Art Deco Bathroom and Other Projects in 2022 | by Teri Radichel | Cloud Security | Dec, 2022
Lessons learned from my house and plans for the new year
Time for my end of year post, which often has not a lot to do with cybersecurity or cloud security. This year, besides my security research, training, penetration tests, and assessments I spent a lot of time working on house projects.
Sometimes I consider writing a blog about all the construction and remodeling projects I’ve worked on in my houses over the years. But since I can’t keep up with my cybersecurity blog consistently as I would like, how could I possibly keep up with a blog on yet another topic?
Anyone who is interested in this topic gets one long blog post explaining the lessons learned this year while working on house projects — and some of the lessons are applicable to cybersecurity as well. One of this year’s project was an art-deco themed bathroom. We also added backyard pavers, a grill gazebo, fixed a hallway, and prevented my office ceiling from caving in (I hope). I also restored what may be a 1930’s or so chandelier I bought off eBay. It might not be that old but in any case it worked out great.
Follow along for some photos and the journey from start to finish. Learn not to make the mistakes I made, if you are considering similar projects. I included some sources for materials and work below as well if you are searching for such things.
Year in a nutshell
It’s been quite the year. My life certainly changed for the better having moved from Seattle to Savannah and gotten married. Things are simpler, stabler, and happier overall than they have been in the past. I enjoy living in a smaller city. But not too small. I appreciate some of the new culture around me. There are many benefits to living in a less hectic place. The weather is mostly nicer though this week has been very, very cold (relatively speaking!)
Even as my life became simpler, the world has become increasingly volatile. The war in Ukraine. American politics. Unrest seems to abound these days around the world. Even the stock market jumps up and down constantly as I consider potential investments. In the past year I was either too busy to cook a meal (thank you to my husband for his help and customers for the work!) or had no pressing projects at a given moment so I could focus on some personal endeavors for a bit. Projects in our home were extremely chaotic. I’ll tell you more about all that.
A happy medium to all of this would be quite nice. I’m looking forward to taking a break from the house and banks for the most part in 2023.
Somewhere along the way we saved a stray puppy, and in just a few short weeks, he has transformed our lives for the better. We ended the year with a party for family in the area which was quite the highlight. Now that house projects are done hopefully we can more easily have visitors.
If I knew then what I know now…
After pushing like crazy to finish some house projects by the end of the year… I am tired but satisfied. The projects did not turn out perfectly but they turned out good enough.
I wrote about how I couldn’t teach cybersecurity classes because I had to fix a cracking beam in my office. Well, we didn’t quite get the project done due to a myriad of complications, but we have a stop gap in place.
First, we pulled off the ceiling at the contractor’s recommendation so he could see what was up there — and then we found out from the bank that couldn’t get a mortgage we needed to complete the project until we put it back together. I didn’t know that you couldn’t get a mortgage when a house is under construction and a construction loan would cost more money.
On top of that the framing and joists in the ceiling were a disaster. The room has two different ceiling heights. Part has a hip roof and part has a more modern roof. Instead of long joists when you look up you would see what appeared to be a lot of little boxes constructed of wood and joists going in different directions.
This is so strange that once I saw it, on top of the uneven ceilings, mismatched roof, and weird little rooms on the top above it, I decided the best thing to do is tear it all off and redo it. That rotting beam has to go anyway.
Pay now or pay later
We found old newspapers in the walls from 2008 so this room was remodeled or an add-on along with the whole back of the house. The added on part is just a cobbled-together mess. As with cybersecurity architecture, if you don’t think it through and do it properly you’ll end up with costly failures in the future.
Amazingly, the front of the house which is older is very solid and stable. The work in the back of the house was clearly shoddy and cheap.
As I say when architecting cybersecurity and software: Pay now or pay later.
Because the back of the house was not properly architected and constructed, it essentially has to be ripped down and rebuilt.
Waiting on promises cost us thousands of dollars
It all started with a referral from a structural engineer who disappeared off the face of the planet. I should have just done my usual thing and called three companies and gotten quotes at that point, but I stuck with the contractor he recommended since I didn’t know anyone in Savannah. I was told the structural engineer was very good so I figured the contractor must be as well. He seemed to be very thorough when inspecting the house.
Looking back now, I wonder if I had just gone out and gotten someone else sooner if I could have secured a loan at a decent rate and gotten the bigger project done, but it is what it is.
The work in the house started in June. Finally. I had started talking to the contractor a year before in June 2021 and he kept promising to provide a final contract but did not. I thought about getting someone different but he is a really nice guy, and people I consulted such as a new structural engineer I had review my situation told me to just wait for him even though he had not worked with my contractor before.
In the meantime the interest rates kept climbing and climbing.
This chart shows the cost to me for waiting on him. I’ll let you do the math to calculate the interest on a project that costs tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars, due to delays both to start the project and after it started.
I know all these delays are typical but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. We ultimately decided to just not do the larger project right now at all due to the rising interest rates. Due to all the delays by the time we tried to get a loan (now in December) the money would cost us so much more. So we are waiting.
I suppose that is what the federal government wants, but it doesn’t make sense to me. The rate increases hurt people already struggling to buy groceries who use credit cards to help cover the cost of inflation. It’s making it hard for people with any sort of variable rate loan to pay their bills and maybe they got stuck in that scenario for reasons beyond their control or illogical bank lending formulas. It’s not affecting the rich people who pay for everything in cash.
If raising interest rates was supposed to help people struggling with inflation, I don’t really see how it makes their lives any better. The cost of groceries is still going up and so are their variable rate mortgage payments if they have one, and their credit card bills.
But I digress.
Finally, our contractor agreed to start work on an hourly basis. I just took my chances because there were a few things we simply had to take care of regardless of the cost — one being the beam I mentioned already. We also needed to fix a non-functional attic ladder.
Unfortunately the contractor started tearing our house apart before I realized that we wouldn’t be able to get a mortgage for the house when in that state. I was surprised that the contractor didn’t realize taking the ceiling off and ripping out a bathroom would affect the mortgage that I told him we were trying to get before he started anything. I don’t know. I’m not sure what people generally know and don’t know in the construction business, but I certainly learned a lot this year.
Don’t start ripping your house apart pre-loan approval and inspection.
It’s one of those really dumb bank rules because once the work is complete the house will be worth a lot more.
As of now, the room with the failing beam is not even in a finished state. We would have probably been better off leaving the room as it was and putting in two jacks as recommended by our structural engineer. Hopefully the room is in a good enough state to get a loan in the future, but because everything took too long, that’s all on hold now.
Future vision crystalizes
We essentially had to pay thousands of dollars to take the ceiling off and put it back on again for no reason. Taking the ceiling off and seeing the mess probably wouldn’t change what I would have wanted to do in the end. It just took me a while to envision a solution. Ultimately we would have likely ripped off the top back of the house and rebuilt it — correctly.
While this was going on and talking through the project with three architects who never got me a quote, the vision of what I want to do with the back of the house finally came into view. Hopefully someday we’ll actually be able to do it. I finally got an architect that specializes in historic homes to give me a quote and a timeframe to start the architectural design sometime next year. Who knows when we can do the actual work.
Preventing a potential disaster
We propped up the failing, rotting beam so at least the ceiling won’t fall on me while teaching a class, and I hired a roofing company to stop the leaks in the ceiling (after giving up on the one the contractor kept sayin he would bring out). The fix for the roof was really simple and the roofers assure me they have stopped the leaking and worsening damage. They basically sealed some roofing that was coming up and letting water through.
I had a structural engineer provide a report to explain what we needed to do to prop up the beam until we do the larger project. The contractor was supposed to follow what was in that report so hopefully we are good for a while.
And that’s one of the things that mattered most at the moment— stabilizing the whole disaster so we can make better long term plans.
Keeping things standing and stable so you don’t have a ceiling crash in on you in the short term is better than worrying about what you can’t instantly complete. I talk about the book Atomic Habits in my classes and in my own book when it comes to cybersecurity. Small, incremental improvements add up. We’ll be fine for a while while we ride out this crazy, volatile economy for a while.
Now I can teach cybersecurity classes again, at least. And I do teach them virtually. That’s pretty much all I’m doing these days in regards to teaching. I just taught an Azure Security class.
Scope creep strikes a bathroom
In software projects, scope creep is when a project grows and grows due to more and more requirements that weren’t in the original specifications.
The other reason we couldn’t get the mortgage on our home was due to a non-working bathroom. Apparently all the bathrooms have to work in your house. How did I get to a state with a non-working bathroom anyway?
I had asked the contractor to replace some moldy wainscoting just to get a cosmetic fix in place before some friends came to visit. After his carpenter got through it didn’t seem feasible just to replace the messy material.
I initially wanted them to use some material from another part of the house that we were going to remove anyway. They claimed they could not do that — after initially saying they could and only telling me they could not after ripping off the existing material and tearing out the wall behind it.
Looking back on these photos and knowing what I know now, I’m sure it could have been done. I could have possibly done it myself I just didn’t have time. I would not have taken out all those hunks of material below because this was a short term fix that needed to get one in less than three weeks.
Instead of just carefully extracting the moldy portion of the wainscoting, the carpenter ripped up the entire wall behind it. There was a huge hole in the wall behind the wainscoting exposing the space under the stairs. It would not be simple to just put he material back. The wall basically no longer existed. I am also not sure if he saved the trim or not.
I wanted to replace all that material with tile later so I didn’t want to pay for new wainscoting or trim. I’d essentially have to pay double to fix the wall. It looked like I had to make a choice. Pay double or do the tile now.
This was all additional unexpected work and material expense to restore the wall. The wall would not be done in time, either, even if I opted for their solution. But as it turns out, one of my friends got covid and their trip was postponed. At least now the bathroom will be complete when they do end up coming out.
Considering that it would have been a waste of money to fix that whole wall and do it over again later, I asked my contractor if he could keep the project under a certain budget before starting. He said probably.
Yes I should get that all in writing blah blah blah. But at this point I really had no choice but to fix the bathroom. I trusted this contractor enough to be reasonable and in the end I think he was reasonable, even though I was not completely happy with the project. He’s a really nice guy and probably trying to do his best, unlike the contractor in Seattle that completely took advantage of me when he knew I had to get done and sell my house quickly.
At this point I didn’t know ripping out the bathroom was going to prevent me from getting a loan. That problem became apparent later. I never should have started any of this work, looking back on it.
I still contend that the rules for getting a mortgage are kind of nonsensical, as is the increased cost of a construction loan. I suppose the risk for the lender is that the project does not get completed and they are not in the construction business, but the value of the house should be the same even with the construction going on, if they had to sell it. The value will only go up when the work is complete.
When I learned that I could not get a loan with the non-working bathroom and torn up ceiling, I asked the contractor if he thought he could finish the in three weeks so I could lock in a loan rate. He said he thought he could. (Yeah, right). After seeing how things went for about a week and a half I nixed that idea. Would have been money down the drain.
Estimates way off and extraneous costs
No surprise here for anyone who’s done a project at their home, but the contractor was over the budget we discussed — without even finishing the project.
On top of that, I paid for all the materials that should have been part of that budget except some of the plumbing parts. I also paid the plumbers directly and hired my own electrician for the final round of electrical work. I stopped his drywall crew and carpenter and did a lot of the finish work myself after I was not entirely satisfied with what I was seeing and getting frustrated with scheduling issues.
So he was way, way over the budget probably to the tune of 30–50% if you add all that in.
The cost for work in the office was thousands of dollars we should never have spent at all. We never should have removed the ceiling but simply propped up the beam as recommended by the structural engineer with a couple of jacks I priced out at Home Depot for $250 each until we could get the loan and do the whole project. Live and learn.
The contractor got a bin for construction demolition material. But because his crew was so delayed other people used it in the neighborhood before I could put all the material I wanted to put in it. We paid to haul away our neighbor’s trash and I couldn’t complete some work I wanted to do in another room where I was planning to take out some material.
It took months to even get an initial bill. My contractor is not really fond of paperwork (understatement). When I saw it, the amount exceeded what we discussed for the bathroom and the project was no where near completion. He wanted me to pay the entire bill even though we still had plumbing parts to return and the final cost was unclear as was the ultimate quality of the trim and drywall and a completion date.
I said I would pay part of the bill, but he said never mind. It was at this point I decided to shortcut everything to get to a sort of finished state. It was too unclear when the work would be completed and how much it would cost or if it would get done to the level of quality I was expecting. I was tired of not being able to focus on work and having people in my house. Everything was a bit too free form for me — as I like to keep costs under control and know what I’m getting for my money.
I halted any more work that would increase money paid to the contractor at that point. I was happy with the tile work but not pleased with the trim and drywall. I switched to my own electrician just so I could get the work done, scheduled the roofer and the HVAC guy I had been waiting for my contractor to schedule, and started coordinating the other people scheduling myself. (See my section on scheduling below).
When the project was close he asked for full payment but his crew did not show up when they were supposed to once again. I paid over 90% of the total at that point and said I would pay the rest when the project is complete. He agreed.
When I started writing this post I was waiting for the final piece — the threshold to the bathroom that wasn’t to the specifications I provided. Apparently the specs I gave the contractor didn’t get passed along initially but it got fixed. As of December 27th, it is done! Finally.
Good thing I didn’t pay for the lock on the interest rates which would cost hundreds of dollars and last maybe 45 or 60 days. Because that project started in June sort of just finished on December 23rd. Somewhere mid-project I had decided not to proceed with the loan.
Time matters. Time really was money in this case.
What causes delays on projects?
For anyone who is going to be working on a project in your home, here are some of the delays we faced on this project:
- Not properly inspecting the floor joists before trying to move and install a toilet. The plumbers showed up and could not do their work until someone came out to move the joist which sat right where the toilet needed to be installed.
- When I purchased a sink I asked the contractor to make sure it would fit. He said it would. It didn’t. It would have blocked the door. I had to quickly try to find and order a different sink. When I got the new sink I had to also get a different faucet. I am hoping that hiring an architect will avoid such problems in the future.
- I got covid for three weeks because the carpenter showed up too soon after he had covid.
- Our tile person got sick (not covid) and was in the hospital for over a week. He got sick again later.
- The plumbers put in the sink pipes wrong. They would have stuck out from behind the pedestal sink instead of being behind it. They had to come back and move the pipes in the wall which means they had to remove some of the tile.
- After the plumbers left, I sent them a photo showing them that the p-trap cover still did not cover the plastic. They failed to fix that as well, or so I thought. Initially the plumbers told me it was standard and to get a bigger p-trap cover.
- I asked my contractor to get the new cover since I was now a bit homebound with the dog. After not getting any information on the state of the project I was worried that the plumbers, already scheduled, would show up again and the part would not be right. I had to ask him to show me a picture of it. After reiterating I wanted one just like the one I have but bigger multiple times — it was not even close. In my opinion, it was kind of ugly. I know. It’s a p-trap cover. I’m picky. But it wasn’t right.
- I decided we could put some tile around the plastic to resolve the problem and use the existing p-trap cover because the plumbers were refusing to fix it. The tile person said it might work and he came out to take a look. Mind you, I had tried to get the tile person, plumber, and contractor all there together at the same time previously to avoid all of this. The plumbers declined and said it would be fine.
- Then the tile person came back out to redo the tile and told me that p-trap pipe just wasn’t right and they should fix it.
- Finally the plumbing company sent someone else out. I showed him the plastic. He started to tell me it was standard. I didn’t say anything. I walked over and pulled out the p-trap cover and stuck it on the plastic pipe and it didn’t fit. He said, “Oh, you have one of those.” He fixed it in like 15 minutes.
- Then finally the tile guys could come back and finish the tile but did not finish the threshold that same day.
- When I brought the electrician out, I didn’t buy a GFCI outlet. I had to reorder that and have him come back, but he had to come back for other things also so it din’t affect much.
- In the middle of all this, I was taking a vacation and teaching a class, two things I scheduled after I expected all of this work to be complete. Now I was doing some serious schedule juggling. I couldn’t have people working in the house on the day I have classes so that disrupted the very end of the project.
- When the tile guys came back to finish the threshold it was not done according to the specifications I gave the contractor (with photos). The person on-site could not resolve the problem. The other person said he could fix it.
- When the plumbers came out to finally install the sink again the plumber on sight told me the faucet leaked and was faulty. We had to return and replace it.
- After the plumbers left, a puddle appeared in the bathroom. They came back and said it was just water draining after installing the faucet.
- The tile person came back to fix the threshold he didn’t have time or the proper materials to complete it, but that’s because by this time (weeks later) he had to look at it again to figure out how to fix it according to or at least close to specifications. At the same time he thankfully helped me hang the mirror, photo, an towel rack because I was nervous to drill into the tiles. Turns out you should drill into the grout if at all possible. Of course!
- When the plumbers returned to install the new replacement faucet, the contractor had given us the wrong one so they couldn’t complete the work (after I asked them multiple times to verify they had the right part between the two of them before coming out).
- The next day the correct faucet miraculously arrived. The contractor blamed the plumbing supply company but I wondered why he didn’t take the time to verify it was the correct faucet in the first place.
- A different plumber from the plumbing company showed up. He installed the faucet in a short amount of time and left.
- Later in the day, there was a puddle on the floor again. I texted him. He came back. As it turns out, one of the prior plumbers had installed the p-trap upside down apparently. The plumber fixed it and ran the water for five minutes and also fixed some other leak.
FINALLY. No leaks. Working plumbing. Finished tile. Almost done.
But about that trim and drywall. The nightmare continues.
- In the middle of this, I was stripping and sanding the trim and I got a sliver in my finger. Yes, a sliver. It went straight in and I could not get it out. I felt stupid but I called the doctor’s office. I rarely go to the doctor. I was only concerned as I was dealing with potential lead paint. They told me to come in. The doctor kept failing to show up before I had another cybersecurity consulting call so I had to leave and come back three times. Finally she worked at getting that out and I got a tetanus shot. Joy. I lost an entire day and I really needed that day to get the work done prior to a party. I was on a serious deadline.
- The paint stripper…what a mess. It kind of worked by required multiple coats. While I was going back and forth to the doctor it dried out and I had to reapply. In the end when I think I got down to the last bit of oil paint it didn’t work at all. Maybe it wasn’t supposed to. I had to try to sand it off. I only did part of the trim. I didn’t have time to fix the drywall properly. I was soooo tired and my feet were killing me. I kept taking breaks and getting back up to finish.
- I simply didn’t have time to finish everything before our event so I had to coerce my husband to help me with a few things. He is NOT a handyman and doesn’t like it but he is actually not too bad at it. He was annoyed with me and I had to spend time convincing him to help me with a few little pieces — but I couldn’t tell him why I needed to finish — it was a surprise party — for him!! So I got some help but it was not easy and took time to get it. He couldn’t understand why I was in such a rush. As it turns out, he put up the last piece in the bathroom — a grate over the fan, and we had barely showered and changed when the first guest arrived. The house was not perfectly clean, but luckily it was all family!
- And today, December 27, the tile guy just left after fixing the threshold the way I wanted.
And we are done. ish.
Recognizing value and appreciating the past
The contractor said he couldn’t fix the paint on the old trim, but I knew that it could be fixed. He just didn’t want to do it. He would rather replace the historic wood trim with new wood trim he marks up 20%.
Historic wood trim is irreplaceable. You can’t find trim like that in Home Depot. It’s not going to be the same old-growth wood or have the historic look even if made custom, though you might be able to get close if you pay a lot of money. The trim in my house has intricate rows and rows of carved wood.
Also, please do not rip out historic windows. They are not as problematic as contractors who just don’t know how to fix them would have you believe. If you leave them in the old-growth wood may actually make your house more valuable!
Historic windows have rope or chain pulleys and are inset in a way that modern windows are not. As the glass ages it becomes “wavy” — a feature you can’t buy. They are not as energy inefficient as some claim. On top of that misconception, they can be more energy efficient with window insulation, proper seals, and coverings if needed.
Modern vinyl windows are unattractive in my opinion. I like the historic windows. We found a company who can restore the historic windows, doors, and two huge pocket doors in our house — someday. They are very busy. They thought they could come in December but haven’t been out yet.
I was also able to find an antique looking or at least vintage chandelier on eBay, reminiscent of art deco. I don’t know if it is antique or exactly how old it is, but it looks cool and fit the style of the bathroom. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to fix it up but I thought I would try. I also had no idea what I was in for, to be honest. I explain how I fixed this up and you can see the finished product below.
Along the way to restoring all the things I discovered a few different places where I could get used materials, such as a historic window to replace a new-fangled one someone stuck in a bathroom.
You can get all kinds of used building materials at ReStore. I used to go here in Seattle and there’s one in Savannah too. It’s not the best for historic salvage though.
Picker Joes has some antique and vintage windows and doors.
One of the best places is called Re:Purpose Savannah. This company dismantles historic houses and buildings all over the United States and brings the material back to their yard in Savannah where you can purchase it. When I was there they had recently taken down a house in Charleston and were completing a project in Texas. If you are taking down a historic building, do not throw that material away! Contact this organization for more information.
Don’t throw away things that are old and broken if they can be reasonably restored. Understand the value that you are removing and losing.
Taking matters into your own hands
The drywall people left and didn’t come back for ages, nor did the carpenter. The contractor seemed to indicate the carpenter wasn’t going to sand and fix the trim but he could fill the gaps. I asked the contractor multiple times to bring them back but he said he didn’t want to do that until other things were complete.
Also, when I talked to my contractor about restoring windows he seemed unsure about the possibility of doing that, though I had already talked to an introduced him to a very qualified company experienced in that area. Even his own carpenter said it could be done.
I started to think this project wasn’t the right fit for his particular approach and his approach wouldn’t get me the result I wanted. I ended up completing the drywall and trim myself — kind of. I plan to revisit it more later.
To remove some of the alligator paint as they call it — layers and layers of old paint that become chipped and painted over as time goes on — on the trim I used paint stripper by Blue Bear with Safenol on the trim and then sanded it down to get off. It probably took me extra passes compared to other products, but this one is odorless and supposedly non-toxic. I still wore gloves, goggles, and a mask.
Trying to fix the trim was a huge, messy project. I think the Safenol, though messy, worked on the years of latex paint if left over night and done in a series of passes. I also covered it in wax paper after coating. But for the final layer of paint, it just wouldn’t budge. I don’t know if that’s because it was old, or oil. I ended up sanding at the very end. I could tell some of the wood was newer and only painted with newer layers of paint. The intricate and older trim had the stubborn paint.
By the way I did all the trim around the bathroom door and on that same wall in about three or four days. I started but did not finish the adjoining wall. During that same timeframe I sanded down all the putty, fixed a few spots, finished a missing part of a corner bead, rejiggered some missing trim, and painted the bathroom ceiling, walls, and the big hallway wall.
I did not finish stripping the trim shown in the picture below as again, it was just too much. Also, we plan to fix the floors after all the other work is done. I think there may be wood floors under the vinyl in the kitchen.
Three to four days, not counting the sliver day I mentioned above.
This after the contractor had been trying to get this work completed since June. To be fair I worked overtime because I had a party coming up, and it is not completely the way I would have done it if I had more time. I had to sort of halfway fix some of it because we had an event on our house but it was done-ish compared to what it was.
Even if I didn’t do the greatest job it was better to finally have the half-painted trim with gaps and putty all over the walls no longer showing. I sanded down the putty just enough to paint. The dry wall folks left unsightly bubbles in the bathroom ceiling and the walls had bulges and the dry wall tape was warped in some areas. I fixed it kind of enough and left some as is because it was just too much. I still need to use wood filler on the trim and paint another coat.
The chandelier project
The other thing I did was restore a historic chandelier I bought off eBay. I don’t know exactly how old it is but it seems like it could be from the 1930’s based on my research. It had some damage and I spent a lot of time watching youtube videos to figure out how to get paint off of it and fix it up. You can remove the paint simply by boiling the piece in water. No need for chemicals, soap, or vinegar. Just don’t use the pot you boil the metal in again for cooking!
I used a lot of Brasso to get the green off and ended up putting clear paint over the part that is brass to keep it green-free. I painted the damaged part with black paint. I could have possibly re-plated the brass over the copper fixture parts where it was damaged. Re-plating may not have been the right color, would have cost more, and taken longer. The piece is meant to look used and historic and fit the space, not to be perfect — and I think it does.
Historic bathrooms didn’t have plastic! The plumbers left plastic parts showing and my p-trap trim cover wouldn’t fit over it. I already explained how I had to negotiate to get that fixed. Sometimes I feel like I’m being picky but it makes a huge difference.
Details matter, to me, anyway. And some other well-known people as well.
Also: exact means exact.
More than once I tell a contractor I want this exact thing and they don’t give me the exact thing. They give me something kind of like it. That really frustrates me at times.
I think details mattered to Steve Jobs also. For all his temperament flaws, some of which seem inexcusable, he was picky for a reason and that pickiness showed through in the quality and design of his products in the end.
In addition to the p-trap cover, there were plastic pipes sticking out of the wall and the pipes were not installed behind the pedestal sink. They would have been sticking out on the sides. I convinced the plumbers to redo that too — and they put in beautiful copper pipes. It all looks very cool now.
There are a lot of shell shapes in the art deco period and I was able to find an antique looking cast iron towel hanger with a shell on it on Amazon that looks pretty cool. I got some black metal electrical covers. I also put a white Minuteman grate over the WhisperGreen bathroom fan instead of the plastic cover that came with it. I found an antique gold mirror that was not too bright, had some ornate features, but was not too busy. It’s very good quality and love it.
I got lucky and found a historic cabinet in a local antique shop called Picker Joe’s after a few weeks of initially searching unsuccessfully. It’s kind of banged up — and perfect. We’re not going for everything to be new and shiny. It’s supposed to look historic.
I ended up having to buy parts for the chandelier including a ground wire, vintage black twisted pair wire, and a canopy kit. I got some supplies from a helpful local lighting store called Pace Lighting. The white tile, flooring, and chair rail came from a local tile store named Garden State Tile. I got the marble border around the floor from Floor and Decor. The small nero black marble tiles in the border came from Amazon.
The plumbing parts came from Ferguson and Magnus Home Products, though you can buy some things like the Moen matte black bathroom faucet on Amazon as well. The benefit of ordering things from Ferguson was that they helped ensure I had the right parts. They didn’t have the sink I needed because it had to be pretty small. It seems like that pedastal sink is on Amazon now too, but Magnus Home Products got me the sink quickly and corrected the order promptly when a piece was missing.
Finally, I searched and searched for a not-too-expensive print of something from the 1920’s art deco period. I found a Life Magazine cover and a frame that that has black and a touch of gold in it to match the black and gold art deco-ish style of the bathroom. The print has a butterfly which my husband and I love and a flapper girl in the middle. The cover is from 1922 and our house was built in 1921. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I purchased those two things. I think possibly I got the print from Zazzle (?) or similar and the from was from a site specializing in frames.
Working with available resources ~ the pavers and grill gazebo
My nephew informed me that he wanted to start a contracting business in the middle of all this. Really…? Since our larger project seemed to be not possible for the moment I offered him some work to help him get started.
He came out to help us with some projects through his business — Redmud Reno, LLC. He’s based in Seattle but I had some airline miles to fly him out to Savannah to help us out. He learned much of what he knows from his dad who is a carpenter and his grandpa who is the most particular person on the face of the planet and built his own house, church, and barn, among other things.
After considering all the things we needed help with, he ended up helping us install brick pavers around our lawn and built a grill gazebo on top of them. He did an AMAZING job.
It was also great to be hang out with family. We took him to an oyster festival where he had his first taste of the raw variety and it was quite fun. He also happens to be good at videos and created these two masterpieces to show what he did, with some help from us (sound on). The first one gives you an idea of all the steps to properly install pavers (or bricks in our case).
The art of scheduling
When my nephew told me he wanted to start a contracting business the first thing I told him was to figure out scheduling.
Of course, you want to be able to do high quality work. When I realized the dry wall folks weren’t doing a great job I stopped them from working further on the project. They also sent out four people to do what one person did for me in the same amount of time in Seattle.
But if you can’t schedule things properly, customers are not going to be happy. Additionally, you need to be able to fit pieces of the project in at the appropriate time so you can get done as quickly as possible.
For example, if you don’t bother to schedule the plumbers until all the work required before them is complete, then you’ll be waiting two weeks because the plumbers will not instantly be available by the time you call them. Projects will take way longer than they should and affect your ability to get paid in a timely manner.
Scheduling matters, not just the work itself.
This is also why I have dates and a schedule in the statements of work (SOWs) that come with my cybersecurity consulting contracts. I block out my time based on my contracts so I can give customers realistic expectations as to when I can complete work for them. In addition, I provide customers the dates on which I am unavailable so they can plan accordingly. I also have to figure out when people who are helping me are available if I am trying to meet a deadline that requires additional help. And of course, there is a provision for rescheduling at a mutually agreed upon date and time.
Aligning resources to fill gaps of time
Our contractor’s reasoning for the delay in completing the trim and drywall was that he didn’t want to do the drywall until the other work was done. But here’s the thing. He could have had someone strip and sand down the trim and fill holes and gaps in the wood while waiting on other people to become available.
He could have had the dry wall folks put on the corner bead and start the layers of mud while waiting on plumbing parts and a tile person that got sick and was in the hospital for a week or two.
At one point my contractor promised me the drywall crew would complete a particular piece of work that same day. They left at noon and when they didn’t come back by 2 p.m. I asked him about it. A while later, they sent back one person instead of the 3–4 people (which I thought was overkill in the first place).
The person that came back rushed to slap on mud way too thick in the hallway instead of doing it right (thin layers at a time) and didn’t finish work on a corner at all that would have been done if they had stayed. We were stuck with that ugly corner for weeks and weeks after that.
Why did they leave in the first place? Clearly my contractor was not aware what his crew was doing or somehow it was not accurately communicated to them that they needed to finish the work that same day or they would not have left.
There are ways to schedule things so you can get done in a timely manner and I just don’t understand why most contractors are not good at this one single aspect of their work that drives their cash flow. The longer you delay the completion of a project the longer it takes to get your final payment!
I have had this same problem with multiple contractors in Seattle. Some of did very good work (some did not) but they just were not good at scheduling. Some were. They had dedicated staff to handle calls and track who was where to get things done in a timely manner.
I am going to be asking the next contractor I work with a lot about how they schedule work on projects. I hired my own plumbers for this project and they were really good at scheduling so I know it can be done. I also worked with an electrician who could give me a date and time and show up when promised. And I finally found an architect who sent me a proposal and could tell me his next availability is in March. I don’t care if it is months away. I just want an estimate start date, time frame, and a contract so I can plan for the associated cost.
Schedule the project when you know you can complete it end to end right away instead of juggling 5 projects at once. That’s what I do anyway. I block off my calendar for each project and consider the resources I have to help me get it done in a timely manner.
Provide an estimated end date that is at least close — closer than 5 months off, right? I mean, I can understand a few weeks, and people getting sick is hard to work around, but other things could have been completed in the meantime.
When a resource for a project is not available — such as our loan in our case when I switched to working on the back yard, or a tile person who gets sick — shift gears and get something else done that keeps your project moving forward.
Life is for living!
It’s time to get back to living. We just want to enjoy our house for a while!
My husband keeps saying he just wants to live. We want to enjoy life. This construction project taking way longer than it should have was disrupting our ability to have people over to some extent as it was an embarrassing mess. It was also a stressful distraction.
I thought I hired a general contractor so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the details of the project. That was not the case. It consumed me and my time, in addition to taking way longer than it seems like it should have.
I had to negotiate with the all the people working on the project to come on certain dates that worked with my schedule and as soon as they could to get things done. I had to meet and deal with them and try to get them to fix things that weren’t done to spec.
All of this time and complication is distracting and I really just wanted to get back to working on cybersecurity. I also wanted to get the house fixed to a point where we could get back to living.
Finally, that is what we will do. The bathroom is beautiful, not perfect. Not everything is completely done. And I don’t care. We had family and friends here on Christmas Eve and more coming next week and that’s what matters.
Time for some grillin’
While we wait out all the craziness in the world, we can enjoy things that cost less, invest for the future, and save money.
We had to put the larger project on hold because the interest rates are just going to cost us an egregious amount of money. Instead of paying insane amounts for interest, we invested some money in the tanking stock market and *so far* I am up plus dividends on top of that, though it varies from day to day — a lot. I keep watching the state of all the the things and hope that pays off. I know it will …eventually. But it could also go down in the short term in 2023. We’ll see.
As I mentioned, we also put in the grill gazebo, because my husband and I like to eat at home and cook for ourselves. And he loves to grill. I took down the top of a railing on our back deck so I can see the birds when I am working. I love to watch the birds. We have multiple bird feeders and a little bird bath for our feathered friends.
I built some raised cedar planters on the back side of the deck from a kit. Now we can grow our own herbs and vegetables. We’ve planted a lot of citrus trees that I couldn’t grow in Seattle, though we’ll have to see how it all fares in this bout of freezing weather we’ve had that we are not at all used to in the South. (I say this as if I know about such things, even though I only moved here from Seattle a couple of years ago.)
We couldn’t complete the big project the way we wanted, but we fixed things up good enough and my husband has a lovely new grill gazebo to protect our grill from the torrential Georgia rain. I think that my grill cost $350 on sale at the end of a summer when I bought it and to replace it is something like $500 now. Preservation of the grill matters!
Cooking for ourselves and growing some of our own fruits and vegetables may help as inflation continues to rise even though at a slower pace. I try to find ways to save money however we can. And we can enjoy the work we did in the back yard as now it’s an even more lovely place to hang out if we aren’t going on as many vacations due to the cost of all the things and saving up for future home renovations.
Time— our most valuable commodity
Most importantly, now we can enjoy our beautiful new back yard with family and friends and we have a house with an office ceiling that isn’t going to come crashing down so I can focus on work. I look forward to spending some time on finishing some of the things I started on this blog with a lot less distractions. I love working on cybersecurity research, writing, classes, and penetration testing. It’s not just work — I actually enjoy it as a pastime.
We got a new adorable dog that my husband rescued and we’re just going to chill out for a while. No more house projects for the moment! We’ll probably do some hiking and biking and listen to some tunes down by the Savannah River.
We’re going to value and enjoy life’s most precious commodity — time.
Our time together and time with the people (and dog!) we love.
Here are a few pics from our big and little trips over the year.
Hoping for a Happy and Peaceful 2023
I hope you had a lovely holiday season. I know some people around the world struggled with that for various reasons. Hopefully 2023 will be less volatile and more full of peace, love, and joy around the world than 2022 and the years proceeding it.
I hope that the people of Ukraine and other parts of the world struggling with similar circumstances will once again be able to rebuild and recover. But I realize as I am restoring our old house that some irreplaceable things have been lost. Even so, those material things are not what really matters.
What really matters is that we can restore faith in humanity and enjoy our time — together — with people who love us and make us feel wonderful. I hope everyone around the world will be able to do that.
I got married this year. In my case, it took me over 50 years to find the right person, so if you aren’t with that special someone, keep hanging in there. Surround yourself with people who care about you, not those who take you for granted or make you feel bad about who you are. It’s not worth the struggle ~ life is too short. Move on.
And whether alone or with someone else, I hope you get a chance to sit and watch the birds, or take a walk down a new beautiful peaceful path in 2023.
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