Monday, March 12, 2018

Taj MaJohn: The Little Things I Love

Full disclosure: We don't always have fresh flowers in the newbathroom, but when we do, they're red carnations. 

First of all, I owe a big apology to C., who asked a week ago when I was going to have another post about the new bathroom. "Tomorrow," I told her. "I promise--tomorrow!"

And then a week went by and that week was filled with love and laughter and the hosting of TWO meetings and the touring of the bathroom by 27 women (no, I'm not exaggerating for comic effect) and the promise became a good object lesson on why I shouldn't make promises. But just for you, C., here is more!

I've written a couple of posts about the big things I love about the Taj MaJohn--the vanity! The tile! The white fixtures! This post is about the unsung heroes of the remodel, the small touches that I love to distraction but which wouldn't mean much to anyone who isn't me, which means, well, everyone minus one.

So, first up: The outlets that are hiding behind the carnations in the anchor photo. A total demolition of walls is a good time to bring in an electrician and start flinging pointer fingers in every direction. "I want an outlet THERE! And another one THERE! And one down THERE! And another one just for luck THERE!" I can now plug in the hairdryer at the same time as the WaterPik, and the Google Mini and the nightlight never have to be unplugged so that Husband can charge his razor. Ahhhhh!

Many things in this bathroom have back stories which, again, might not be significant to the non-me contingent of the world but which make me smile every single time I see them. The wire baskets now holding extra towels and toilet paper in the open-shelved vanity, for example. I had known I wanted wire baskets for this purpose, but was having no luck finding the size/price/vintage provenance I wanted until last summer when some high school buddies and I visited the old Rexall drugstore my friend D.'s brother and wife had bought and were remodeling just 20 miles from where I grew up. The basement was a treasure cave of old greeting cards, Christmas decorations, shelving--and a stack of wire shopping baskets. They are perfect.

One of the most memorable trips I made with the Boys during their college years was in 2011 to install Boy#2 in the city where he would live and study for the next six years. That city was as far as it could be from Small Town without falling off into the Atlantic, so I drove out with him and a carload of electronics and clothes, then we made the rounds of Goodwills and thrift shops to furnish his new apartment. In one of those Goodwills was a print I loved, but the print cost $25 and that was significant percentage of our budget for that day. I couldn't get it out of my mind, though, and years later I found it was well-enough known that Googling "couple dancing beach rain red dress" came up with the name of the print: The Singing Butler, by Jack Vettriano. An eBay purchase of this work became the color palette for the new bathroom, with its grey, red, and black touches.  "You only want that because you think that's you and Dad dancing on the beach," one of the Boys teased me. Wrong, Son. We're the maid and the butler. (Except for the metaphorical times when we're dancing.)

Apart from the Singing Butler most of the Taj MaJohn's decor came from scavenged pieces we've picked up at antique shops over the years. The most serendipitous find among those pieces may be the porcelain lever now providing entrance between the sink room and the shower room. We replaced a narrow (24-inch) antique door with a wider (32-inch) door for better accessibility as we age, but learned that the hole bored for the door handle also was larger than those bored on antique doors, and the original doorknobs no longer fit. We had bought this rose-embellished brass version years ago just because we thought it was pretty, but it fit the new door perfectly. And we were able to find it in the basement, which was even more amazing.

Finally, this is one of my favorite design elements. Not the chamber pot that holds bathroom reading material, or the reading material itself, which, many thanks to Time and Reader's Digest for making red the principal color in their designs. No, what I love here is what you don't see.

Before. So pretty!

If you are not too distracted by the wallpaper or the harvest gold toilet or the nasty-looking vanity, you'll see a hatch on the far wall that gave access to the shower plumbing. I HAAAAATED that hatch. I know it was not the worst-looking thing in the room, but it was just such a clunky-looking announcement of Mechanical Workings Ahoy! If you look very, very carefully at the "after" pictures, you'll see...well, you won't see anything, because our genius carpenter very carefully sliced down the joints of the beadboard, shortened that beadboard so it sits just behind the baseboard, screwed the beadboard in with four tiny screws, then painted over the screws so that they're essentially invisible until (God forbid) we need access to the plumbing, at which time we can get to it.

I could go on and on about the things I love in this room (I didn't even get to the hard-wired magnifying make-up mirror, or the hotel spittoon that holds the soft soap and hand lotion for my flu season compulsions) but that's enough for today.

Will it be the last bathroom post? Hmmm.  I'm not making any promises.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Simply the Best

There was a wild moment, when our bathroom remodel was just a glimmer of a dream, when that dream included doing much of the work ourselves. I mean, how hard is it to strip wallpaper? Slap on some paint?

Friends, if you are considering a remodel the very best investment you can make is hiring the very best people to do the work. I would offer as proof of this the four stitches in my left forefinger that were necessary a few days ago when a razor blade being used in a craft project went seriously off track. Power tools? Not likely. But at least we know now that my blood thinners are working just fine.

From first day to last, the craftsmen we hired were superb. I could rhapsodize all day about how wonderful the carpenter was, how I appreciated his matter-of-fact, this-isn't-a-problem, let's-get-it-done attitude, how he cleaned up every single day so that we were traipsing through as little disruption as possible, how he CARRIED A CAST IRON TUB DOWN THE STAIRS PIECE BY PIECE, how he was a non-disruptive presence in the house. (Well, as non-disruptive as possible while a cast iron tub is being carried down the stairs piece by piece, but you get my drift.)

The tile guy I've already written about, the plumbers and electricians dealt with the quirks of a century-old house with good humor and excellent advice, and even the shower door installation guy showed up on time and cleaned up when he left.

But in addition to kudos for the carpenter I have to shout out once more to the craftsman who built the vanity.

You see today's anchor photo? These science lab tables were sold in an auction of surplus property from Small Town's old middle school, and Husband was the successful bidder for the heavy old beasts. We had been talking about converting a piece of furniture to be a vanity, but none of the old buffets or dressers we had inspected in antique shops spoke to us.

And then, those old tables literally did just that:

Our woodworking craftsman is just a kid: C. is the son-in-law of a friend who had worked closely with me at Small College, a guy who is the same age range as our Boys. I had seen pictures of his projects, though, and they were gorgeous, so we called him over to see the beastly science tables.

Could he make something beautiful out of them? Oh, and it had to fit in the same space as our old vanity. And we didn't want to do a lot of intrusive plumbing work. Also, I love the graffiti--any chance of saving that? And one more thing--our first Lovely Girl, unlike the family into which she married, is tiny. Could he make the vanity taller than usual for those of us who don't bend as well as we used to, but add a little Lovely Girl Step that could be stowed when not in use?

C. grinned. Then he loaded one of those horrid tables onto his trailer and drove away. Two weeks ago he and a burly assistant hauled the renovated vanity up to its new home.

Oh, people. This vanity. To refresh your memory, here it is in its beautiful, useful entirety.

But it's the little touches I love most. See the toilet paper holder and towel rods that C. made out of old-looking industrial pipe? They are better than what I could have asked for.

The Lovely Girl Step we wanted? Here it is ready for action:

 And here it is folded up and held in place by a magnet backing:

C. is an artist and he created exactly what we wanted, down to the preserved graffiti under its waterproof finish.

It still speaks to me.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Introducing the Taj MaJohn

I am assuming there will come a day when the doorbell will ring and I won't fling open the door and say "Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?"

The mailman is hoping that day comes soon.

You know how you plan a project, and you wait and wait and wait and save money for it, and you put up a Pinterest board with nine sections and 209 pins, and you spend five times more than you originally thought you would, and then you hate it?

One of those things did not happen at the House in the Corner.

People, I flat-out love our new bathroom. It is everything I hoped it would be, and I'm just going to go ahead and show you all the before-and-afters then spend the next few six months boring you with the process and the decision-making and what we'd do differently if we were remodeling another bathroom. (Spoiler: Exactly one thing. One minor thing. Also, we're never remodeling another bathroom.)

So. Let's refresh your memory.

The upstairs bathroom had last been remodeled sometime in the 1970s, which we could pinpoint by the use of harvest gold fixtures. (I could do an entire post on how I would vote for any candidate promising a law banning all fixtures and appliances in any color but white, but I will spare you that post.) Some time around 1996 we slapped a coat of lipstick on that pig by painting the (veneer) vanity and putting up some wallpaper and then for the next two decades we spent all of our money on gallons of milk and shoes that were outgrown between the time the Boys tried them on and when they walked out of the shoe store.

Finally, last year, the bathroom remodel rose to the top of the expenditure queue and on January 2 the first workman showed up. Last Saturday the last workman left, and hey! Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?

Don't disparage my wallpaper--I loved it 22 years ago.
Again refreshing your memory: The bathroom is actually two rooms, the east room (above) that contains the vanity and toilet, and the west room that contains only the shower. This is a dandy set-up for a large family in which modesty is prized because tooth-brushing and showering could be accomplished by two Boys simultaneously. So the door you're looking at goes into the hallway.

This vanity. Oh, my heavens, this vanity. A complete post will ensue, but this is the artistry of a young Small Town craftsman who repurposed a middle school science lab table Husband bought at a surplus auction. It is very possible our own Boys did experiments at this very table, and it is my favorite.

Now you have walked over to the east door, and you're looking all the way through the two rooms to the laundry room door. Notice that it is no longer possible to get a harvest gold toilet seat replacement. It's an advance of civilization.

But a new tall height toilet comes with a matching toilet seat! You can see here the only structural change: The connecting door was widened to accommodate what we assume will be matching walkers some day, as we plan to age in place in this bathroom house.

And now you have walked all the way into the laundry room and are looking back at the tub. So pretty! (I did that tile work myself, hear me roar.)

No more harvest gold tub! In fact, no tub at all (there's one downstairs) because a friend who's a designer pointed out that we're not going to want to step over the side of a tub to get a shower when we're old(er) and decrepit(er). She was also the one who suggested the black grout with the subway tile and that right there is why she's a designer.

And that's enough for today. As threatened promised, I'll be delving into some of the details in the next few posts, including the reason I'm calling it the Taj MaJohn. (Hint: It isn't just because it's a splendid wonder of the world.)

Now, though, I think I hear the doorbell.

Come on in! Want to see the new bathroom?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Going With the (Ice) Flow

Kansas, for all its weird weather, does not normally have thunderstorms in February, so I was discombobulated when a peal of thunder clapped just as the instant alert system woke me at 6 a.m. to tell me the school where I have one of my gigs will be closed today. The thunder was signaling freezing rain and treacherous driving conditions. 

"Not a problem," I thought, "since it's not my day to work anyway." And I snuggled down into the blankets and fell back asleep. 

What didn't register at that dark-early moment was that I had been cleaning the house for two days in preparation for hosting my women's group tonight. I belong to two women's groups that meet regularly, one that is un-fancy and is at my house every week so they've seen it through renovation grime and dust bunnies and all manner of housekeeping faux pas. The other group is just as lovely but only meets here once every decade or so, so the renovation grime would be the sole impression of the House on the Corner.  I did not want that and had shoveled out roughly a metric ton of dust over the past several days.

When I came to full consciousness I realized that the meeting was going to be cancelled. This is a hardy group but we are no longer teenagers and this glaze of ice is the perfect recipe for broken hips all around. 

Darn it anyway. 

Clean house, new bathroom all ready to show off, and cheesecake in the refrigerator. For at least 10 minutes I sulked at the wasted preparation. And then I remembered that just 12 hours I had been sulking because this happened:


Now, instead of being embarrassed to serve this flawed effort to my lovely group, I could put out the call for anyone willing to brave the elements to come over for brunch. Within a few minutes a friend and I were sitting down for mid-morning cheesecake, and it turns out mid-morning is the very best time for a sliver of heavy dessert and a cup of coffee. 

Tonight, when I'm cozy in my jammies and warm robe at 7 p.m., I'll miss my group but enjoy the Olympic figure skating. 

Cheesecake, anyone?

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I Am Doomed

Pardon me if this post has even more typographical errors than usual. My hands are slippery, and they might be sliding off the laptop keys.

I am into my cold-and-flu season routine of hand-washing/hand-lotioning/hand-sanitizing/hand-lotioning/repeat/repeat/repeat/repeat/ad nauseum. Or rather, repeat/repeat/repeat and in hope of no nauseum.

Yes, indeed. I am that annoying person who watches the spray from your uncontained sneeze with equally uncontained horror. I am the one pulling her sleeves over her hands before grasping doorknobs, and the one who actually wipes off the grocery cart handle before shopping.

Am I a germophobe? Most definitely not, as my experience growing up on a farm, serving in the Peace Corps, and raising four sons testifies. I enthusiastically embrace the five-second rule and have been known to wipe a dropped pacifier on my shirt before sticking it back into a baby son's mouth.

But, people, may I respectfully posit that this flu season is bringing out the very worst in people, and that by "very worst" I mean deadly flu germs.

A case in point was my Sunday experience. (A disclaimer: I love my church congregation as if they were my family, but this case at which I'm pointing felt like the most bizarre family reunion ever and I've been to some bizarre family reunions.)

Anyway, I play the piano for our congregation's worship team, which practices early Sunday morning. After practice, we always gather for prayer, and that moment involves forming a circle connected by our linked hands.

This year, however, is the worst flu season in decades. People are dropping like aching, fevered flies, and they are DYING from this flu.


And 80% of flu, cold, and diarrheal germs are passed by hand-to-hand contact. 

Ahem. Anyway, when the moment came for us to join hands for prayer, I suggested that perhaps The Almighty would appreciate us keeping our hands and our germiness to ourselves in the interest of not KILLING THE PEOPLE CREATED BY THE CREATOR. "After all," I pointed out, "80 percent of flu germs are passed by hand-to-hand-contact."

People, the rest of the worship team laughed. So I stood outside of the circle, hands folded during the prayer, with my own personal petition being a silent plea for attitude adjustment. This plea was not completely successful, as I could not resist pointing out that our congregation also is putting into place a security plan because there was a church shooting in Texas. And that while this is a sad and necessary step, we are much more likely to kill each other with our dadgummed hand-holding and WHAT ARE WE DOING ABOUT THAT?

So. I do what I can, wash-wash-wash-lotion-lotion-lotion-sanitizer-sanitizer-sanitizer and I continue to love the ones who pooh-pooh the Liberian Elbow Bump.

I'm definitely going to be getting the flu.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

You Have to Laugh

We have reached that stage of the bathroom remodel where the completion date is both tantalizingly close and tantalizingly far away.

This is a very dangerous stage.

Oh, I don't mean it's dangerous in a Money Pit bathtub disaster way. No, once the original terrifyingly crash-y demolition of the harvest gold cast iron tub was completed, it's mostly been decisions, followed by check writing, followed by more decisions, followed by pulling out a credit card, followed by more decisions, followed by paralyzing indecision, followed by a worried look at the savings account balance followed by a soup├žon of hand-waving and Gallic emotion.

It has been a journey of self-discovery, in that we have discovered that I have excellent taste, and that my Husband is a serial pamperer.

Do I really want tiled shower walls instead of an insert? Yes. Yes, I do.

Do I insist that the vanity be a hand-crafted piece of furniture that is both beautiful and meaningful? I do, indeed.

Do I really, really think it would be a shame to cover up that beautiful tile work with a shower curtain, and that sliding glass shower doors are not a want but a necessity? I absolutely think that.

Do I know that my eyesight is fading and that I refuse to be one of those old ladies whose chins are covered with whiskers they do not see? Sadly, yes.

And that is why today there is an electrician bumping elbows with our wonderful carpenter. The carpenter has widened the door to accommodate what we assume will some day be matching walkers. The electrician is installing the connections needed for one of those fancy hotel-style swing-out magnifying mirrors.

In all of these decisions Husband has deferred the final decision to me, the one who will inevitably choose the more expensive (but so wonderful!) option.  Bless his accountant's heart, he is amortizing the cost of this renovation over the 30 years we've lived with the dreadful harvest gold option, and when you put it that way it doesn't seem nearly as expensive.

But last night, when I told him that the connection box for the swing-out mirror was going to have to go through a wall that was Sheetrocked over plaster, I think I heard this:

I'd better make sure those matching walkers are really nice.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ma Belle

The upstairs hallway has become a remodeling obstacle course.

The Great Bathroom Remodel of 2017 2018 continues apace, which is to say it is the typical remodel project in that it is taking twice as long and costing twice as much as expected. But progress is being made!

For the past two weeks we've had the tile guy working upstairs, which is longer than we had expected but not as long as we had feared. We had not known the tile guy before the day he appeared, and that happened when I was out of town.

"So, what's he like?" I asked Husband eagerly.

"Well, he has a pretty strong Spanish accent so I'm not sure what he said his name is. Melissa, maybe?"

Husband is brilliant and has a superb mind for numbers but he is not quite so keen on the subtleties of spoken language. The accent, it turns out, is French, and the tiler's name is Michel.

Michel came here from France five years ago and is a true tile artiste. He has wrangled the un-square walls and wacky foibles of the House on the Corner as if he were Michelangelo connecting God's finger to Adam's on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. There is no "Whoops--didn't quite come out even" in his work. When the towel rod was just an inch too close to the projected location of the shower door, he was popping those tiles off and re-positioning them almost as soon as we had pointed out the miscalculation.

His communication process, however, has a measure of Gallic grumbling and hand waving that I am unaccustomed to in our run-of-the-mill phlegmatic Kansas craftsmen.

He was especially unimpressed with my choice of black grout for the shower.

"Zee black? Eeet is DEEFEECULT!" he handwaved. "With zee white, frah-frah-frah (he pantomimes efficiently whisking away the excess grout), but with zee black? FRAH-FRAH-FRAH." And the intense scrubbing necessary to clean off the tile being installed was truly heartbreaking.

Fortunately, I have had four sons and am unmoved by handwaving and difficulty, because the black grout looks amazing.

This morning Michel arrived to begin grouting the floor tile, and he asked if I'd checked on his progress yesterday.

"I could not love it more," I told him. "Do you like it?"

He grinned.

"But of course!"

He is zee best.