Archive for March, 2010



March 24, 2010

A couple of months ago my friend Kaysie re-did her bathroom, and part of that gut renovation was a new, fancy, sleek toilet.  Getting that toilet, all of it, in all of its varied new, fancy and sleek pieces, turned out to be an ordeal of such proportions that we took to calling the entire project Toiletgate.

I’ve been hinting at great drama with the toilet seat on this renovation, and the best way to sum it up is simply to share the voicemail message that I left for Kaysie about 3 weeks ago.

“TOILETGATE LIVES ON.  Call me back.”

From the very beginning of this project I was intent to save as much as I possibly could.  Refinishing, not replacing.  In the end I can sadly say that not much was able to be refinished.  Most of this job was a gut quite unlike anything that I had anticipated, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  One of the first things Chris and I discussed was what could be saved in the bathroom.   We both agreed that the tub was a huge save, but he said immediately that I should replace the toilet, and I said immediately that we could keep it.  Quick recap on toilet – original, still working, suits the age of the building and a great place to save a few hundred dollars.

Chris nodded his head that day and said ok, but it was clear over the next few weeks that this bothered him – every few days he would casually drop in a mention of the toilet, “so we should replace the toilet, yes?” “No.” “I think maybe the toilet should go, it’s old.” “No.” “It’s leaking.” “No.” And then I’d be all patting myself on the back for my adherence to the vintage vision, and lack of a contribution to our nation’s landfills.  Good job me.

not nice

I was pretty much the only one who had this vision, however.  Everyone else thought I was nuts, including the upstairs neighbor Yusef who came in for a visit to see what was by then an 80% completed bathroom.  I asked him to vote on the toilet debate.  Note, at this point the toilet was sitting in the middle of the living room covered in filth, where it had been deposited when the bathroom was gutted.  Yusef took one look, raised an eyebrow and said, “oh girlfriend, get rid of it.”  He had a point.  Dirty…already ripped out…sitting on a trash bag in the middle of the living room because even now that it had been disconnected from the plumbing, it still dripped water.  At that point my resolution wavered and I told Chris to throw it out.

“It’s too late.”


“I’ve already closed the wall and tiled around the pipe.  If you want a new one I need to open the wall back up, re-do the pipes for a modern toilet, and re-tile.”


“What do you want to do?”

“I want to say fuck.”


At this point I had no choice.  Chris and I took a good look at it and decided that some bleach, elbow grease and a brand new pipe set might yet save this toilet, and I crossed my fingers we could get to the source of the leak.  Two weeks later, all those things came to pass and we had a beautiful toilet.  I returned to patting myself on the back.



I went back to Home Depot, my new home away from home, a veritable Cheers of home improvement, and I bought a toilet seat.  There are two standard kinds of toilet seats – one for round bowls, and one for elongated bowls.  This bowl is most definitely round, and all round toilet seats are 16.5 inches long from middle of the screw to the front of the bowl.  I’ve learned this.  I brought the toilet seat over to the apartment.  It didn’t fit.  Not even close.  Too small.  Huh.  This must be an elongated bowl.  I took the toilet seat back.  Elongated bowls are 18.5 inches long.  I bought one.  I brought it over to the apartment.  It didn’t fit.  Not even close.  Too big.  I have the Goldilocks of toilet bowls. I got out the tape measure. 17 inches.

I went to 3 more hardware stores.  Nobody in Chicago carries anything but the standard sizes.  Let the google searches begin.  I spent HOURS googling toilet seats.  Paula sat right next to me one night and googled with me.  It was insane.

“vintage toilet seats”

“american standard toilet seats old”

“non-standard toilet seat sizes”

“toilet bowl too big”

“toilet seats for antique toilets”

I just couldn’t figure it out – this is not an unusual toilet.  There are a million old apartments in Chicago with this same toilet, and I’m pretty sure they all have toilet seats.  I even called up Katie Mac and left her a message begging her to see if her toilet seat had a brand name on it.  Still, no luck.  What the hell?  Also, no one else seemed to be searching for this issue, because no one else in the entire history of the internet has even posted so much as a hint of this problem.  For days I was consumed by this issue – I could be making supper, but part of me was thinking about the Toilet Seat Issue.  I could be in the pool – half of my brain would be swimming and the other half was most decidedly working on the toilet seat.  Making the bed?  Toilet seat!   Reading?  Toilet seat!   Driving?  Toilet seat!  You get the picture.

I called my sister a few weeks ago, several days into the Toilet Seat Issue.  I explained the problem.  “I just keep looking at toilet seats and none of them fit.”

“Well, why is this an issue?”

“Because they don’t fit!”

“So why don’t you just measure the toilet and buy one that does?”




“um, ok, crazy, call me later.”

Then, finally……dawn.  A lightbulb.  I don’t have a residential toilet.  I have a COMMERCIAL toilet.  Where have I seen these toilets?  In rest stops and restaurants and gyms and stores.  This toilet may not have been commercial in 1935, but it sure as hell is commercial now, and it’s still being sold.  I googled “commercial toilet seats” – boom! 17 inches!  17 INCHES PEOPLE. And they’re available HERE! and HERE! and HERE!  A word to Chicago hardware stores – buy some of these.  We all don’t have modern toilets.

Look what arrived today:

I called Paula and told her that if this toilet seat doesn't fit I'm going to kill myself.

Love the font.

This box is fantastic.  I particularly like “toilet seat – toilet seat – toilet seat.”  Katie Mac once told me that she likes to put lots of exclamation marks in her emails and that pretty much what she does is hold her finger down on the key until she feels her point has been made emphatically enough.  LIKE THIS:

Toilet Seat - Toilet Seat - Toilet Seat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


hey mr. postman

March 23, 2010

I’m stalking the mail woman.  Literally, kind of.  (An aside – can one “kind of literally” do something?  Is that a rape of the english language, like  “most unique”?  Find out.  Get back to me.  Thanks.)

So anyway, I’m stalking the mail woman postal carrier.  I had to leave her a note earlier today, and I realized that I don’t really know the correct lingo for postal carriers of the female persuasion.  Are they called mailwomen? female mail carriers? postal ladies? mailmen who happen to be women?  The note finally just began “Mail Carrier!”  That will get her attention.

Here’s the deal – you buy a foreclosure, you don’t necessarily get the key to the mailbox.  In fact, you probably almost definitely don’t and unless you’ve bought into a high-rise with a dedicated mail room (which I most certainly did not) then you’re stuck.  At first I thought I’d have to call a locksmith, but last week I saw the mailwoman-postal-carrier-of-the-female-persuasion come down the front pathway and into the lobby and I ran down to meet her.

I explained my problem and she assured me that I don’t need a locksmith.  In fact it’s really simple – “you just pop this lock out and buy a new one.” Believe it or not, correct! I went to Clark and Devon Hardware and bought a new lock set and it cost me all of $8.

no locksmith required

HOWEVER….you pop out the lock from INSIDE the box, and I can’t GET inside the box without a KEY.  This is where the mailwoman-postal-carrier-of-the-female-persuasion comes in.   Now I’m sitting inside this empty apartment, my laptop and real job work on hand, with an eagle eye trained on the front walkway, screwdriver and lockset at the ready.  I’ve also left a kind of beseeching note on the downstairs mailbox begging her to call me should I avert my gaze for a moment and miss her.

I still haven’t told y’all about the toilet seat (sweet jesus mary mother of god the *&%$^!# toilet seat), but other than the toilet seat, getting the mailbox lock re-keyed is practically the very last job left for me to do on this project.  Sweet hallelujah.


the home stretch

March 19, 2010

This project went so quickly to begin with, didn’t it? Ohhhh the home stretch is slow.  I’ve learned a ton on this rehab, but here’s my biggest lesson – order your kitchen cabinets and counter top early – early, early, early – like on Day ONE.  Because they will take 6 or so weeks to arrive and if you have contractors who work super fast, they will finish the majority of the work before the cabinets and counter top arrive, and then they will be twiddling their thumbs.  And – here is the lesson, pay attention – contractors who are twiddling their thumbs go on to other projects. I.e. projects that are not your project.

As well they should.  They have to make their money, of course they do.  But when you lose your great contractors it’s sort of hard to get them back.

Here’s where we currently stand – all kitchen cabinets are IN, hooray.  Stove, microwave, refrigerator – installed.  But counter tops – well crap on a cracker they take 2 weeks and we are currently at the mercy of the stone company.  Quartz is going in.  I rejected granite from an environmental purpose. I think granite is beautiful and have used it several times in the past, including in my own home, but my ecologically minded friend Carla sent me an email early on in this process that said, essentially, “excited about the rehab! I forbid you to use granite!” and after reading a lot about quartz I decided to go that route instead.  There are more environmentally friendly options, but overall it’s a good choice.  Additionally, it’s incredibly durable and can take pretty much whatever a future tenant or owner might throw at it.  Also, totally beautiful.  So there’s that.  In future projects I want to use wood and concrete.  (Future projects….I have big dreams.  Nothing before next year, but big dreams ’cause this whole rehab thing really floats my boat.)

So anyway, this post is basically an update to say nothing new.  Waiting on the counter top man.   In the meantime contractor has promised me that the following will get done this week:

  • Floors finished
  • Bathroom floor sealed
  • Unused boxes of tiles removed
  • Windows cleaned and mini-blinds hung
  • Missing baseboards in kitchen installed
  • Missing light switch cover installed
  • Under cabinet lighting installed
  • Back door lock reinforced
  • Closet rods hung
  • Lobby mailbox slot re-keyed (to be done by me, I am learning a lot about mailbox locks)
  • Two shelves in pantry installed
  • Kitchen cabinet knobs put on
  • Kitchen sink and dishwasher to be hooked up after counter top has gone in

There are a few other things but I’ve run out of steam.  Out. Of. Steam.

Counter top man, hurry UP.


Sneak Peek

March 12, 2010

I spent late yesterday afternoon sitting in a corner of the apartment’s living room, where I came to work while I waited for the arrival of the appliances.   I tried to find the least dusty corner of this place, but that’s a little like trying to find the least sandy place on the beach, or the least hot corner of hell, as it currently looked like this:

The kitchen cabinets are now in, and the guys got busy getting all of their equipment cleaned up. The appliances came and I have to admit I kind of freaked out a little.  At first I was all, “oh so beautiful!” and then I was all, “this kitchen is so small, oh my god, the kitchen is so small.” Not that it wasn’t small before, but it had nothing IN it, so it was a little harder to tell.  I might have made a big mistake, maybe.  The board president here was kind enough to tell me weeks ago that the only refrigerator that works properly in these kitchens are the shallower counter-depth ones.  Well, I priced those out.  The cheapest of those begin at $1500+ and what you make up for in shallowness you get back in width.  There is no extra width to play with in this tiny space. Then I went upstairs to the neighbors, and they had a regular fridge and it looked just fine.  So I went out and chose the least deep of the regular deep fridges (which only cost $600) and maybe it’s just the shock of the new but did I mention that this kitchen is SMALL?  And that fridges eat up a lot of floor space?

Last night Paula and I went swimming and half way through I bobbed over to her in the water, and asked her to stop what she was doing and calm me down.  “Have I ruined this kitchen?  What else could I have done? I just don’t recognize the place. What if I can’t find a tenant? I don’t know what to do about the countertops.  Is that fridge too big? It’s too big.”

She asked me, “what exactly is wrong?”

“I think I feel like it’s all uncertain now.  We’re almost done and I don’t know what the next part looks like.”

“The finding a renter part?”

“It’s just, before I felt like this was all MY apartment, and now I don’t recognize the kitchen, that’s some new person’s kitchen, and someone else is going to come and live there, but we’re not done yet, and there are still tons of things left to do, and, and, it all just sort of doesn’t feel like mine anymore.”

“It’s going to be fine.” There was a pause. “I knew you’d have a freak out when the kitchen went in.”

Do you want to rent this apartment?  Fantastic beautiful one-bedroom in Edgewater Glen, heat included, thoroughly renovated, available April 1st even though it looks like there’s still a ton to do.  Disregard the current lack of countertops and the missing toilet seat.  I’m working on that, I swear.


the kitchen cabinets have arrived

March 10, 2010

All has been quiet the last week or so – the project was halted while we waited for the kitchen cabinets to arrive.

Well, they arrived this morning (and arrived and arrived and arrived):

On a different note, how cute is this?


exciting day

March 5, 2010

The last time I saw the bathtub, it looked like this:


Ok, not exactly like that, because that picture was taken a couple of weeks ago.  But I promise you, it hasn’t looked any BETTER than this in the last two weeks, and it’s actually looked worse.

Today I went over to drop off the dining room sconces which had finally been delivered, and George was there, working on his own.  We unpacked the lights and while we were opening the boxes he asked me if I’d seen the bathtub. Not in the last two days, no…..

“Is it ok?”

“Go see…”

All I could think was, oh my god.  The toilet has had a slight leak, the tub has been full of filthy construction dust, who knows what might have happened.  WELL, something did happen, something amazing, something I’d forgotten Chris had mentioned that he was going to get a sub-contractor to come in and do.  Reglaze the enamel.  This pretty much took my breath away, it was so unexpected:

80 year old bathtub!

I had no idea it could look like this.  I originally decided to leave it in because A) there was nothing wrong with it, B) ajax with bleach can work wonders, and C) it’s cast iron and I know enough about cast iron to know that removing a tub of that size from a bathroom this small is MAJOR work.  But this….well, I had no idea.

In other wonderful news of the day, the kitchen floor is in and now I’m thrilled that the tile didn’t work out.  Though if you would like 6 boxes of cheap tile let me know, ’cause now it’s just sitting there in the dining room, unloved and unwanted.  I’m still not over what that kitchen floor did to my budget**, but I’m super happy with the result:

new wood floors in kitchen

The camera is playing a little trick here, the floors aren’t quite this dark, but they’ve come up looking well.  Chris applied the same stain (Minwax Special Walnut, satin finish) that he’s applied to the rest of the floors, the only difference is that the rest of the floors aren’t finished yet and they’ve been under pink protective paper for two weeks now, so I haven’t seen them.  I’m curious to see how much of a difference there will be between the new oak floors in the kitchen and the old oak floors throughout the rest of the apartment.

Let’s go out with the sconces – hooray, they’re in, the lighting is done!

Let there...




** On a side note, it’s interesting to see what this particular budget overrun has done to my state of mind – up until now everything was well budgeted, about what I expected, no nasty expenses, etc.  It was all coming in slightly higher than I anticipated, but overall, no problem.  However, there’s something psychological somehow about all new wood floors that were never in the budget and never intended that slid me directly from “I can afford this, look how WELL it’s going!” right into “Oh my god, we’re going to be eating ramen noodles for the REST OF OUR LIVES.”


Picture Post

March 3, 2010

Ceiling Fan in Bedroom

Ceiling Fan in Living Room, dilemma over

Dining Room Light

I chose it by playing this game: “This is the Last Lighting Store on Earth and you aren’t leaving here until you pick one.” Game worked.

A close up shot.

The wood floor that I never intended to put into the kitchen.... going in.


On a different note....

...the pedestal sink....

...has gone in! Oh Frabjous Day!

Ignore the water valves.

I love how the bathroom is progressing.

little knob