Tuesday, November 20, 2012


So when we left off with the sink base, it looked like this:

I had also painted it by the time I last shared it, but my phone ate that picture, and then I forgot that it had and I didn't take another one.  Oops.  This was the area where the sink base was destined to reside:

You should note (1) hideous '70s cabinets; (2) weird textured-top white formica (I should've taken a closeup); (3) sink at an angle; (4) stove to the right of the sink area; (5) faintly-visible tileboard (painted white) above the countertop.  I decided that I didn't want a sink on an angle.  Instead, I wanted the sink basin right next to where the stove is (well, ideally I wanted to move the stove to the right and put a cabinet between, but it looks like that's not happening).  And I wanted a drainboard in that corner spot, since I thought it would make that into a useful space.  And the cabinets and the countertop were awful and had to go.  The dishwasher stays. 

For reference, this area is immediately under the site of my first big project, known to the world as Cabinet #1:

(In both of these pictures, you may note that I have taken all the cleaning products out from under the sink and put them in the bucket, and sprinkled the countertop liberally with tools.  That pry-bar will figure largely in the cabinets' next few hours.) 

So then I put the sink base in, and I cut Carrara marble tiles (that I got at the ReStore for $.50 apiece!) to fit - I used broken ones on the edge where they would be hidden.  And then I caulked them (I don't like the caulk color, though it was the closest the store had, so I'm going to tint it closer to the tiles' color).  And I also put beadboard (the white stuff) behind where the sink would go before I put the sink base in, so I could get a nice tight seal behind the sink.  Also in this picture, I have already removed all the lower cabinets on the wall to the left.  And ripped off all the tile board.  And put in the new cabinets.  And leveled and attached them.  And measured and cut the butcher block countertop and attached it...I may have failed to document some steps here.  But I may cover the rest of the lower cabinets later.  For now, we are talking about the sink. 

Anyway, you may notice some interestingly-painted wall-board underneath the white beadboard that I added.  Here is a better picture of that board:

(This is before I ripped off the last of the tile-board - more on that in a second.)  I was hoping this picture would come out better.  That is solid wood board.  As you can see by the heavier seams, it's tongue-and-groove - i.e., assembled out of smaller pieces, unlike the beadboard I'm now using, which comes in four foot by eight foot panels.  Also, it has ordinary single beads (like the stuff I'm now hanging), but every other separation has a triple bead (if you open this picture full-size, I think you can see it): 

I've never seen board like that - it's very interesting.  So are the remnant paint colors on it.  Based on the material and the colors, it looks to me to be quite old; I think it might even be original.  There's not enough of it to rescue, and I'm not sure how I could replicate it.  If I were having a pro redo my kitchen, I might consider having custom replication made for the walls. 

But do you know what this means?  I went with beadboard because it was a reasonably historic type of material, something I knew how to work with, and I already have it in the laundry room and powder room, so I know it's right for the house.  But this sample shows that my material choice is very close to how the kitchen was originally!  YAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

This is in contrast to the loathed tile-board, which clearly was not original, and which looks in no way original to any decade but the 1960s.  And which doesn't look anything like actual tiles (unlike the beadboard, which I think is a reasonably decent fake).  You like the pastiche of former colors visible on this sample? 

As you can see in that photo, I had just removed the switchplates.  'Cause that tileboard was just about to have a rendezvous with a pry-bar.  As of Saturday, THERE IS NO LONGER ANY TILEBOARD IN MY KITCHEN.  HAAAAAAAAAA!!! 

I seem to have forgotten that we were talking about the sink.  You remember the sink:

Well, I put the sink on that sink base with the marble:

Do you see now what I meant about using this picture as an inspiration? 


OK, well, anyway, that's not what's really important.  What's really important is what you can see just at the bottom of the picture: a p-trap and a feed line to the waste pipe.  I BUILT THAT.  That right there:

And this end, too:

(Maybe I should have taken the pictures before I put all the cleaning products and the plastic bags back in.) 

You can also see (in the sink picture above) a somewhat forlorn-looking faucet.  Out of the back of it extend flexible supply hoses.  They are hooked up to the hot and cold water sources.  THE SINK WORKS.  That whole drain assembly worked on the FIRST try with no leaks.  I am beyond delighted.  I know that the credit goes to Ss. Anthony and Joseph, whom I harassed endlessly in the last few days, so anxiety-ridden was I about this project.  (Not having a kitchen sink four days before you host a party will up the ante on your projects a little bit.) 

However, the feed assembly is not perfect.  There is one leak, where the hot water line joins to the faucet.  I forgot to wrench-tighten the brass coupling after I hand-tightened it, although that step was on my mental to-do list.  I'll have to shut the water off, undo the fittings, re-wrap the Teflon tape, and tighten again, but that's not difficult.  Once I get that done, I will have to find some sort of construction cement to get that faucet to stay against the wall of the sink.  (It was not built for quite the installation method I have used, so a few work-arounds have been necessary.)  For now, its inclination to pitch itself into the sink basin is for the best, since it causes the leak to run down the drain, instead of down the wall. 

I may actually finish this by Christmas...


I ultimately discovered that while the hot water side of the faucet leaked noticeably, the cold water side had a slower, sneakier leak as well.  And there was ANOTHER sneaky leak under the sink (in the silver hoses you can see in the picture above).  The latter problem I solved by returning the hoses to the store and buying new ones, which do not leak.  (Yes, the leak was in the hose I had just bought - not in its connection to the old hose.) 

I also found out that the fix I was proposing for the hot water faucet (i.e., tighten the brass coupling) was NOT effective.  So first I did that, this time wrapping the Teflon tape around five times instead of three.  Still leaked.  Then I decided to change the whole thing into a compression fitting (those are much less leak-prone).  To do this, I had to create my own compression fitting, but I found some rubber washers in the right diameter.  My first try didn't work because the washers weren't tall enough and slid around.  So I went to a different store with more rubber washers, and found ones in the perfect size.  This didn't work either (it leaked a LOT), because the connection is not straight - the water turns a corner to feed into the faucet.  So it has an opportunity to sneak right around the rubber washer and back into the mysterious gap between the metal threads.  (I am now the proud owner of many useless rubber washers.)  So then I decided to try wrapping the Teflon tape ten times around.  Leaked (barely).  Twelve times around.  Leaked (more than the ten times - ?).  Tried pipe dope instead of Teflon tape.  Leaked plenty.  Tried pipe dope on the threads with Teflon tape OVER it wrapped ten times around.  WORKED!!!  I literally used THE ENTIRE ROLL of Teflon tape.  But now my faucet works:

(I ripped out the sink on Saturday the 17th, and had the faucet working again as of Wednesday the 27th.  And spent almost every intervening day trying to get the faucet to stop leaking.  This is why the beadboard is not finished yet...) 

I was originally going to cement the back of the faucet to the sink so the faucet would stay up.  That sounds to me like something a plumber would do.  But it is irreversible.  And pipes sometimes leak (as I would know).  So it didn't sound responsible.  The solution I came up with to hold the faucet's weight (which I am confident is structurally sound) is therefore more responsible in terms of stewardship of my home, but looks like a kludge:

(This is a repeat of the picture above.  But when you saw it before, you didn't realize those wires were attached to the faucet above, did you?) 

So I'd like to come up with something that looks like professional-quality work and is effective and reversible, but I have this feeling that if I had called in a pro, he would have jerry-rigged it too, because what with all the vintage pieces, custom work-arounds are unavoidable. 


And, I am sharing at Metamorphosis Monday!  Lots of beautiful Christmas ideas there today - check it out! 

Friday, November 16, 2012

design ideas that make me want to stab people in the eye

I see that I am developing a bit of a theme here.  (Not the theme of accidentally hitting "publish" when I am trying to tab into the content box to type the post.  Though that is arguably also becoming a theme.)  And no doubt I will have more posts in this vein.  Apparently, though precise decisions about what I like are elusive, what I don't like maintains a great clarity. 

And today, I would like to talk about open shelving in the kitchen.  Yes, yes, we've heard: it's lovely, it's trendy, it creates a "feeling of openness," and it's just as useful as leaving the cabinets up there.  And here is where I get off the train.  Yes, it can be really pretty.  But if there's one design habit that pisses me off (and there isn't), it's people expressly claiming to have added functionality - and to have needed said functionality - when that is the opposite of the truth.  If you added a tiny shelf in your bathroom so you could put seashells on it, or miniature apothecary jars of bath salts in a room where no one takes baths, tell everyone the truth: you added decoration.  You did not add storage.  Storage is not for things that you only want to look at. 

For example:

Let's be honest.  The actual fact is that your kitchen is so much larger than you really need it to be that you can store four of everything that anybody needs in your lower cabinets (or a huge pantry across the way).  You didn't rip off your upper cabinets and add shelves because you had caught wind of a newer, more brilliant way to store your dishes.  You're not even really pretending that you need those shelves for storage! 

These people are trying a little harder to pretend:

But they're not fooling me.  That's at least four upper cabinets that you lost there.  That's all you'd have had in all of them?  Where are the rest of your drinking glasses?  And your mismatched cereal bowls?  Come on, now. 

Now the pretense ramps up into high gear:

"I own thirteen pieces of milk glass and some sort of weird trophy object and I am willing to sacrifice a pantry's worth of storage for them.  They need room to breathe, people!" 

Concededly, some people are not pretending.  They are actually using shelves for storage.  It would be wrong not to acknowledge these people.  For example:

Sure, this could all have been staged by a prop stylist for the photo (the open cookbook certainly was).  But you know what?  I believe you.  That looks like a collection of Talavera there on the middle shelf - and not an outrageously large collection that you assembled to decorate a useless shelf, either.  I count three serving trays, a serving bowl, and a pitcher.  I would use those on a regular basis.  And I am totally convinced by your water glasses, your wine glasses, your dinner and lunch plates, and your cereal bowls.  Those green glass bottles might just be for decoration, but hey, they're on a high shelf.  And now, I want to know what's in that galvanized box. 

And here's one of my favorite kitchen design pictures:


I don't believe a prop stylist has ever been near this kitchen.  Hey, I could be wrong - maybe it's never been used.  Maybe it's a set.  But if this kitchen is wrong, I don't want to be right.  Look at all those pans!  They're all stainless steel.  You buy copper to show off; you buy steel if you want to use it all the time and need to scrub it to death.  Is that home-canned tomato sauce on the blue stove (which is an awesome stove, by the way)?  Look at that giant colander!  I've never needed one that big.  And the only people I know who have those old stovetop espresso makers instead of the expensive electric ones are serious coffee drinkers.  There is no storage space in this room that is going unused - not even the floor.  I ardently believe that if I spent a day in this kitchen with its owner, I would emerge a fabulously improved cook.  Starting with what those giant squash in the basket are and how to fix them...

And, hey, I want to give these people props, too:

You knew you needed a lot of storage, so you kept most of the cabinets closed.  You left a few open to mix things up, but gosh darn it, you are using them.  How many cookbooks are on that shelf?  Bet they're good ones, too. 

You, on the other hand...

...needed a separate shelf for each of your platters shaped like blowfish.  And you appear to have dedicated one entire shelf to a napkin holder and a (not very realistic) sculpture of an artichoke.  Also, your creamer looks like a gargoyle.  Have that looked into. 

Of course, that looks reasonable in comparison to some things:

Who is looking into these mirrors?  And why don't you have a refrigerator? 

Now, I'm not totally unreasonable.  I recognize that in some cases, the only possible use for a shelf is decorative storage.  It's not like the homeowner could have used this space for the dishes:

A singing fish was kind of the obvious choice.  (At least, I hope it sings.) 

And, likewise, the space above this window isn't easily accessible.  The items they've displayed (and the kitchen) are beautiful:

And I recognize that, if you have some open shelving and some closed cabinets, you'll want to make your prettiest dishes visible, and organize them neatly:

That doesn't mean the shelves aren't real storage.  Certainly not.  And I don't know how you get dinner plates down without smashing dishes here:

But I'm willing to give this the benefit of the doubt.  However...

...some arrangements are clearly just for decoration, even when they sacrifice an entire wall worth of cabinetry.  (I notice you needed an entire shelf for your 624 sign there.)  And:

Is that an...empty...storage...pagoda...?  Right.  And I think we can all agree...

...if half your shelves and cabinets are empty, you just have too large a kitchen.  Likewise:


Our friends in places where space is at a premium are the ones who are fearlessly embracing shelves as storage:

And the results are stunning!  I think we could all learn from this.  (This kitchen is in Bratislava, by the way.)  And some Americans are taking the cue:

I see your Hellmann's.  And your French's.  And your Cheerios.  I believe you

Even the OC has someone using every square inch well:

Look at that.  If you have a giant stove, I am going to be generous and assume you cook a lot.  And if so, I buy that you have two blocks' worth of knives.  And I respect that you keep them on the countertop, where you can actually use them.  And, fine, I don't believe that most people have a giant candle and a potted hydrangea on the island/prep table, so I'll blame the stylist for that.  But that fruit tray actually makes sense - you'd have a lot of tangerines and bananas, but just a couple of watermelon and squash, and fewer lemons.  And lots of sauces, most at least partly used.  (I don't have this large a rack over my stove, but it came with a little one, and I need to make better use of it.  My kitchen is way smaller than this one.)  And look at that shelf under the prep table!  Those baskets don't even match!  My heart is warm. 

You, on the other hand:

Should not have a shelf under the prep table at all.  That just looks ridiculous

Oh look:

That ten-ounce teapot needed its own shelf. 

Obviously, I am not a fan of minimalism.  But even I can admit that - on occasion - things can be taken too far in the opposite direction:

My eyes hurt.  I think maybe if you subtracted the rooster, it might work. 

And there is minimalism I respect:

These people are making use of every inch of storage space they have.  And these people:

I want to believe that they have a daily need for three different meat grinders, and a...thing.  In open storage, so they aren't slowed down by fishing around for them. 

And then some people have to blast through a wall's worth of upper cabinets

...so they can have an entire shelf for the word "EAT."  (No doubt an instruction essential to the inhabitants.) 

Stabbing is really the only answer. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I have been up to things

I had a long weekend.  Friends called on Monday to suggest that we join them for a walk in the city (on 90 minutes' notice) and, later, for homemade dinner (also on 90 minutes' notice).  Lovely ideas.  But these people don't seem to understand that if I have an entire day unassigned, I'm going to book it with 8-10 straight hours of hard labor, and I cannot be dislodged partway through. 

You all remember this, right? 

I believe I mentioned that it seemed perfect except that it was 4" too shallow, and the seller wanted more for it than I wanted to spend.  I waited an entire week after the seller posted it on craigslist.  I have the patience of a saint.  This, because he had said, "Price is firm."  Then I emailed him and said that, being as it is not the depth of a standard cabinet, I will have to retrofit it...and I didn't figure that into my wee sink budget...and I don't suppose he is flexible on the price? 

He took $50 off.  My DH, who is a saint, went all by himself to get it (I was going to go and help carry, except that I screwed up my schedule and had to teach CCD at the time we agreed to get it.  Turns out I can't lift half of it anyway...).  So, that's MY sink you're looking at.  It was clean when I bought it.  Now it is filled with sawdust.  Onward...

I decided to go with this inspiration as to how to install it:


Since my powers don't include the power of lasers, I will be building my marble base out of tiles, not a slab.  (I can make a hollow ring of tiles that will just go right under the edge, so there's room for the drain pipes that go under the sink.  Sinks have pipes, did you know?  Apparently this is a revelation to me...read on.) 

A week after the sink took up residence in the carriage house, on the floor, in a growing pile of sawdust, I was at the Habitat ReStore looking for a light fixture (nope, no luck.  Doesn't matter - I couldn't get the wiring to go into the wall anyway) and happened to find a bunch of 6" x 6" tumbled Carrara marble tiles on sale...for $.50 apiece.  I was really thinking of honed tiles (I definitely didn't want polished), and the tumbled have kind of roughed-up edges.  Therefore the top edges are not really square.  Therefore they won't be at all seamless, and it will be very obvious that they're tiles.  But they're really pretty.  And my searches of the big-box stores had turned up nothing suitable.  And I believe all the tiles I needed (plus several spare) cost $8.41.  So the stack of 6" tiles took up residence next to the sink.  On the floor.  In the pile of sawdust. 

Just yesterday, I double-checked the spread on the faucet holes, and bought this pretty little number:

Just $54 on Amazon, with shipping, which I thought was pretty good.  I really like our current gooseneck faucet (swivels out of the way so you can set big stuff under it - very handy), but it's deck-mounted (rather than wall-mounted), so I can't reuse it.  It turns out the chrome is peeling where it sits on the sink anyway, so that's fine.  I'm hoping this one won't peel, because it won't be in standing water. 

By the way, this concludes the portion of the narrative wherein I behave competently.  I should stick to shopping; apparently that's what I'm good at. 

Anyway, next I bought a 2' x 4' piece of 1/2" thick MDF, and some 8-foot framing lumber.  I had carefully drawn my sink plans in my head; normally I would also carefully draw on paper, but they were very clear in my head, and I didn't have any question marks as I went, so I started sawing stuff. 

A lot more stuff than this.  22 pieces total, actually, in three sizes.  Then I started putting them together:

This piece just needs one more board attached, at the bottom, making a sort of sideways figure 8.  I made two of those, and then a similar piece, without the middle support post (so, not an 8).  The two 8s will support the left and right side of the sink; the not-an-8 piece goes in the middle.  (If it had a middle piece like the others, it be really hard to reach around under the sink.) 

Then I stood them all up and used some more boards to attach them all to each other:

It would be slightly easier to picture how I did this if my dumb phone hadn't deleted three or four pictures that showed the stages in between.  Also, you will note that on the right side, the bottom connector post is set back.  I did this to leave space for a toe-kick (I told you, I had very clear pictures in my head).  Later I realized that this cabinet won't really work with a toe-kick, so not only was that unnecessary, I'm going to have to build an extra box to fill that space.  Work I wouldn't have had to do if I hadn't outsmarted myself. 

Then I added a thin piece of plywood on the right side of the cabinet, the one that will be next to the oven:

I actually did a pretty good job of fitting this to the frame, which is nice, since this side could perhaps be seen if you squinted between the sink and the oven. 

Then I added the top, and here's where I really started to make my own life difficult:

You see that cinder block up there?  I added that because of my enormous brilliance.  You see, the framing part of the cabinet is wildly out of square.  Wildly.  Among other reasons, after very carefully measuring the toe kick gap I mentioned above, I made it 3.5" deep on the right and 4" on the left side.  I measured several times to achieve this exact degree of wild imprecision.  I didn't even notice this error (though its effects were quite obvious and I should have figured it out) until I had that plywood on the side, and I didn't want to rip it off so I could rip out the screw and redo it.  It did not occur to me until I started typing that sentence that I could have pulled the screw out of the left side instead, and saved myself several headaches.  I am that clever. 

This really does relate to the cinder block.  I realized that I had to place the MDF (that's the brown board on top) very, very carefully to make sure that it covered the whole top (the MDF was theoretically bigger - I was smart enough to leave extra.  Just not smart enough to build a square frame, so the thing sticks out in odd places and takes up more room than it should).  I put that cinder block up there to make sure that once I had gotten the MDF into place, it wouldn't wiggle while I sank the screws.  In particular, the MDF had to stick out exactly 1/2" over the front right corner, because I bought nice piece of 1/2" thick pre-cut poplar to frame out the door.  I literally measured that 1/2" gap more than ten times, including seconds before I sank the screw. 

Ask me whether that gap is 1/2".  Or even whether it's too deep, so that I could sand down the difference.  Not a chance.  If this is the result of meticulous measuring, why does anybody measure at all?  Possibly other people have better measuring skills.  Whatever. 

Then I added another piece of plywood.  This one will be completely hidden by an adjacent cabinet, but I wanted to close the side in so stuff doesn't fall into the gap:

The greatest disaster was yet to come.  Contrary to my hopes and expectations before the sink arrived, the sink bowl sits further down than the sink edges.  It's sort of hard to picture what I mean by this...if you scroll up and look at the houzz photo, you'll see that the sink sits flat on its skirt.  If this sink is like my sink, that means somebody had to cut out an opening for the bowl, 'cause otherwise the sides wouldn't have landed flush on the marble.  The hole I cut looks like this:

But the true disaster is still invisible.  As I have detailed, careful planning and careful measuring on my part nevertheless led to a lot of poor workmanship that all my small skills (and all the molding in the Big Orange Store) will not be enough to conceal fully.  (I'm hoping the pretty sink and the pretty marble will distract people.  I had visions of beautiful framing around a beautiful made-from-scratch door.  I'm still going to make the framing and the door, but my illusions about how good they will look have been stripped away.) 

That's what happens when I plan and execute with care.  What about a total failure to plan?  Well, this project has that, too.  What's the one thing I didn't measure (repeatedly) before I designed and built the sink base?  That would be the sink.  No, I am not kidding.  I measured its width, hoping it would be smaller than the 42" cited in the craigslist ad.  (It's 42.75", of course.)  Even now I haven't measured its width (though that could be off by an inch or more and it wouldn't affect the design). 

But I didn't measure the places where the bowl sticks out at the bottom until after I built the base.  When would have been a good time to measure that?  Before.  Definitely before.  Because if I centered the sink on the MDF (which, obviously, was my plan - I wanted about 1.5" of marble base to show on either side), then the cutout for the bowl would have to go straight through that middle stud there.  That would make hash of my design, ruin the structural integrity of the base, and also require sawing through some steel deck screws.  Clearly not happening.  So I put the opening as far over as I could, and reduced the width of the MDF on the left side. 

If I had measured this before I built the base, I could have moved the center framing to the left 2-3".  Would have required zero additional effort or materials.  But for that, I would have had to have planned ahead. 

Now I am praying to St. Joseph that my (I thought) conservative estimates of the bowl's width were very conservative, and I can slide it almost an inch to the left.  I won't know until I get the sink on there.  And, as mentioned, I can't carry even half the sink's weight.  I'm not going to find out until after I finish the paint and varnish (paint is already done - phone ate that picture, too), cut the tiles and attach them to the top, demolish the current sink, and beg some nice neighbors to help my DH lift the sink, so I can get the whole mess assembled in the kitchen. 

That's definitely the most sensible way to proceed. 

Oh, also?  When did I check where the waste pipe is for the current sink, to see whether the frame could be dropped over it or would have to be ripped apart and rebuilt just to go in the spot it's meant for? 

The day after I painted the finished frame...obviously.  If this works, it will be a miracle.