A room with a (different) view

I’m on a writing retreat in Paris this week, so there will be no updates from the renovation project until after the fourth of January. In the meantime, here’s the view from the apartment where I’m staying:


Happy New Year!


Kitchen cabinets, take two

I called HTH and the paperwork showed that I was right; I had ordered and paid for a refrigerator and the oven cabinet is wrong. The woman I spoke with promised to track down the errant refrigerator and also reassured me that it would be easy to fix the cabinet for the oven. They retain the cabinet carcass in place and just install a new shelf and new fittings, so it shouldn’t interfere at all with the installation of the countertops, whenever that happens. Phew!

No one was working in the apartment today, so I was able to take better pictures of the kitchen. Here’s a (very crooked!) shot of the whole room from the door:


All in all, I’m really pleased. It’s a lot less cramped than I feared it would be, and I am totally enamored with the wood floor. I can’t quite believe this is actually my kitchen.

Here’s the sink wall, taken from in front of the window:


It’s still missing the kickplate (and the countertop, obviously), but everything else is installed as it should be here. I measured the depth of the upper cabinets and to my delight they are more than deep enough for my dinner plates, which are 28 cm in diameter. The cabinet depth is 33 cm — what luxury! I’m a little unsure as to whether I like the glass doors or not. I kind of dig the totally clean lines of the other side. I’ll just have to see once I get lights and glassware in. I imagine it would be pretty easy to order a couple of plain doors at a later point if I decide I don’t like the glass ones.

And here is the wall with the offending oven cabinet, taken from the door again:


You may be wondering why there are no handles on the upper cabinet doors. I chose to go without to keep things cleaner. The edge of the bottom shelf is slightly recessed so that you can get your fingers between it and the door to open them. I could have gone with push-to-open cabinet doors on the base cabinets, but I decided against them because A) I still needed handles for the dishwasher and refrigerator, and B) I just don’t like those push-to-open cabinets. They never seem to work right for me, and I would like to avoid the decades of irritation they would likely cause me.

Kitchen cabinets!

I am utterly relieved. The kitchen cabinets fit! I have been losing sleep over this. Thank goodness the kitchen was designed with the intention of having about 10 cm of filler above the upper cabinets. It turns out that there was only about a centimeter to spare, so there is a little gap at the top and no filler whatsoever. The guy who installed it had to leave the gap for the wiring, otherwise he would have mounted them flush with the ceiling. Here are some low quality snapshots; it was already dusk when I got there, and I didn’t want to take up too much of the guy’s time.

First the wall where the sink goes:


I wanted one cabinet with glass doors because it makes it easier for guests to find glasses when they want a glass of water, plus I like the look of my dishes.

Next, a similar shot of the wall where the stove and refrigerator go:


It’s kind of a mess, but you get the idea. From left to right is: drawers, stove, drawers, and built-in refrigerator. You can just barely see the slim ventilator over the stove, which makes me very happy. There will also be a door on the upper cabinet to the far left.

Edited to add: crappers. I just looked more closely at the oven in the picture and it looks wrong to me. There was supposed to be a drawer under the oven, and here there’s a drawer (or at least a white space) over. This is what the drawing from the kitchen company looks like:


Clearly this is not the same. I texted the installer and he said it’s correctly installed, so I have emailed the store. In all likelihood they ordered the wrong cabinet. This, along with the missing refrigerator are only to be expected, I suppose…

Here’s the same wall, looking in the opposite direction:


You can see how tiny the gap is above the refrigerator if you look closely. Yikes. I also just noticed when looking at these pictures that the cabinet for the refrigerator kind of mirrors the bump-out wall on the other side. That was purely accidental, but I like it.

Oddly, the refrigerator itself did not get delivered. The kitchen store guy had forgotten it originally, but made sure to add it to the order during our final go-through, so I’m really not sure what happened. The installer is going to call HTH, and I think I am going to do so as well. I’m sure I paid for it, as the final amount I paid definitely included the cost of the refrigerator.


Jobsite, week 8

This was supposed to be the day the job was finished, but that was not to be. Even so, it felt positively sacred in the apartment today, on Christmas Eve day no less! The crew cleaned up quite a bit in preparation for the painting and the kitchen installation, and the place looked pretty great in the glorious sunshine:


Never mind the giant cabinet in the middle of the living room. That’s the cabinet for the refrigerator that is giving me fits because it’s too tall (or rather the ceiling is too low).

The nice solid-core doors to the two bedrooms are now installed, and I’m really glad that I went with the extra expense of that; they feel so much more substantial. My son’s room is  currently totally filled with more kitchen cabinets and appliances:


There’s been a lot of progress in the bathroom. The crew got the backer board up on the walls, which I wasn’t expecting. They also moved the thingy for the washing machine down, but now I’m fretting that it’s going to get in the way of the cabinet for the sink! It should be okay, but I’m still a bit worried; I really need to go back up and measure more accurately. The plans call for a 70 cm opening, and it looks like this will just barely squeeze within that:


There’s a lot going on in the picture here (taken from the shower niche). I put down the blue tape to show where the cabinets and washing machine are supposed to go. Here’s the plan drawing, showing how that wall is supposed to look:


Here’s another shot (taken from the doorway):


The cabinets and countertop are only 36.5 cm deep. You can see two different outlines for the depth of the washing machine. I’m trying to figure out if it’s worth it to buy a new, shallower one now, or just reinstall the current one, which is only three years old but 60 cm deep. It would eat up a lot of space right in front of the shower, but wouldn’t interfere with the shower door or anything major like that.  It’s possible to get a washing machine that is 38 cm deep, but it’s not one of the high efficiency models. The shallowest of the highly rated models is 42 cm deep, which is what I have marked on the floor here.

Whether or not I decided to go with a shallower washing machine, this tiny bathroom is going to feel and look a lot more spacious than it used to. I’m so excited!


It has come to this. I am writing an entire blog entry on grout, or more precisely on grout color.

The tiles I chose are pretty strongly variegated, ranging from a creamy white to a pale gray, which means the grout color is going to make a pretty big difference in how the floor “reads” colorwise. I want to strengthen the creamy white and downplay the gray, which means that I definitely didn’t want to get stuck with default gray grout.

Thankfully my contractor supplied me with grout samples so that I could spend some time looking at various combinations. Here’s how two of the samples looked in the fading afternoon light:


The one sticking up to the right is a color called “Topas” and the one sticking down at the bottom is called “Pergamon.” “Topas” is probably a better match for the tiles over all, but it is also slightly more gray. “Pergamon” is whiter and brighter than the tiles, but much closer to the color of the cabinets, which you can see on the paint sample under the tiles. I’m hoping that if I use “Pergamon” it will tie the two large areas (cabinets and floor) together visually. I may also have been swayed by the vaguely literary association of “Pergamon,” which is the place of origin for pergament.

I’m still at a total loss as to what color to do the microcement walls in, though. You’ve seen the main contenders before in a much earlier blog post. I really want the Verde pálido, but I worry it will be too saturated and dark for the room and the limited lighting. The other option is Celeste suave, but I worry it is too pretty and sweet, too baby blue.

I go to Paris late next week and one of the things on my list of things to do there is visiting a place in the Marais that specializes in vintage advertisements. I was thinking of getting one (ideally printed on tin) as decoration for the bathroom; I know it’s a cliché, but I love them. Maybe I should just let whatever I find (if I find something) determine the wall color?

Sofa safari, take three

I went back to Illums Bolighus (a crackhouse for fans of contemporary Scandinavian design) to take another long hard look at the Mags Soft sofa by Hay. It was good for me to go the round of looking at other things online and in stores; all that just solidified my conviction that this is the sofa I want. I got to spend a lengthy amount of time inspecting the floor model and poring over the sizes and prices of the various modules, thinking through what configuration would work best, and trying to determine if it would be feasible to do it in two stages (a couple of modules now, followed by a couple more modules next year). Hay has some suggestions for configurations, including these two:


Both fit perfectly into the space. I have a strong preference for the one on the right with the open end for a couple of reasons. One is that I enjoyed the open ends on my old sofa, and the other is that it’s four modules instead of five, and these modules are expensive, so the fewer the better.

I also got to fondle all the upholstery samples. There were three options that I was interested in: Divina, which is 100% wool and has a feltlike quality; Hallingdal, which is mostly wool with some viscose and has a prominent woven texture; and Leather Silk, which is, as its name suggests, a supple aniline leather. The Divina is 40,000 Martindales and the Hallingdal 100,000, so clearly the viscose makes a big difference in the durability of the fabric.

Not gonna lie; I totally want the leather. It costs more than twice as much as the fabric, but I poked around online, and the price for the 4-module sofa in leather is right in the same range as sofas of lesser quality and appeal at places like Bolia. Barring major unforeseen disasters, this is going to be the last sofa I ever buy. It just doesn’t make sense to spend money on a 30-year sofa and not have it be exactly what you want.

Now I just need to figure out two things: how to pay for it, and what color leather to order. In terms of paying, the fact that the delivery time on a custom sofa is eight weeks works in my favor, as I’m sure I can scrape together the money in two months. Plus I’m planning to hold off on ordering for a bit in the hopes that there will be some kind of sale after Christmas. I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t order our beds two weeks later this past summer, since I missed a pretty big discount.

In terms of colors, I ‘m going to have to stew for a while. There are quite a few options. First the earthy tones:


The one called Cognac (second from the left in the top row) is the one that consistently comes up on image searches for this sofa. There are also quite a few zippy colors:


Hell, I don’t know. I’ll need to go back a bunch more times to look at these. I wish the samples were bigger. They have big samples of the Cognac and the Black in the store, but I’d like to see some of the others too. I really like the Cognac, but the stubborn part of me that never wants to do what everyone else is doing is balking. Nougat? Chestnut? Gray? Purple? That big, unlabeled dark brown sample?

Edited to add: more pinteresting has revealed that searches for “tan leather sofa” bring up lots of articles about how they’re trendy, while searches for “brown leather sofa” bring up articles more along the lines of “how to style your brown leather sofa so it doesn’t look dowdy”; here’s one and here’s another.  Interesting how differently the two colors are perceived.


It may just be that we’re right at the longest night of the year, and today in my location there were fewer than six hours of daylight, but I’m feeling pretty out of sorts about the project. This is week eight, and realistically there are four more weeks to go before I can retake my apartment. I had prepared myself mentally for eight weeks of disruption, but the prospect of waiting an additional four weeks has me dismayed, frustrated and stressed. On top of that a bunch of big bills came in this week. I planned for this, have the money, and have paid them, but it’s still sobering to see so much money flying out of my account.

Early this morning the cabinets and appliances for my kitchen arrived on a big truck from Denmark, with two strapping young Danish guys to haul it all in. The lead carpenter was there to meet them too, so he and I had a good long chat while they delivered box after box after box. It was nice to touch bases with him and he gave me lots of useful information, plus he’s just a genuinely nice guy with great enthusiasm for his work.

But all the while, all I could think about is that the ceilings are going to be too low for the cabinetry I’ve ordered. HTH was supposed to send someone to do final measurements at some point, but that never happened. Now I’m terrified the installer is going to come next Tuesday and freak out and tell me that there isn’t enough room. In the original plan there is a 7.2 cm filler above the upper cabinets. The plan drawings for the kitchen were made for a room with 235 cm of clearance and my new ceiling height is 227 cm! That means there is literally no margin of error here; in fact the margin has already been passed by eight millimeters. I have no idea how the installer is going to deal with the one cabinet that goes floor to ceiling (the one that holds the refrigerator). Thankfully the rest of the kitchen will consist of separate upper and lower cabinets, so it won’t matter if my upper cabinets are a few milimeters lower than they should have been. My kitchen guy is off on Christmas vacation all this week, so there’s no one to call or ask; all I can do is fret.

I really need to focus on the positive: I have gotten a response back from the plasterer, who has committed to doing the microcement job in the bathroom in week three of the new year. I also got word that the plumber will be working on things like installing the toilet in week one. This means I just have to nail down a new time slot for installing the cabinets at some point after that (writing this post inspired me to shoot off an email right NOW), and all the elements necessary will be in place for producing a fully functioning bathroom within the month. Technically, installing the cabinets can wait indefinitely, as long as the kitchen sink is operational, which is supposed to happen in week two when the countertops are installed.

So, the best case scenario for me is that I can move in the weekend of the 14th and 15th, assuming there’s a functioning electrical system, sink and toilet. The shower won’t be operational until after the microcement is finished, but I can easily live a week without a shower. Worst case will be a few weeks later, and in the big picture, that is nothing.

Sofa safari, take two

Note: This is the third in a series of “Um, I’m allowed to change my mind, right?” posts. This one is a double whammy because I change my mind within the post too! Whoa, meta…

Originally I had ambitions of buying a fancy designer sofa, but added costs in the renovation have probably made that impossible, at least in the short term. I had kind of thought that I would just wait six months or so to save up and get my ideal sofa, but with a twelve-year-old at home and my own extreme lounging habits (my work entails a lot of reading and writing, and I never work at a desk if I can help it), that seems unrealistic. We will want to have a sofa from the get-go, and that means going cheap.

Here’s the corner I have to work with. The distance from the corner to each window is about 90cm and the height from floor to the glass of each window is 82cm and 87cm respectively.


The south wall (right) determines the maximum width of the sofa, which is 300cm. The east wall (left) is wider, but I don’t want the sofa to extend much beyond the left edge of the window there, if at all, so that puts it at about 250cm. Ideally I would have an L-shaped sofa with a chaise lounge on the left and a regular back on the right, since the space under the left window is lower.

I often rail against IKEA, but I think in this instance it is starting to look like the best option. They have a few models that I think would work okay, they deliver in a much shorter amount of time than other stores, and the price is certainly right.

Edited to add: I was about to post a long analysis of the sofas at IKEA that I’ve been looking at online recently, but, after going to the store yesterday after work, all I can say is that I loathe them. The quality is visibly shoddy, with sloppy tucks and corners and horribly sleazy fabrics. Even the leather feels plastic. They’re not even comfortable to sit on. No, just no!

So now I’m back to looking at fancy designer sofas, where at least the quality of the workmanship is good. Hmmm…aspirational pinteresting has taken me back to the Mags Soft sofa by Hay:


I have become unreasonably fond of its Lego brick-like simplicity. Maybe I could take advantage of the, you know, modular nature of modular furniture and buy just two modules now and the rest in the summer when I’ve built up some cash reserves? I could get the left and right corners first to make a generous two-seater, then add a couple more sections to make an L-shaped sofa later. It comes in a huge variety of colors in both leather, 100% wool, and a number of other fibers.

Bathroom update

Yesterday I decided it was okay to walk gingerly on the newly laid tiles in the bathroom, so I was able to measure the height of the pipe for the washing machine and get some better photos of the floor. The pipe is at about 85 cm, which means it should just squeeze under the countertop if it’s mounted at 90 cm. The only problem is that the washing machine itself is 85 cm, and so the pipe will collide with the back part of the machine, which sticks out 5 cm and is supposed to cover the hookup points and pipes. I emailed the contractor about it (for the second time, actually) and this time got a terse response saying they would move it. I feel bad, but it really will make a big difference in how much floor space the washer takes up.

When I was in the bathroom measuring I got much better pictures of the tile floor. I really like it, but it definitely is more gray than what I had in mind, and it will be a challenge to come up with a wall color that works with it. Here are a couple of pictures, first looking toward the corner where the toilet will be:


This makes me think that I definitely want them to use grout that is lighter rather than darker. I know it’s super trendy to use dark grout right now, but I’ve never been a fan. I like grout and tiles to blend together visually. I also got a pretty good shot of the shower enclosure:


You can definitely see that it is at a lower level. On the right edge, where there is some unfinished tiling, they will be building a wall that will stick out. I’m not really sure why they waited until after the tiling to do this, but I have long since realized that I just don’t know enough about the construction process to understand the logic of my contractor. I just trust that he has one, since everything seems to be turning out really well.

I’m floored

I thought it would be a good idea to collect a record of all the work that went into the floors in my apartment. As I’ve written before, it was the floors that sparked the entire renovation project; I needed to do something about improving sound insulation, and eventually realized that the only way to make a significant difference was to strip everything down and start over. Once you commit to that, you might as well do all the other things too…

The floors are by far the most expensive part of the project, and almost all of the elements that cost so much and do the actual work of making this a comfortable place to live will be invisible when the project is done, so I felt like I should memorialize them here.

I seem to have taken pictures of the hall at (nearly) every stage so that’s what I’ll use as documentation for each of the eight steps involved. First, though, here is the before, which consisted of 30x30cm ceramic tiles, plus pine wood floor in the living room:


1. The first step was to strip it all down to the subflooring, which was basically just pine boards. These were finished with some kind of top coat, which makes me think this was the original flooring in the apartment and not just subflooring:


2. The next step was blowing insulation in between the floor joists, where there had been none before. This entailed dozens of little holes all over the subfloor:


3. After this came a layer of cloth, tape, and odd little sticky-uppy pieces of white plastic in preparation for the screed:


4. After that was down, the screed itself was poured and cured. The purpose of the screed was to level out the subfloor, which had a variance of up to 1.5cm. It would have been impossible to lay engineered wood flooring properly directly over the subfloor because it was so wonky. This photo is from right after the pour:


5., 6. and 7. Next up was the soundproofing and radiant heating. I couldn’t get a picture from the hall, but managed to catch the crew at work in the kitchen. Here are all three layers (insulation, radiant heating panels and protective cloth):


The white underlay that you see in the picture is sound insulation. It is a thin foam layer and it also serves as heat insulation so that the heat from the black radiant heating elements goes up into the room rather than down into the subfloor. The radiant heating is then covered with a thin protective cloth that separates it from the wood flooring. In case you’re wondering why the radiant heating is only placed in the middle of the kitchen floor, it’s because there will be cabinets along either wall.

8. Then, finally, after seven weeks, the engineered wood floor with an ash veneer magically appeared. As you can see, they’re not quite finished, but this at least gives a good sense of what it’s going to be like:


In a way, the whole floor project is kind of a sad testament to how horrible my relationship with my downstairs neighbor had been. It’s pretty drastic to invest this much time, money and resources into a floor. It probably says a lot about my personality that I felt it was easier to rip the place apart and start from scratch rather than just sell it and move somewhere more private. But I really, really love the apartment itself and I especially love the location. I just couldn’t imagine any place I’d rather live, and I am damned if I’m going to let someone drive me out of my own home. It remains to be seen how much of a difference the changes in the floor actually make, but at least now I know I have done everything technically possible (given the starting point of the existing building) to make it better. I doubt that will earn me any credit whatsoever with the neighbor, but then nothing would.

When the whole thing is done I’ll come back to this post and upload an “after” picture to match the “before” one.