there, in this god awfully decorated living room (see below), trying to contain my excitement.

The horrendous living room.

I had a just met a new guy a few weeks before, a school teacher, really sweet, not really my type (ha! right). I called him from the house and he stopped by on his way back from work. We sat on a small bench on the back deck and chatted for a while. It just felt right.

The next day I made an offer on the house, well, me and 4 other people. The bidding war that followed was an emotional rollercoaster, but I eventually got the house. On November 30th at 4 pm, I signed the papers and the house became officially mine. Around 8 pm, Louis helped me set up my bed in the dining room (the room that needed the least work, see pic below) and I slept there from then on, moving the bed around as we renovated one room at a time….

The traveling bed.

Stay tuned for home renovation tips and updates.

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