A house divided

Bullock and I closed on our new house on November 30 and got possession on December 5, but we still haven’t moved into it because we’re totally re-doing the 1980s white melamine kitchen. (Don’t worry — we’ll either recycle the exisiting cabinets as garage or shop cabinets or donate them to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore.)  We’d hoped that that project would have started the construction phase by now, but we’re finally going to get a cost quote from the designer we’re working with on Saturday. Fingers crossed that it fits in our projected budget.

Anyway, though we’re still living in the old house, a lot of our life is now over in the new house in the form of small pieces of furniture and boxes galore, because we’re using the new house to de-clutter the old house to put it on the market. (Yes, that means we currently have two mortgages.  How do we afford this?  It’s Rust Belt; here two mortgages still don’t add up to one big city mortgage. I kid you not. The dirt cheap real estate was one of the things that attracted me to Rust Belt when I took this job. If there were jobs for you all here, I’d encourage you to move forthwith!) Most of the stuff over at the new house is not stuff that I need right now — for instance, sandals and summer clothes — and I’m starting to think I could do with a lot less stuff in general.  At any rate, a de-cluttered house is a pleasant thing. Everything is so neat and tidy!

But we do go over to the new house pretty regularly to check on things or to get some pre-move maintenance accomplished (for example, getting the carpets cleaned). And occasionally I take Pippi over there, to get her used to the house, yard, and neighborhood, so she feels like it’s part of her extended territory, the way she feels about Bullock’s mom’s house.  It seems to have worked — she’s pretty chill when we take her over there now.

But it’s weird to inhabit two places at once.  I’m eager to move to and *settle* in our new house, but it looks like that won’t happen until *April* now.  I feel temporary in the current neighborhood now, but not yet quite part of the new neighborhood.  It’s bit like how I felt those last 3-4 months in LA between accepting the job here and leaving LA.  And believe me, moving across town here in Rust Belt will almost be as big of a lifestyle change as LA to Rust Belt was, although in the opposite direction. Although our immediate neighborhood of our current house is nice and tidy, there’s a lot around us that’s a bit depressing and a little run-down. The new neighborhood is shinier and spiffier and a whole lot newer — a lot of it didn’t develop until the 1990s.  I’m eager to start my life over there, darnit!


Speaking of shinier and spiffier and newer, Bullock and I (well, mostly Bullock) have been updating some things in our current house. Some things we did over last summer for ourselves as much as for any prospective buyers, but a few things were spurred mainly by getting it ready for the market. Of the things we did for ourselves, we finally tore out the god-awful bathroom counter and cabinets in the second floor “guest” bathroom that the previous owners had installed.  The damn thing took up fully half of the tiny 1930s bathroom.  We replaced it with a scale-appropriate cabinet and sink, painted the walls a pretty gray (they were boring white) to make the 1930s yellow and black trim tiles pop, replaced the lighting fixtures, and painted the oak-framed mirror white to match the window and door trim (and the tiles).  We encountered some surprises in tearing out the old cabinets — and as a result had to come up with some unique solutions — but I think the results are great.  Here, I’ll show you what I mean with a series of pictures.

This picture shows the bathroom from the hallway when Bullock first moved in (the hallway color belongs to the last owners). You can see roughly how wide this narrow bathroom is -- note the edge of the tub on the left -- and see that the counter sticks out to about the half-way point of the total width, and only angles a bit to accommodate the door. They even extended it across the top of the toilet. Cramped!

We tore all of that sucker out, pretty much all in one piece. Here, take a look:

Here's the cabinet shell, with the counter/sink behind, in our backyard, in front of the grill for scale.

We were a little less than happy with what we discovered when we tore it all out. We didn’t realized that the plumbing didn’t go through the wall behind the sink or the floor underneath it, as expected. Instead, when the former residents replaced the old pipes with copper pipes, they decided, for some unfathomable reason, to take the pipes to the wall between the bathroom and the hallway, and to punch a giant hole in the wall in the process. Here, let me show you what I mean:

Why didn't they just punch a hole in the wall behind the sink, where it could always be covered by cabinetry?? (By the way, note the remaining pieces of wood from the cabinets. They somehow built them on site and threaded the new pipes through small holes cut in the cabinetry, which meant Bullock had to cut around it with a handsaw.)

Since we’d bought a small, single cabinet/sink unit, assuming that the pipes went into the floor or maybe the wall behind the sink, this threw a spanner in our works. But Bullock ultimately solved the problem. Pictures will show you more clearly how.

Bullock cut a hole in the lower back of the new cabinet for the pipes to come through, and then made a box to cover them, which he painted glossy black to match the cabinet. He also cut a board to fit over the hole in the wall and painted it glossy black and glossy white to match the tiles. Not a bad fix for an unfortunate situation, especially since we didn't want to spend a whole lot of money calling in a plumber and re-routing the pipes.

Here’s another view of the solution:

Here you can see the box (under which the pipes hide) in relation to the cabinet, plus you can see the whole sink and cabinet we bought. So much better scale, don't you think?

And here are a few more pictures of the finished bathroom, with more views of the gray paint (see, it really makes the yellow pop, don’t you think?), the new fixtures, etc.

This view shows you the new fixtures (you can barely see the old ones in the "before" picture at the start) and the color scheme.

This picture really gives you an idea of how much less space the new sink and cabinet takes up vs. the old. The bathroom seems so much more spacious now!

I think all together this “remodel” cost under $400 (we got the sink and cabinet all in one at Loews — it’s not the highest end piece of cabinetry ever, of course, but I like its look) but it makes such a difference. I used to *hate* that bathroom, and now I think it’s adorable! And we don’t miss the cabinet/counter space. Despite the size of the old cabinet, there wasn’t that much storage space, and we just decluttered and reorganized the large closet behind the bathroom bath tub to put stuff there that used to be in the cabinet between the sink and the door.

Our guest bathroom in the new house isn’t as awful as this bathroom once was, but it’s not as cute as our remodel — I’m going to have to do something about that one of these days. I’ll miss this bathroom when we move.


8 thoughts on “A house divided

  1. Cute, cute, cute! And I LOVE the grey!

    Also, let’s hear it for the rust belt. One of the ways I convinced Cosimo that buying a house wasn’t insane, even though it’s theoretically possible we could get jobs together elsewhere within a couple of years and have to sell, was by pointing out how low the mortgage was — only a bit more than he pays in rent in our other city. So if we had to pay two mortgages for six months or a year, it wouldn’t be any more than what we’re already paying for a house in one city and an apartment in another.

    But, ugh. I sympathize with the feeling of unsettled betweeness.

  2. Well, Flavia, your state of unsettled betweeness is way worse than ours, what with the two households in two states and everything. I hope at some point you and Cosimo get to co-habitate permanently! … And thanks for the compliments. You have especially good color sense, so I value your opinion!

    Thank you, too, nicoleandmaggie!

  3. Yay, remodeling pics!

    Looking forward to lots of remodeling updates on the kitchen, which I hope is gonna be something so modernist and space-age it looks like the Jetsons’.

    • Oh yes, there will be before and after pics in the new house, too! But Sis, though our gadgets are modernist, our cabinet style is little more toasted the Craftsman side of things. But not too Craftsman — Craftsman plus a dash of urban contemporary.

  4. I love remodel photos. (And yet for some reason I never think to take them.) And you all did a great job on the bathroom!

    Although paying two mortgages is no picnic, it’s at least nice that you all have some place to live while you’re doing the remodeling at the new place, rather than having your living space be all torn up. And, similarly, it will be so much easier to stage the current place with another house standing by to hold stuff. Best of luck with the housing market when the times comes.

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