By John


Living room built-in

Doors fitted! I’m using Blum hinges so I can tweak alignment and I can still trim a mm or so, but this isn’t too bad to start. All that is left is to pick up a few magnetic catches, pulls, cut and install the kick board, caulk and paint. I’ve made the shelves and have 5mm pins so we can space the shelves as needed. This is the last trim carpentry project for the living room.


Bathroom bench and Sarah’s rescue

I worked from home today while the installers from TrueStone installed the solid surface and they did an amazing job—perfect miters and a tight fit all around. The material is Silestone Lagoon.


Now before we had this installed, our contractor built a frame based on the sketch I gave them and our two cats would go into the frame and hide inside the tub. My worse fear was that Bella, our older cat, would get stuck in there and get sealed inside. Well, despite my best efforts, Sarah, our younger cat, snuck inside while the installers went outside to their van.

We thought maybe she went outside but around 8:30 we could hear her faint meows. At first we thought she may have gone outside and went into the crawl space, but my worst fears were true. Beatriz and Ava became hysterical and Allison thought we had to take out the slab (no way–it’s like hundreds of pounds and the installers just spent 6 hours here!). So I got a drywall hand saw and cut a 4″ inch square in the hallway and a few seconds later Sarah popped out. Naughty kitty!




Pulls 3/8″ too long

In between finishing paint touch-ups in the girls’ rooms, I trimmed the drawer pulls for the bathroom they share. They were 3/8″ too long on each side so

  1. measured the drawer using a scrap piece of wood.
  2. placed a pull against the scrap and used my 4″ inch square to find the difference.
  3. I divided the measurement by half, set the square to that and transferred this mark on each side of each pull.
  4. I cut the metal pulls with a Fein oscillating saw using a metal blade and I sanded the edge. I locked the pulls in my bench and wore safety glasses and hearing protection since the sound was like 300 finger nails running down chalkboard!
  5. I used a Vix bit to center a predrilled hole in the back of the drawer face and then hand screwed the the pulls in.

The cabinet is the godmorgon vanity from Ikea. We had custom drawer fronts made using Douglass fir veneer from SemiHandmade. We didn’t like the default pulls since they were white and looked plastic so I ordered these and then had to trim them to fit.





Door casing

I spent four hours today trimming five doors with Dave. The first door we cut the miters one by one, dry fitting and sneaking up on each cut. We decided we do what Tom Silva suggested and we preassembled the door casing after dry fitting them. We cut mortises using my Festool Domino, a little glue, and we pinned the corners with 18 gauge brad nails.












Well, the demolition is done. Pictures after the list.

  • Allison and took up the rugs and sheathing in all the rooms. We demo’d the kitchen. We also took out the hardwood flooring in the basement bedroom.
  • An abatement company removed tile from the kitchen and hallway, took out a transite pipe, and removed the chimney.
  • Dave helped me demo the upstairs bath. I tore out the downstairs bath.
  • Paul helped me take out hardwood flooring in the living room.
  • I demo’d the half-wall between the living room and hallway and saved a few of the cedar tongue and groove boards











Tesla driving day laborer

Panels saved

breaking down dirt

Bea's room

Bathroom demo

Asbestos sign


Design ideas

Allison and I wanted a fixer with good bones because we hate to pay for someone else’s mistakes. We also don’t like to pay for someone else’s taste—even if it’s good, it’s not ours and while they could have good taste, it’s not ours or maybe their good taste is not good for the house. I say that because I often see MLS listings or tour open homes where I’m like, “why the heck did they put wainscoting and jumbo size crown molding in that split-level ranch?”

We talked that our next house would ideally be a a mid-century modern ranch in need of updates. I’ve always loved early to mid 20th century design. When I took modern art history and saw a Barcelona chair projected onto the classroom wall, I knew what I was buying a pair of once my school loans were paid off. Luckily we did find a great house for the ones I did eventually buy. The place is on a large lot, with wonderful oak trees and views of the east bay hills, and with overhangs that are reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is a fixer though.

While I’ve been a subscriber to Dwell, Architectural Digest, and Fine Homebuilding, it’s really awesome to see sites like Pinterest and Houzz come on the scene. It’s made collecting design ideas, products, and potential contractors for this house easier. After we closed on the house and were seeing my family back in Maine, I put together a small document showing spaces in the house we bought against pictures of similar spaces in houses we liked. I created the doc in Adobe InDesign and exported a PDF to share with our architect. A screen shot of the file in InDesign is below:


This has been helpful for Allison and I to discuss (and argue) over the detail in each room. It’s also been helpful in sharing with our architect and friend, Patrick Perez. I don’t think I can share such a doc freely, but my houzz profile is public and it’s easy to see what we’re thinking:

Battling burlap underlayment on a subfloor

So getting the subfloor ready has been more of a PITA than I originally thought. That said, I can see an end in sight and the battle is turning my way thanks to experimenting with a few methods. Taking the carpet and carpet pad were both easy-peasy. I used a small pry bar, detached the rug from the sides of the wall and rolled them up. Both the rug and the pad are sitting tidy in the living room until a dumpster arrives. Below are a few videos and pictures describing my process.

For this task, I used a painter’s tool, a hammer, a few pry bars, pliers, and utility knives. For protection, I wore gloves, goggles, a respirator and knee pads. The pry bars and pliers are crucial to taking up the wood strips that keep the carpet in place and for pulling nails and staples. I used the utility knives to score the burlap mess (see below).


Below the carpet pad was burlap that glued to the subfloor. Here’s a picture of a stubborn spot. Around the spot is subfloor that was sanded.


I pulled some of it up by placing a pry bar or painter’s multi-tool under it and pulling up, but it didn’t always come up easily. In a few places very little came off. I could have left it, but the former owner had many cats and it smelled bad. I don’t want that smell lingering! So I experimented with a few methods:

  • Scraper — ok, but laborious and risks scraping the subfloor’s plywood.
  • Fein multimaster — s0-so. It could pull off the burlap, but the glue residue was resilient to it.
  • Steam cleaner — ok, but messy. I also didn’t want to soak the subfloor with steam and have a leak affect the ceiling below.
  • Festool Rotext sanders — pretty good!

I used a coarse 40-grit sand paper: Cristal, sadly recently discontinued on the triangular Rotex RO 90 sander; and Granat on the Rotex 150 sander. With putting the 150 in Rotext mode, it took the burlap off quickly. I dialed the speed back so I had better control and using the side arm attachment makes controlling it easier. Mostly I could just let the sanders do their work but applying light to medium pressure made stubborn areas disappear quickly. The RO 90 sander has both round and triangular base pads. I used the triangular pad to get into corners and along edges. Both worked great!

Below are the two sanders. Since the power cords and dust hoses are interchangeable, I could easily switch between the two sanders. The green hose is for the sanders. The gray hose is bigger and I would switch to that hose when I needed to suck up bigger pieces that the dust collection didn’t catch or nails and staples that were pulled up.


The sand paper holds up remarkable well. One disc could do 16 to 25 square feet. The abrasives in the paper are tough and the dust collection helps a disc last longer. One thing that will shorten how long a disc is useful are exposed staples or nails. Pull these up as soon as you find them and try to feel for them before starting an area.


As you can see, a staple does a job on a sanding paper disc, but the actual abrasives hold up remarkably well.


Videos describing and showing how I’m removing the burlap with the sanders:


Hello Orinda

Back in July before leaving for vacation, we stumbled across a diamond in the Orinda hills east of Berkeley and Oakland. We were second place among several offers, but we got it. Built in 1946, some might say it’s mid century modern or international style.

Today I’m ripping up carpet:


Four neighborhood deer stopped by to say hello.


We hope to post more updates as the house progresses!


Back to school


With the end of summer comes the start of another school year. Beatriz and Ava asked to have their photo taken on the stoop and here’s the shot. Ava’s pose cracks me up–I expect the agency sourcing for JCrew to be calling any minute now. Beatriz’s color and pattern choices are beyond Punky Brewster crazy.

Welcome back to school everyone.