Garden Apartment

Yes, it took a lot longer than we thought. Yes, there were quite a few unforeseen issues, but finally, nine months after we bought our place, the garden apartment is finally ready to rent. Here is what it looks like:

We created an entry way with a place for shoes and coats.

For the bedroom, we added a set of French doors in place of the existing archway to give the space more definition (and some privacy). Best of all, the doors were free! In addition to the doors, we put the original summer cover back on the fireplace and also removed old paint splotches and varnish off the tiles. This is what the space used to look like:
The living room ended up like this:
The previous owners used this room as a dining room, since it’s right next to the kitchen. We made the space larger by removing the upper and lower cabinets in the kitchen next to the fridge. We added a small counter with shelving beneath and moved the large lower cabinet to the empty wall of the kitchen.
It used to look like this (photo from the real estate listing)
We removed the island, since having an island that was mostly occupied by a cook top, plus having a (tiny) separate oven that occupied a huge amount of wall space didn’t make any sense. By removing the island we created enough room to make it an eat-in kitchen. It now looks like this:
The previous owner didn’t tile under the island. You’d be shocked – SHOCKED! to learn that this tile pattern is no longer available. Pulling up the entire floor was cost-prohibitive because of the manner in which it was installed: leveling cement and wire mesh over the original hard wood, which basically turned the original wood floor into something that cannot be salvaged. So for now we ended up with the above patch…
Last but not least, we added shelving units to the laundry area to make the space less awkward. Because of where the existing plumbing was, the washer/dryer had to be in its current location.

Fireplace tile clean-up

The fireplace in the garden apartment looks like this:

It seems OK, until you take a closer look:

Varnish is splashed all over the tile. On the floor, the tile just looks sad. Sure, this tile is over 100 years old but it still has some life in it.

Enter my favorite tool in the whole universe:

Turns out the tiles had a layer of polyurethane on top. Some scrubbing and some Mr. Clean Magic Eraser did the trick:

While the tile is definitely showing its age, cleaning the gunk off it makes a huge difference. Here is the half way point with the right side cleaned up and the left side intact:

Here is a closer shot of the cleaned up border:

Garden Kitchen

For the past 20 years, our house has been configured as a lower duplex with a top floor rental. Having lived under people for 95% of our married life, it was time to change that. We decided to reconfigure the Pink Lady into a Garden rental and an owner’s duplex on the parlor and top floors. Since we’re just regular people with regular jobs, we have to carefully prioritize the reno and re-arranging the house is going to have to be done in steps. This decision is not without consequences: a top floor kitchen and dining room next to the bedrooms and a guest bedroom off the living room. The focus right now is to get the apartment finished and rented out.

Basing our Garden apartment reno decisions in our “extensive experience” as tenants, we chose to make the existing kitchen smaller and the living area bigger. We removed the kitchen island, which served the single purpose of housing the cooktop. The previous owners, for some reason, didn’t tile under the counters, so we were left with the impossible task of matching this awful tile (impossible), since replacing the whole floor is cost prohibitive right now.

Kitchen with the island in place

Exhibit A: Why you should always tile under the counters.

It may come as a shock to you that the old kitchen tile cannot be found anymore. The best (!) match we were able to find is this off-white marble-ish tile. It’s not pretty, but it is what it is. For now.

With the island gone, the next task is to purchase a stove. Since the oven and cooktop used to be separate units (such a waste of space), removing one requires the removal of the other. The new range is going in the space currently occupied by the built in oven (which is the absolute smallest oven I have ever seen – I don’t think you can fit a standard size cookie sheet in it).

The built in oven takes up a ton of space, yet this beast is absolutely tiny on the inside.

The fridge is ugly but in good shape, so it will stay. Since it’s a giant white thing, might as well buy a white stove to match – woo hoo!

Making an entrance

The entry way to the garden level apartment used to be a narrow hallway flanked by a mishmash of closets. The space was barely wide enough for a person to get through – a fairly thin person that is.

This is the best “before” shot I could find. The closets are to the right. Pay no attention to the debris on the floor (that is what happens when you pull up ugly tile)

What is probably the world’s skinniest door. It turns out it’s hiding a really cool forgotten feature.

There was also evidence of some major water damage and a lot of rotted wood. Yum!

It gets worse before it gets better… demo in progress

The closets were not particularly well built and seemed cobbled together from whatever materials were available, just short of cardboard. We removed them and in the process found the old dumb waiter shaft.

Looking up the dumb waiter shaft from the garden level. The “ceiling” above is the bottom of the pantry on the top floor.

Looking up into the attic from the top floor kitchen, we found the dumb waiter mechanism still more or less intact.

We replaced a water damaged wall and created a nook for coats and shoes where the closets used to be – after all, we didn’t want to give up all the storage in that area.

Cell phone snapshot of the new coat nook in progress

There is now space to comfortable access the apartment and as a bonus, the awful tile is gone (and replaced with durable and earth friendly bamboo flooring).

Not quite finished yet, but much better already

Fireplace #1

Of the 5 fireplaces in our house, two have ugly brass covers. Luckily, all the original cast iron covers were still stashed away in the basement. Yesterday we tackled the fireplace in the garden apartment. It has the least ornate mantel.

This is the best photo I have of it in it’s “as purchased condition” (The flower arrangement came with the house).

The ill fitting cover obscures most of the original tile. You can also see the open archway on the left that was replaced with the awesome set of free French doors, courtesy of the Internets.

Just removing the modern cover and replacing it with one of the original cast iron ones made a huge difference in my opinion.

Up next: a fresh coat of paint and some serious tile cleaning.

Thou shalt not be lazy and not tile under the counters.

For the past few months, our focus has been to get the rental apartment in shape and get it rented. As experienced tenants, we focused on changing the things that we would like as tenants (hello laundry!) and prioritized accordingly. Unfortunately our budget does not permit a full overhaul of the place (I’m talking to you ugly kitchen tile).

This is what the kitchen tile looks like. It’s so awful it’s almost amazing. Almost.

One of the major issues we wanted to address was the kitchen. It was too large. Yes. Huge. For a one bedroom apartment the kitchen was enormous. So we set out to make it smaller. As part of this process, we removed a center island that served no other purpose than to hold the cook top, while the oven sat all by its lonesome in the prime stove spot.

Well, surprise surprise, there was no tile under the island. We looked ahead of time, but the hole we cut through the island floor apparently was not far enough in and ta-da! We’re left with this.

The area is 10 sq ft. And a much bigger headache

Great, right? I’m sure this probably seemed like a good idea at the time. But it has put a pretty major cramp in our reno.  And so the great ugly tile hunt begins. As predicted, there is no matching tile to be found.  After much searching around, I found a passable match-ish (I kid. It looks nothing like it, but it’s the same size and thickness. 2 out of 3…)

The background pattern and the finish are kinda similar.

It is by no means perfect, but I think in the grand scheme of things it will work. The spot is right in the middle of the kitchen and it screams for a kitchen table (and I’m guessing a rug).

Progress in the Garden Hallway

The Pink Lady  has been throwing us some curve balls lately. No, not the doorbell that rings randomly (it seems as we have a ghost that locked itself out and wants back in. I call her Constance). Our biggest problem is that the mechanical systems are organizing a mutiny and a general strike of Greek proportions. Oy!

So let’s talk about something different entirely, shall we? Here is some good before/after stuff that is far more fun that plumbing, BTUs and wiring:

Remember what the floor looked like when we bought the house?

This shot extra dark and gloomy to illustrate exactly how we felt about this part of the house

Looking towards the front of the house (the door leads to the entrance under the stoop)

Well, through the creative use of a crow bar, some elbow grease and the magic of turning round bamboo into flat flooring, we now have this:

Work in progress: the floor is in, just missing the trim pieces

There is still some work left to be done in this area, but one more weekend and it should be done. Woo hoo!