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Before Andrew and I were suburban starters, we were downtown dwellers. Baltimore has a bad rap – mostly deserved – but we enjoyed our time in Charm City. It was the first place we lived together, where we worked together, and where we got engaged. When we moved there, my aunt gave us her old street maps from when she and my uncle lived there.

I haven’t had much use for it because I always use the GPS on my phone, plus the maps are out-of-date, but when I pulled it out of a drawer I was cleaning out, I had a flash of inspiration. We’ve had an empty frame hanging on a wall in the office (Andrew’s “brag wall,” which I inflicted on him). So I pulled the map of downtown Baltimore, trimmed it to fit, and here we are:

Here it is amongst Andrew’s awards, etc:

The brag wall is kind of turning into “Andrew Cannarsa, this is your life…”

By the way, I don’t think I’ve shared my little office set up. I’m working from home now, so I had to rearrange this room and nix a lot of clutter to make it more functional.

This room also serves as our guest room. It was largely ignored for a very long time after we moved in, but we’re slowly working on it and coming up with plans to improve it. We 100% plan to paint it and get different curtains (and hang a real curtain rod over the desk). We’d also like to add an area rug. Beyond that, we’re still toying with ideas, like maybe replacing the twin-sized bed with a pullout couch and adding a TV. Who knows? Maybe I’ll clean out another drawer and get another stroke of genius.

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Isn’t he darling? NO. He’s not darling at all; he’s a MONSTER.

It’s one of mine and Andrew’s ongoing goals to improve the yard and overall curb appeal of our home, and this year – with a not-so-subtle nudge from my mom – this year was going to be the year of flowers and color. Susiemommy actually drove down here from Pennsylvania with a car full of plants for us and made an effort to get as many in the ground as she could (with a minimum of help from me; hey, I’ve been more than a little absorbed in my bathroom).

Now that the bathroom project is wrapped up though, I can shift my focus elsewhere. I planted all the Gerbera daisies one night after work last week, and I started setting out some wave petunias to figure out where they should go.

And then yesterday morning, when Widge and I went out to water the flowers and go for our walk, what we saw was shocking. The “arms” of our petunias had been butchered and were strewn on the ground. It looked like a murder scene. Those stupid bunnies.

I feel like they’re sending me a message. Those bunnies are bullies. It’s a good thing Widget has my back. Here he is, holding watch from the porch:

Doesn’t his harness make him look like he means business? Bunnies beware. I’m not sure how to repel the rabbits from our plants, but I think they sell some kind of spray at hardware stores. I don’t necessarily LOVE the idea of coating everything with a layer of chemicals though. Are those our only options? Ugly, flowerless flower beds or pretty, chemical-laden flower beds?

It’s not all bad news though. This lovely lady is thriving:

Hopefully, she’ll continue to grow up the trellis and fill out some more. For some reason I can never remember what this plant is called, but we had a bunch of them at our wedding reception to spruce up my parents’ yard and pool area, and I think they’re just gorgeous. I’ll ask my mom (again) what it’s called and get back to you.

DIY Lessons Learned

Some things I learned, some thoughts I’ve had after a couple weeks with our new bathroom:

How to Plan and Save for a Large Home Project: This renovation was many months in the making. I know that isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of everything else that happens in life, but when you’ve only owned a house for a year-and-a-half, several months of planning and anticipating a big change seems like a long time. Sticking to the budget was crucial, as was the timing of purchasing materials, selecting and purchasing big pieces (tile, tub, vanity, fixtures) and planning for outside help (my father and the neighborhood plumber). We needed several months to have everything in place before we tore that sucker apart. I do think we had a really good plan in place, because there were no surprises along the way, other than that the whole process probably took about a week longer than I expected. Nothing happened that derailed our efforts or threw everything wildly off schedule, and it’s because we had the funds and plans in place.

How to Demo, and How to Assess the Damage: Demolition Day was great. It’s true what they say on HGTV, DIY Network, demolition is fun because you really can’t make any mistakes, as long as you know what you’re taking apart and it’s not compromising the house structure. It’s also a great start to the project, because you can feel really accomplished, even though the project hasn’t truly begun yet. There was also something cathartic about removing that grimy shower stall and worn floor tile from the bathroom; it’s been well documented, but that room just needed a makeover in the worst way. The “damage” really wasn’t that bad; a little rotted wood beneath the window that was repaired with wood spackle, and the ongoing cleaning/restoration of the window was all we had to do when the room was effectively “down to the studs.”

How to Use a Wet Saw. At first, this was intimidating, because it’s a motorized saw, water drops are flying at your face, and you’re aiming for a near-perfect straight line on the vast majority of your cuts. I learned the water is necessary to keep the tile cool and to limit the amount of dust that would result if it was a dry cut; how to get a feel for measuring where to cut and to factor in the small width of the blade; how to clean the saw, many, many times. There were definitely nights when I thought the cutting would never end, especially as we had to do the small floor tiles for where the floor met the walls and tub. I got much better as the project progressed; it was funny to think I how quickly I was cranking out the difficult floor-tile cuts, when the week before I could barely cut a subway tile in half without trashing two or three full pieces.

How to Set, Grout, and Seal Tile. You know that Katie was really the Tile Queen, but I did get in there a little bit when I wasn’t manning the wet saw. This, however, was not as easy as they make it seem on TV; it was a lot of work. There’s somewhat of a science as to how much thinset needs to be on the wall/on the tile when the tile is placed. It’s tricky because if tiles are already placed and you’re picking up the work at a later time, you need to match the thinset level so your tiles aren’t sitting unevenly. Also, you don’t want too much thinset to push through and ruin your grout lines, and keeping those lines clean is a major undertaking in itself. Setting the floor tile was tough at first, because we were mortified that the thinset might permanently stain all of our nice marble tiles. Luckily we realized that (even less than) less was more when it came to how much thinset was needed for the floor. Grouting, as Katie explained, was also mastered through trial-and-a-little-error, but even when we figured it out, it was still a lot of work; mixing the grout, applying, keeping the tiles clean and the grout lines tight, cleaning the supplies, etc. Katie did all the sealing, but she was not-so-secretly OCD with some of these tasks, so I just got out of the way at times.

How to Maintain Sanity During a DIY Project. When you’ve worked 10 to 12 hours in a day on a house project, you’ve trekked to and from the local YMCA to take a shower, you see that there hasn’t been a ton of aesthetic progress, and you realize you have to do the same thing tomorrow, the process can be deflating at times. But Katie and I always kept our focus moving forward, which I now realize was a huge part of the project’s success. Through all of the hard work, the detail-oriented tasks that took a couple tries to get right, the trips to Home Depot, Lowes, the Tile Shop, there might have been many times when one or both of us could have said, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” But it seemed once the plumber came and did his thing, and we knew how to cut and place tile, we knew, eventually, the project would get done. It was definitely a challenge when we were both working our day jobs and then pushing ourselves to work at night, a couple times well past midnight. But the motivation to have our bathroom back, and with friends planning to visit, really pushed us.  I think this blog was also a good influence on Katie, as she liked giving a daily progress report and being able to say, “Look what the bathroom looked like (x amount) days ago.” Also it was fun to eat a lot of junk food, because, that’s just what you do during a DIY renovation.

Finally, my father was a tremendous asset as he took on some tough tasks and kept us going; him being there was a big reason we would get out of bed before 8 a.m. during our first week of work, because if you know him, you know my father is an early riser and likes to get a lot done before his noon turkey sandwich.

So… What’s the next project?

Yeah, maybe some rest first. Widget’s orders.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon I’ve noticed the past two springs. Right around March or April (depending on the weather, I guess), I start to see these signs pop up everywhere:

image from here

Some of you may know that my mom and her sisters LOVE yard sales. Growing up, I tried to participate as little as possible.

Then, our neighbors had a moving sale, and I offered them $20 for this granite-topped kitchen cart:

The granite and the wood-tone don’t go with anything else in our house, but hey, the kitchen’s a complete disaster anyway, and the cart adds a lot of function: a drawer and two shelves for extra storage, a bit of extra countertop work space, and a place to hang dish towels.

So I guess I’m kind of a convert, but nothing crazy. On Saturday, Emily and I drove around to some yard sales (we started with ones that were posted on craigslist, but really, from my limited experience, it seems like the best ones are always the ones we stumble across from following those handwritten signs). Emily is my bargain-hunting buddy; she was with me when I found my Goodwill table too. She never buys anything though. Weird.

Aside from some books, here’s what I got:

$5 cast iron Christmas tree stand. They were asking $6, but I don’t know if you know this about me – I drive a hard bargain. For the past two Christmases, I’ve told Andrew that once the holidays are over, we’re going to buy a deeply-discounted tree stand so we can get a live tree the next year. And two Christmases in a row, I have done exactly not that. But 2012 – the year of the live Christmas tree!

The only other thing worth noting were these glass ornaments that I got for 25 cents. They were asking 50 cents. Again: hard. bargain.

They are the type that allow you to jazz them up, either by popping off the top and shoving something inside or by decorating the outside. I might try to do this snazzy glitter trick I saw on pinterest:

image from here

Stayed tuned for that happening. Most likely around June 2014.

Does anyone else out there buy used stuff? There were a few things I passed on, like a $3 set of little Pampered Chef nesting glass bowls with lids and a $10 three-tiered shelf with baskets. I couldn’t think of an immediate use for either, so I think that’s a good rule of thumb. Andrew and I are a little bit stuff-averse, so the less useless junk we have around, the better.

I think we’ve kept you guys waiting long enough. Time for some some bathroom “after” pics!

First though, let’s see what we were dealing with when we bought the house. Andrew dug up this picture from our appraiser.

Please pardon the quality, but you get the idea: oak-colored door, vanity, toilet seat, medicine cabinet. That chair rail that looks like wood – it wasn’t. It was some weird plastic fake stuff, and it trimmed the floor, too. Beige ceramic floor tile. Fly-fishing wallpaper. Plastic, impossible-to-clean shower surround. Brass accents (door knob, vanity and medicine cabinet hardware) mixed with chrome (shower door frame, sink faucet, shower head). Yikes.

The bathroom after “phase one,” also known as “okay, we need to figure out a way to live with this bathroom for now:”

Kinda boring, but we could live with it and we could not live with it.

Et voila, la toilette maintenant:

Sorry, something about it make me break into le francais. Anyway. Let’s dish. As you know, we added the tub, painted, tiled, tiled, and tiled some more. Since our last bathroom update, it’s all been downhill (by that I mean it got easier, not that everything started falling apart – thank goodness). Andrew’s dad came back one last time and did all our caulking, we wiped down our tile to get rid of the grout haze and then sealed the grout lines, the plumber returned to install our vanity and hook up all our fixtures, and we applied frosting film to the bottom half of the window for privacy. Despite the assurances of the Home Depot employee, I wasn’t totally sold on the level of privacy, but I made Andrew go outside one night while I was in there, and he said he couldn’t see me at all. Oh yeah, and we also had to rehang the mirror, the towel ring and rack, and the tension shower rod with new shower curtain.

Here’s another angle of the room to compare. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to snap every angle (or focus my camera apparently) for the true “before” before we started tearing it apart, but I’m sure you can use your imagination.

In other news, I finally figured out that I need to white balance my camera. Look at the difference. Not white balanced:

White balanced:

Which leads us to a discussion of our fixtures. Does that faucet look familiar at all? I’ll give you a hint: remember when we were having a hard time finding a faucet with cross handles that was not cheap and cheesy but also not $1,000+? (If not, review this post.) The high-end faucet that I fantasized about was this Kohler beaut:

At $1,072.25 MSP, this vibrant brushed nickel “Pinstripe Pure” faucet was kiiiind of a budget buster. But in shopping for bathroom fixtures, we learned two important lessons:

  1. brushed finishes cost about 30% more than polished, and
  2. list prices are a crock.

We spent nowhere near $1,000 by choosing polished chrome – we decided we preferred the sparkle anyway – and by driving a hard bargain. Well, not really. We’re not exactly seasoned negotiators, but we did manage to get some extra knocked off the purchase price (which was not near the list price anyway) at Ferguson by pointing out that Home Depot’s website had lower prices on the same products. Either way, we also spent nowhere near the list price of the polished chrome version (list price = $739.60!! ouch).

The sink faucet was the hard part. After we decided on that, we just added the matching shower head and tub faucet.

Close up of that delicious cross handle (complete with authentic water droplets).

Oh hey, and we got to shop for a shower curtain. Yay for accessories!

So there you have it. From fish to wish…come true. Ha! That reminds me. Should we swap out our sink for a little nostalgia?

&

I know we’re keeping you guys in suspense with the bathroom reveal, but we’re still putting the finishing touches in the room. Soon!

In the meantime, our birthdays bookended the big bath project. Mine was the Wednesday before we demo’d, and Andrew’s was Sunday – the day after we were able to shower in our own house again (that’s a good birthday present, right?).

Even though the bathroom has been commanding 98% of our attention (and funds), we both managed to gift the other with something decor-related.

First up, Andrew gave me this decorative ampersand, which I’ve been coveting since at least the fall:

Ampersands are so hot right now (right, Nora?). This one’s from Restoration Hardware – otherwise known as Mecca – but there are a lot of options on Etsy, too (like these and this). I put it on top of our little china hutch for now; it’ll probably move around the house from time to time. It can also be mounted on the wall.

Meanwhile, Andrew’s been complaining about our TV stand in the living room for some time. You can see it here:

It doesn’t look so bad, but the middle was starting to sag under the weight of the TV, and the back was open, which did nothing to hide the tangle of wires back there. Also, we’re starting to move away from the blond-colored finish toward darker finishes, like the frame for our wedding photo above the mantel and the Goodwill side table by our chair-and-a-half.

The old TV stand was starting to get under Andrew’s skin. Hence, this secret little project:

Yup, I bought it, hid it, and assembled it on the down-low and swapped it in for the blond one when Andrew wasn’t looking.

So the blond TV stand now lives in the basement, along with all our other semi-homeless home goods. We are plotting to find one big ottoman to replace both the beige microfiber ottoman and the blond Ikea Lack table, a pair of stools to go under the big window (which can serve as foot stools or extra seating in a pinch), and an area rug. Down the line, we’re thinking we want a smaller armchair in place of the chair-and-a-half too. And once we’ve misplaced all this living room furniture, we’ll be well on our way to furnishing our basement and turning it into a second, bigger, casual living/TV space. After we eradicate the snakes, of course. Yikes. Snakes.

Yesssssss

It took until 2 am, but we. are. grouted!

You know what this means? We get a night off! Sort of. Andrew’s going to touch up the door in a couple places that could use some paint, and I guess we could start tidying up around here (putting tools away, etc.), but we might actually get to watch some TV and/or go to bed at a decent hour. Free time is awesome.

Oh, and this round of grouting was drama-free. After talking to friends, co-workers and family members and consulting the all-knowing Internet, the general consensus was that we had waited too long to start running the sponge over our grout on the first wall. The directions on the grout said to apply it, wait 30 to 60 minutes, and then go over it with a damp sponge, but with our teeny-tiny subway tile grout lines, we could essentially work with the amount of grout in one scoop and then drop the float and go straight to the sponge. Easy-peasy.

Another tip if you’re ever planning to do any tile work: latex gloves are a godsend. We started out with bare hands, but the grout residue sucked all the moisture out of our skin pretty quickly. So use protection!

Tomorrow night, we’ll be caulking in corners and where walls meet the floor and sealing the grout; the plumber comes back on Friday to hook up our fixtures.

Time for a sneak peek at the vanity that’s been living in our bedroom?

Is the suspense killing you? Me too! Give me a bathroom!