I’ve installed a fair bit of tile in my day. At my parents’ house in New York, we inherited a giant 10-person jacuzzi that was installed on a plywood base over an unconditioned crawlspace. Heavy usage by the previous owners and basic science disintegrated the plywood holding it up, and my parents had to have it all ripped out and replaced with concrete. They kept the jacuzzi though, and the decision was made to re-tile the floor. I took it on as a project and laid out several hundred square feet of the stuff, then grouting and sealing it by myself. I was proud of this job and I look back on it with a sense of satisfaction.
Later, in college, I was hired to gut and remodel a bathroom, something I was only barely qualified to accomplish. Given my pitiable day rate at that time, the homeowners got a bargain and a half by betting on my ability to deliver on what I promised. I took the floor down to the studs, rebuilt it, and then installed period-correct hexagonal tile on the floor and square tile on the walls. It came out looking very good, if you don’t mind me being modest.
Here in the downstairs bathroom I put in a hundred or so square feet of tile on the floor myself, and after grouting it both Jen and I were horrified to see inconsistency in the spacing. It bugs her so much she can’t look down at the floor, which makes me feel awful. So we hired a professional to tile the floor in the new bathroom, looking for more precision. What we got, however, was disappointment. As soon as he left, Jen texted me and told me it was uneven in places, and my heart sank. When I got home I looked it over and at first didn’t think it was too bad, but on closer inspection it’s bothering me more and more. There are visible rivers where sheets didn’t go together with the same spacing as the layout on the sheets, and in one area there’s a visible line from the doorway where the a row of tile seems to be higher than its neighbor.
Upset, I called the installer, who deflected blame and pointed at the tile itself, without offering me any solutions or apologies. We traded some texts and phone calls, each getting irate with the situation. Jen and I called our friend Mr. Scout for some professional advice, and he immediately went into problem-solving mode, suggesting white grout to hide the sins. Because it’s a over a heated underlayment, pulling up tiles to fix problems could mean nicking the wire and breaking the system completely. Friday morning I told the installer we wanted white grout and he told me it would be $340 extra, at which time I lost it and went full asshole on him.
I don’t like being a jerk to people. It’s not natural to me, but my reticence has come to bite me in the ass with contractors, who sometimes try to get away with substandard work. For some reason I feel weird about pushing for the work to be correct, afraid that they won’t come back, or worse, when they do, they’ll fuck it up even more. Really, I just don’t want to be a dick. But this was not OK, and I wanted it fixed. I went to the tile store I trusted and asked them their opinion after showing them pictures, and they did confirm the tile sheets are inconsistent but said that white grout will hide most of the issues.
I’m texting him back today to tell him we’re going ahead with the white grout, and will finish out this part of the contract with him, but I’m going to find someone else to put in the shower tile and finish out the rest of the job.
In my line of work, I’m asked to make changes every day. I deal with people who don’t like the results of something I’ve done, and I find a way to make things work, by offering solutions and problem solving. The first part of this process is acknowledging something is wrong; it’s not that hard. If I’d gotten that as a first response I’d be a lot more likely to work with the guy. But he dug his heels in and deflected completely without trying to work with me, and that’s not acceptable.
Fed up with the lighting situation in the master bathroom, Jen put some suggestions for vanity lighting in browser tabs and showed them to me last week. After wading through hundreds of listings—apparently dimmable lights are dangerous and are prone to explode in flames at any point, but most online vendors make it impossible to filter out “dimmable” as a keyword—we found a set that we liked, and got them shipped to the house last Friday. I measured the wall and the mirror seventeen times and drilled some new access holes to mount each fixture on Saturday, hoping I was on the correct side of each wall stud in an attempt to get them to line up symmetrically to the mirror and the sinks. They went in relatively easily, once I identified the correct breaker, and we are now just waiting for a skim coat of drywall mud on the vestigial holes in the wall.
Jen’s done a lot to finish off the bathroom. During her bout with COVID she kept the floor heated for most of the day while she was quarantined, and I think she fell in love with warm toes during bathroom visits. Over the break she framed some artwork we bought in Austin and has been adding plants and rugs to get things to tie together, while I made some adjustments to the closet door to get both of them to close properly and fixed a leaky flapper in the toilet.
This morning I finished my shower, dried off, and stepped out onto a toasty floor. Morning sunlight reflected off the wall through the south windows, and the new vanity lights brightened everything up. It’s nice to have a grown-up bathroom.
So 12+ years after we first broke ground on the new bathroom, and 2 years after the actual cabinetry and countertops went in, we’ve got a mirror on the wall. The story of how it finally got here is long and winding, and there have been many detours and delays along the way, but it’s up and permanently affixed to the wall.
To fit the odd dimensions of our room, I had to custom order the mirror. We didn’t want to just stick a mirror on the wall, so I built a frame to fit the mirror—I actually built two frames, the first using a router, back in early December. The cuts on that didn’t come out clean enough, so then I cut the second one the way I should have from the start, with the table saw. There was some experimentation with how it would be joined securely (the mirror itself is something like 40 lbs.) but once I had that figured out it went together quickly. I then assembled the whole thing and hung it on the wall and then realized that we could see unpainted wood reflected in the mirror because I hadn’t painted the backside of the channel the mirror sat in.
So I took it apart, sprayed the inside, reassembled it, and hung it back on the wall. Screwed it to the wall, actually; I don’t trust simple hangers to hold it so I put six exterior screws through the wood into the 1/2″ sheathing behind the drywall and covered the holes with wood putty. The whole thing got taped off, sanded, and repainted. That fucker ain’t going anywhere.
Then I touched up the paint around the whole thing, hung a towel rack to the left, and glued and screwed both thresholds down for good. It’s really coming together! Now we need to settle on some lights for over the mirror.
On Wednesday of last week, I started cleaning up the full-size closet in the new bathroom in preparation for installing our closet system. As mentioned earlier, this involved fixing the crappy old outlet box hanging from the wall and painting the walls with two coats of eggshell white.
I started building the middle cabinet on Friday and got the whole thing assembled, in place, and leveled by dinnertime. I had to find a stud on the back wall to mount into, and then shimmed up the base. Then I started trimming and cutting wood for the baseboards when I knew the middle cabinet was in place.
On Saturday I hit the whole thing with a vengeance, finishing off the baseboard trim, cutting side supports for the clothes racks (I don’t know in what world they think 300 lbs. of clothes will hang on a couple of drywall anchors, but I ain’t buying it) and cutting the rods to fit. Everything got nailed into place, caulked, and painted. I cut two of the supplied shelves down to size, glued the moulding in place, and let everything dry overnight.
Sunday morning Jen and I had the pleasure of moving the contents of two overstuffed 1920’s closets into one adult-sized lighted walk-in.
When that was done and Jen was organizing her space, I moved our giant IKEA dresser out from in front of the back bathroom entrance and opened that door for the first time in (5? 6?) years. We’re reorganizing our bedroom space, and now that the closets are opened up that allows us to move other things around and make some changes. It’s going to be hard to reprogram my brain to look for certain clothes in certain places (when we moved the silverware drawer in the kitchen, it was a full two years before I mentally made the change) but I’m excited about our new space and the upgrade to our quality of life.
I spent some time on Saturday measuring out the bathroom wall for a mirror and looking over the closet situation based on the designs I’d built, and I think it’s time to order the former and go back to the drawing board for the latter. We’ve got a plan for the mirror which will involve some construction, so I’ve got to find someone who will cut one for us.
The closet is another story. Our current closets are 42″ wide, and we each have one—Jen in the blue room and mine in the back bedroom. They are barely 7′ tall, while the new closet is more than a foot higher (in many old houses around here the closets don’t share the same ceiling height). The doors on the current closets are only 24″ wide, so it feels like you’re reaching in to a cereal box. The new closet is 84″ wide, so we don’t gain any width, but with two large doors, 1′ more depth, and interior lighting, it’ll be a completely different experience.
All of the closet solutions I’ve found want to divide the space into three areas, and after talking to Jen about it, I’d like to split it in half. She wants a rack for long clothes and I want a short rack with shelves underneath. All of the online tools I used don’t offer this, so I’ve got to keep searching for something that will work the way we want.
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Monday afternoon we grudgingly put real clothes on, packed the entire family in the car, and drove to the karate dojo for testing. They’ve been doing the best they can with Zoom karate but I know instructing kids remotely is a terrible substitute for in-person training. Finn has been reasonably good about keeping up with it, and when she was done she walked outside with a huge smile and her new blue belt: the next step up!
While we were waiting, Hazel started whining and crying at a plastic owl sitting on the picnic table outside the dojo. I walked out to spin it around so it wasn’t staring at her, and the sensei came out to say hi to us and explain that they’re going to have to go back to in-person training soon. We chatted about the realities of teaching during the pandemic, and I understand his predicament—I’m glad they’re still in business, they are a fantastic dojo.
As the weeks go by my attitude on in-person classes has changed. Finn needs to be around other kids, even if it’s highly compartmentalized. The last couple of months have been really hard for us all, but she’s suffering the most. She needs more formalized structure and to be in a different building interacting with different people, not just for her grades but for her sanity. We’ve started talking to her about it, and where we were dead set against it before, we’re trying to explain why we’ve changed our minds. She’s terrified she might get me sick and doesn’t want to be responsible for killing me (which I appreciate) but I think her mental health is worth the risk.
On the way home, to celebrate the belt, we stopped at a Starbucks to try something Jen had heard about: a pistachio latte (decaf, naturally). I was underwhelmed. Coffee changes flavor at different temperatures, so I understand it may have been the wrong temperature when I got mine, but it just never got better. It was a weak latte with some pistachio waved at the cup; hardly worth $4. Their PSL is unimpeachable but I’d rather save my cash for some ice cream instead.
And, an update: I reheated the second half of my latte and then proceeded to spill it all over my desk this morning. Swell.
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The seedlings in our basement are already going nuts, which is fantastic, but they’ve already outgrown the trays I bought to hold them. Specifically, the clear domes that go over the soil are only 2″ tall, which is great for getting them started but now they’re all bent over looking for somewhere to continue growing. I bought a set of 7″ domes for the trays in the hope that they will provide more room, keep the heat and moisture inside, and keep curious cats out.
Also on the delivery list: a queen-sized mattress for our bedroom. We bought a Sleep Number bed ages ago, and while it was nice back in the day it’s pretty much used up now. We all tried the Sealy twin we got for Finley and deemed it acceptable, and the return policy from Wayfair is excellent, so I pulled the trigger this morning. It was relatively easy to get Finn’s bed up the stairs by myself because it came packed into a round plastic burrito, and this one will theoretically be packed the same way, so hopefully it won’t be difficult to move myself. And the price was great!
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Our Valentine’s Day was quiet but fun; I made bacon egg & cheese for breakfast (one of the culinary foundations of our relationship) and we spent a peaceful afternoon around the house. For dinner, Jen organized a pair of giant delicious steaks, potatoes au gratin, and Brussels sprouts, followed by a fantastic molten chocolate tart with crème fraîche. While she was putting dinner together, a lovely bouquet of flowers arrived for her, and we enjoyed a candlelit dinner together at the table. I love you blondie!
Having done some more research, I’ve found four closet configuration tools with varying approaches to dividing up the space available in our still-empty master closet:
This solution looks like it might be the easiest of them all: it’s two stacking containers in the center of the closet, with a high/low clothing rack on the left side and a long rack on the right side. This would give Jen a ton of space for long clothes and a lot of space on the left side for shorter stuff. The downside to this one is that the center column is pretty narrow, meaning there isn’t much room for anything, but at least there’s a shelf across the top. No pricing given
This one has a lot of components, but seems to do a lot with the space that’s available. The drawers are wide, and there’s a good wide space on each of the short racks for the bulk of our hanging clothes. the middle rack is narrower and frankly doesn’t allow for much space for long dresses. Estimated pricing: $1355
The Swedes use two 23″ wide frames to contain the his and hers sections, leaving 38″ of space in between for a long hanging rack. I chose a set of five drawers for the bottom half and spent an extra $60 on four glass front drawers, but otherwise it’s pretty simple. I’d prefer a couple of taller deeper drawers down below but this is the only size they offer. This also doesn’t allow for a center rack install, but I’d just buy one separately and install it myself. Estimated Pricing: $670
The Container Store
This one doesn’t use any kind of frames or containers at all; it’s all set up as wire racks hanging off the back wall and separated into three odd-sized sections. They actually offer two product lines, but the more expensive line wastes 4″ of space on either side due to its prefabricated origins. Here I’ve got a rack up top, and the his and hers racks on the right side. One is narrower than the other for reasons I wasn’t able to alter in their tool, and they don’t offer drawers in any of the configurations so it’s all shelves. Estimated Pricing: $456
We haven’t made a decision yet, but these four approaches are much less expensive than I thought they might be.