Sunday, March 18, 2012


This area makes for a long story as it underwent the biggest changes and is still a work in progress. Originally it was a galley kitchen with dropped ceilings, an electric range and cabinets stained a shade of brown that doesn't exist in nature.
The first repair was to strip the cabinets and apply a polyurethane finish. A friend from Los Angeles, who had worked with me before I left LA for med school, came up along with my mom and one of my aunts for work on structural changes.
Here is galley portion of the kitchen prior to the 1st round of changes.
Here is the central area of the kitchen.
My initial changes (pre-married) need a context. I like food but have a minimal interest in cooking. My lifelong interest in photography leads to a particular attentiveness to window light. That in turn led to a focus on the windows themselves. I'll elaborate on that elsewhere to stay on topic.
The following changes were done in '96: 
      Removed the dropped ceiling and the cabinet over the cooktop.
      Put in a skylight.
      Enlarged the framing to the ceiling as much as was structurally prudent.
      Opened the kitchen to the darkroom.
      Added a window to what was the darkroom.
Voila! Markedly improved lighting.
I added a wall to separate the galley from the kitchen in order to bring the fridge closer to the work area. I'm aware that big kitchens have been "the thing" since at least the mid-90's, which is when I started to pay attention to that sort of thing. Good light, a gas cooktop, and a workspace that made sense were more important than lots of cabinets and large fridges. I mention the fridge size because I allowed only 35 inches- who needs a big fridge? Here is the kitchen ca 1996
The kitchen was fine for my purposes, but needed improvement once I got married. As a friend put it, just as I needed tools, materials and adequate storage in my shop, Geri needed the same for her "shop". For I had the good fortune to marry a prolific cook. She's also a pretty good tile maker and installer.
I made the built-in the the pantry area in '98
The sideboard and hutch were made in '99 (Ger's Valentine's Day present)
The kitchen pretty much as below from 2000-2008.
In 2008 the economy in general and housing in particular was in the toilet. Contrarian that I am, it was a good time to work on the house. In 2008 we remodeled the upstairs room which was labor intensive but other than the hardwood flooring, did not incur a lot of expenses.  Which brings us to the fridges. The 35" opening had come back to haunt me.  In the present day, super sized USA standard size fridges are 36 inches and  also pretty deep. A white whale of a fridge in a small kitchen was not my idea of an improvement. Neither were the stainless steel low to mid price range choices. The metal gauge seemed closer to tin foil than a quality surface. When it comes to buying stuff, if I'm going to shell out money, it better be for quality products. While thinking about the kitchen update, we decided to make the breakfast room more of a kitchen extension by adding wine storage and cabinets. We decided to cough up for not one but two Sub-Zero glass-door fridges. The kitchen fridge has a shallow depth and is 35.5" wide, with heavy gauge steel and a glass door.  Glass also has the virtue of increasing the perceived size of the kitchen (at least to me). Geri was worried about the visibility of the inside, but thankfully she has a high need for order in her kitchen.  Luckily, the 1/2 inch increase required for the fridge opening was not as labor intensive or structurally invasive as I had feared. When removing the plaster on the wall adjacent to the dining area to make the required alterations, I was very pleased to find that doing so gave me a full inch additional width. So, I replaced the plaster with 1/2" drywall, used 1/4" plywood for the cabinet housing and was able to leave the adjacent cabinets and counters unchanged and meet the required dimensions for the fridge as specified by Sub-Zero.
During this round of remodel I made a new island cabinet, revised a bookcase for some of Geri's cookbooks and replaced the countertop. I made the first countertop from alder as it was an inexpensive solution to the original ceramic tile. But the polyurethane didn't like hot plates and pans, thus granite.
In order to make room for the fridges, we had to give up storage in the breakfast room where the wine fridge stands and in the kitchen area above the old fridge.
To compensate for this, I made the two cabinets shown and a smaller round table to accommodate the cabinets. The base of the table is a railroad jack that I found at Rejuvenation in Portland. Anecdotally, I was at that store a few months later looking around. I noticed that there wasn't the selection of stuff that lent itself to alterations. One of the salesmen said that another worker was using what was coming in to make furniture. He then said "one guy made a table using one of our iron pieces". "I'm that guy" I replied with a grin on my face.
That brings us to now.   As mentioned elsewhere, this year's project will be converting the living room  to a library. The kitchen still needs the replacement of the rest of the cabinets. That will probably happen in 2013.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dining Room

I used to be asthmatic as a kid. While asthma flareups are pretty rare now, the condition contributed to my dislike of carpeting. Thankfully, hardwood in the PNW was pretty inexpensive in the mid 90's and one of the first changes I made to the place was get rid of the carpeting in the more public areas. I liked the stairs location but not the carpet or the handrail and balusters. The hutch was useful but the doors were outdated even then and the transition from the cabinet to the storage access door did'nt feel right. Here's the original dining area
My wife and voice of reason has been after me to put handrails for as long as I can remember. Now that our parents are older a handrail on the wall is on my to-do list. The stone wall was a 2009 weekend project that Geri's dad helped us with. The beam was a $16 purchase at the Recycling Center in NE Portland. The dining table was one of my earlier woodworking pieces. Here is the room in 2012 state.
And a view from the stairs. As for the cats, we've failed as parents

Darkroom to Breakfast Room

Back to the lack of light. Up to that point, I had a darkroom where I lived or at least access to a darkroom since college. That the house had a darkroom was great, but not in that location- west exposure, dark house to begin with.
Also, not having a window there contributed to a lack of balance/symmetry
Here is the breakfast room now


A friend's impression of the home was that it suffered from a lack of light. To address this, the initial plan for this room was to have windows and a door comprising the length of the 2 new walls. Bldg and Safety had other ideas like "too many windows" for example.  I revised the original plan to include tall windows and skylights which let in plenty of light.  I made the windows as I could not afford commercially made wood windows and I could not refinance the house until the addition had windows installed.  So, limitations imposed can be a good thing.   Here's the patio before the change. I'm fortunate to have even these suboptimal photos. I was focused on changing the house and before and after documentation was not on my radar. The east facing wall and shed roof did not help the ambient light of the living room. Replacing the aluminum sliding window with french doors was the first thing I did to the house.

Here is framing stage. The crew pictured are my mom, a non-biologic but by all other measures aunt who was visiting from Mexico, a long time friend from Los Angeles and myself. The photo was taken by a neighbor from across the street who very shortly after the photo was taken introduced me to who would become my wife. One of my favorite photos.
The sunroom now:

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Church of the Perpetual Remodel

I’ve been remodeling and fixing houses and apartments off and on since 1979 and for the first time have hired a general contractor for our latest project. At my age, first time anything qualifies as an adventure. The project is to raise the ceiling in our living room to help decompress our overstuffed bookshelves and relieve a sense of claustrophobia in that room that after 17 years of living here I haven’t been able to shake off. A running joke between one of my friends at work and me is to hang our heads in unison and mutter “we have ranch houses” when the topic of housing comes up. Our little ranch house has good bones, a great location and neighbors, and the price was right when I bought it. But after years of taking care of more cost-effective and important concerns, addressing the "want" for a higher living room ceiling will be somewhat ameliorated by the need to fix certain aspects of the existing roof. The contractor kindly agreed to bid for the shell part of the alteration and leave the inside for me to finish (we’re soundly part of the 99%). Interior details, windows and ceiling height are not yet specified, so I’ve been looking in libraries, bookstores and internet sites for ideas. While engaged in this, another motivation for re-opening this blog came when I found some negatives of my house before I bought it in ’95 while helping my mom unclutter her house. When I met my wife in ’97, I had already done quite a bit to the place. It was difficult to adequately in words communicate to her the changes that took place before she came onboard. I hope that by organizing and presenting the past, it helps me with the process going forward.
Here’s the floor plan (approx.) as purchased in ‘95

Here is the present floor plan

So, to follow will be a series of "before and after" with a few "during" photos here and there along with some narrative for each section.