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?


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.


The other day I went to return some tile samples and found I had a little time to kill before the store opened. There was an interesting looking store a few doors down that was open, so I checked it out, and it turns out to be a place called Molo, which specializes in retro lamps and fixtures. I had no idea such a place existed in Oslo!

The friendly salesperson asked me if I needed help so I asked whether they had ceiling lamps appropriate for an apartment from the late 1950s. They have both pendants and ceiling mounted lamps that are Norwegian designs from the 1950s, and I have to say they’re pretty cool. Here are the two pendants:

I wish the metal parts weren’t quite so shiny, but otherwise I kind of dig them. I’m pretty sure the salesperson referred to the one one the left as an “Elg” (“moose”) lamp, though a quick Google search didn’t turn up anything. I had thought that I wanted my Moroccan pendant lamp over the dining room table, but maybe one of these would be better? Hmm, thinking, thinking…

All the rooms in my apartment will have recessed LED spotlights except for the two bedrooms, so I do actually need to get a couple of ceiling mount lamps. This store has two very cool ones, one round and one square. You can see them stacked upside down on top of each other here:


The salesperson told me that her apartment is from 1964 and that it still has original versions of the round lamps. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying two of them then and there. I think they would be perfect. These are reproductions, so the parts are all up to code and they are easy to install.

Jobsite, week 6

Despite my worries, a lot happened this week. Most notably, the crew made progress on the bathroom. There is now a subfloor for the first time, the plumbing is in place, and they’ve started on the walls. I think I’ll do a separate post on the bathroom, because there’s so much going on there. In the meantime, here are a couple of other details. The second window in my son’s bedroom is finally in place, and it looks so much better! You may recall that they were mismatched before? Here’s before and after:

smaa_vinduerimg_0675It’s such a relief, even though it was an unexpected (and relatively large) added expense. You’ll also notice in the “after” photo that the painter has started priming the walls.

The engineered wood flooring was also delivered on Friday and it’s stacked up on the landing in front of my front door. Unfortunately, it’s also stacked in front of the neighbor’s front door (my nice neighbor, not the one I’m in conflict with); I really hope they cleared it with him first. It’s A LOT of flooring!


Originally the contractor told me they’d start installing it on Monday, but I find that hard to believe. They are supposed to lay a sound insulating layer and they radiant heating first, and I really doubt they can complete both of those big jobs and start on the final layer in one day. But at least it’s here!

Kitchen tile, redux

On Monday I went to the two high end tile stores that my colleague had warned me about and brought home a bunch of samples. It took me all of 30 seconds to figure out which one works the best, based on how they looked when I laid them out next two two of the ceramic pieces that usually live on my kitchen counter. The Tonalite Viola won hands down. I wish it were a slightly longer and thinner rectangle (it’s 15×7.5cm and the other tiles I was looking at are 20x5cm), but still, no contest:

Sorry for the crappy snapshot. There is hardly any natural light right now in Norway and I seem to have screwed up the settings on the camera in my phone, making this worse than usual. The only place light enough for a picture was the bathroom in the MIL.

The pitcher and former cookie jar (now used to hold utensils, since the lid was lost long ago) were both gifts given to my paternal grandparents for their wedding in the 1930s. I also have a green ceramic bowl and two cut glass pieces (a pitcher and a candy dish) from the same occasion. Given how transient my family is, it’s kind of amazing that I still have all five of these pieces. I think they’re going to look amazing with these tiles.

The tile shape will still work in a herringbone pattern, though the look will be a bit different. More like the one on the left than the one on the right:

I think I can live with that. I may even like it better. I’ll still swing by the kitchen store to test the color next to the cabinets and countertop before returning all the samples, but I’d be really surprised if it didn’t work.



I stopped by the apartment just before sunset (so, about a quarter past three in the afternoon…sigh) yesterday to see if the crew had poured the screed. Indeed they had. For everyone who has ever wondered what screed looks like, here it is:


Apparently this is up to 1.5cm deep in places. I kinda like the look!

Flooring, take two

On Tuesday I finally placed the order for the engineered wood flooring. I don’t know why, but the whole thing made me nervous. First I had to have the contractor calculate how much he needed. He told me 70 square meters, which included 8% to cover the extra material one inevitably needs. The website I was ordering from asked for an exact measurement, to which they automatically add 5%, so I had to do a little math.

Then when I went to look at the website, the sale price from the last two weeks had gone up. In addition, two new quite similar ash floors that I had never seen before  were suddenly there and on sale for even lower than the sale price of the floor I wanted. Alas, what was a poor tightwad to do?

Luckily the website has a chat function, so I was able to ask a salesperson what the differences were. One of the cheaper floors was more yellow and the other more gray than the one I had picked out. Given that I can’t know for sure which if either of these variations I might like, that is more uncertainty than I’m willing to risk for something that will be the most prominent design feature in the whole apartment for the next thirty years. I decided to go with the original choice, and asked if I could still get the sale price, even though the campaign ended two days ago. The salesperson said yes! It doesn’t make a huge difference in the total price, but it is a small victory for me nonetheless.

If I had had more time I would happily have ordered samples of the other two floors, and who knows, maybe I would have liked one of them better. But I’ll never know, and I am reasonably sure that I will be happy with the look of the floor I have now ordered.

Leveling up

My son is really into World of Warcraft these days, so much so that video game vernacular is seeping into the way I think about things. I had thought I was more or less done with all the decisions that had to be made on this project, but I’m realizing that those were just the major decisions, level 1 in video game parlance. Now that I have completed that one, I have unlocked an entirely new level of decisions that have to be made.

The easiest one has to do with lighting. I have asked for LED downlights in all the rooms except the two bedrooms (I just couldn’t justify the extra expense there) so I’m going to have to locate two nice ceiling fixtures at some point.

A more complicated and expensive quest in the video game of my renovation is figuring out what will go inside the kitchen cabinets. It turns out there is a whole slew of options for what kind of drawer organizers one can have added on, and I have to make the decision by the end of this week.

Then, as if that weren’t enough, I have to make a really major decision about the state of my backsplashes, and this too has to be finalized by the end of this week. Originally I had planned on microcement for the kitchen walls, which would have given me a very clean, water resistant surface that would have been perfectly fine as a backsplash. But since I decided against microcement in the kitchen, I now have to figure something else out. My choices seem to be A) tiles, B) some kind of water resistant panels, or C) the same CaesarStone as the counters. A remotely possible D) might be to plaster just the backsplash areas. A really exciting E) that I love the idea of would be old timey tin tiles (the kind of tin ceiling tiles you find in nineteenth century buildings, at least out west in the US, not sure about other areas).

A) I’m not super excited about tiles, in part because I find all the options so overwhelming, and in part because they can be visually busy. It was almost miraculous that I worked out what to use for the bathroom floor tiles so painlessly. On the other hand, tiles can be beautiful and can also be changed relatively easily.

B) Laminate panels is what I had before. They were plain white and high gloss and easy to clean, but they buckled a bit (probably from steam) and the seams got a little scruffy. They’re definitely cheap and convenient, and might be a good short term solution while I save up for something I really love. IKEA has a bunch, although I am trying to boycott them.

C) I priced out the CaesarStone option yesterday, and the price is very high (though not beyond reason). Another problem is that it only comes in sheets that are 2cm thick, which would be total overkill. I think I would love the seamless and clean look, but I don’t think it’s a good option. Maybe? Still thinking.

D) I also don’t think plastering is a good idea. I would still have to go through all the trouble of choosing a color, and it would still entail a lot of work and coordination to make it work. I guess for me it was all or nothing for microcement in the kitchen.

E) This leaves me with tin tiles. As I was thinking about this post I started poking around on the internet and found this company that even delivers internationally. They have clear instructions for doing it yourself and a bunch of different options. I’m going to think seriously about this as an option!

Oh, and there’s actually an F too:

F) The kitchen company has plain white glass panels too. I actually already have one on order for behind the stove (I thought there might be too much staining on the microcement). Maybe I should just order a second one for behind the sink and call it a day?

What do you think?

Bathroom floor tiles

Choosing tiles is just plain hard. The options are seemingly infinite. I had a marathon tile shopping trip back in August, but I mostly just felt overwhelmed then. Yesterday I went out to look again at the two most promising places that I had been to the first time. I felt like I had a much better idea of what I was looking for, plus I was armed with the sample of the color of the bathroom cabinets, which helped a lot.

After the traumatic first shopping trip I had decided to go with a very neutral tile that would coordinate with the cabinets. I want the two together to form a frame for the color of the microcement walls (whatever color that ends up being), which will be the main visual feature of the room. I’m not going to have any tiles on the walls at all, and there won’t be any contrasting tiles or anything else fancy, so, while it is easier to shop for one kind of tile than three that are supposed to coordinate, I really, really have to get the basic floor tiles right. This is what I came home with:


You can see the paint chips (all the same color) between the tile samples. Top left is a sample of 5x5cm square tiles that would have been deeply discounted if I bought them yesterday, but that are still cheaper than the other two choices by quite a bit even at regular price. The 10cm hexagonal ones cost twice as much, for example. Bottom right is a sample of very similar but still different 5x5cm square tiles that price out right in the middle of the other two samples.

Not gonna lie, the square ones don’t really make my heart sing, and the much more expensive hexagonal tiles definitely do. There’s something I just love about the hexagons, though I can’t put my finger on it. When I called my son over to look at the choices, without hesitating he said he liked the hexagonal ones best, and when I pressed him for why, he just said they looked fancier. I like that they’re an enlarged version of the old one-inch hexagonal tiles that were in a lot of older apartments in Seattle where I went to graduate school. I also like that they have a relatively rough, skid-proof surface, and I like the variation in color and pattern. The hexagonal form also breaks with the strict grid of square tiles, which I’m heartily sick of, and this particular variety is slightly reminiscent of the very popular Carrara marble tiles without their expense, high maintenance and slipperiness.

I will pair these tiles with a very neutral grout that matches the base color of the tiles as closely as possible–a basic off white that will tie the tiles together rather than set them off individually (this blog has a well illustrated discussion of the difference grout color makes). I’m aiming for subtle variation rather than an Op-art effect.

I figured out something else I can cut out of the budget in order to be able to afford the hexagonal tiles, namely replacing the front door. That is something I can easily do at some point in the future, while the tiles are an integral part of the reno job and would be very difficult and expensive to replace at a a later date. So yeah, 10cm hexes it is!

Design gurus II: Terence Conran

I guess I’m kind of doing a mini-series of posts on the books on architecture and design that have influenced me the most. There aren’t that many. In addition to A Pattern Language, Terence Conran’s The House Book, first published in 1974 was a book I pored over again and again, along with his follow ups The Kitchen Book (1977) and The Bed and Bath Book (1978). A family in my neighborhood whose kids I regularly babysat had copies and I probably read them every single time I worked for them. They even let me borrow them for weeks at a time. I’m not sure exactly what the appeal was. Mostly I think it was the dozens and dozens of examples of each feature Conran, who today is 85, wrote about. He taught me most of what I know about basic styles and trends in decorating. It was also the first place I encountered the term “eclectic,” which gave me a flexible relationship to design from the get-go.


The book was also a little edgy for a girl in her early teens; Conran wrote openly about the needs of adult living, including sexuality naturally along with cooking, bathing, making music and reading. As a kid growing up in the U.S., the obvious British orientation of the book had a great appeal. It showed me that things were tangibly different in Europe, and probably contributed to my eagerness to get myself to the other side of the Atlantic as quickly as possible (that happened when I was 15!). Finally, it inspired me to put together my own notebooks of magazine clippings with ideas and images that I like. In a way I made my own “house books” because of Conran. I have carried these old notebooks with me for decades, from move to move, but I can’t remember the last time I looked at them. I should really dig them out to compare my aesthetic from 20-30 years ago with where I’m at now.

There’s  one of Conran’s Habitat stores in Oslo, but I can’t say the things they sell there appeal to me all that much, though occasionally I stop by to look. I do have one trace of Conran’s legacy in my home, however, since my Portmeirion dishes are designed by his daughter.