Wednesday, September 11, 2013

New website

Feel free to stay here and browse the content on this blog.

Or come visit my new website - Meredith M Howard.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It is finished (in more ways than one)

The kitchen is finally finished.

I feel like we moved.  Not only does the kitchen look totally different, but most of our stuff is still packed in boxes in the basement.  I may just leave it all down there, because it's nice to have less clutter.  In case you can't remember what the kitchen looked like before the renovation, here is 1965 with a little 1990 thrown in -

Fast forward to 2013 -

Just in case you are renovating and want to know all of details, this is what we chose (after much deliberation) -

Kitchen cabinets - KitchenCraft Lexington doors in Alabaster (uppers) and Gunmetal Blue (lowers)
Dining room cabinets - KitchenCraft in Weathered Slate
Countertops - Caesarstone quartz in Pebble Gray
Dining room countertops - Statuarietto marble
Backsplash - Bianca carrara marble
Grout - Platinum by Polyblend (You might think it odd that I include this small detail, but if you have ever chosen grout, you know that it's a big decision.)
Range - KitchenAid
Refrigerator - KitchenAid
Mini-fridge - U-line
Floors - Red oak stained in Minwax Classic Gray
Paint color - Misty Moonstone by Glidden (color matched by Sherwin Williams)

To give you more information, I'll take the liberty of interviewing myself -

What was the most difficult part of the renovation?  By far, the constant decisions.  Also constantly cleaning up dust and finding nails on the floor all over the house (but this wouldn't have been an issue if we had isolated the renovation to the kitchen.)  Being without a washer and dryer for certain periods bothered me more than not having a kitchen.  And people showing up at our house every morning at 7:45.

What was the easiest part of the renovation?  Hmmmm....

What turned out surprisingly good?  The paint color.  My husband wanted to go this light all along.  And he was right.  Oh, and the cove ceiling, which I thought was a waste of money... until I saw it finished. That was also my husband's choice.

What was different from what I expected?  I thought that once I made a decision, it was done.  But I was constantly told - "We can't do that because - there are studs here, that's out of stock now, or this wallpaper has a selvage edge."  Yes, you will notice that the wallpaper was not used.  We couldn't find anyone to hang it, because it has edges that have to be cut off in a perfectly straight line.  I learned that you have to be able to switch directions in the design at any moment.

What do I wish we had done differently?  I wish we had decided to replace all of the doors and remove the paneling from the living room walls at the beginning of the project instead of in the middle.  It delayed us a lot.  My advice is that if you are doing a major renovation, you need to go ahead and renovate everything that is visually connected to that space at the same time.

Would I do it again?  I don't know.  The kitchen is beautiful, but the process took a toll on our family.  I was so consumed by the renovation that I couldn't focus on anything else, and I feel like my relationships suffered.  Ironically, the physical displacement and inconvenience didn't affect me as much as it affected my husband.  I think because he went to work everyday, it was always a shock to come home to such chaos.  However, the chaos and workers just became a part of my life.

What is my main advice to someone starting a renovation - Pick out as many items as you can before the construction starts, because there will be so many things you didn't even think about.  But always be willing to change - see above.  But don't be afraid to stick to your vision and tell your contractor to "make it work".   (At one point everyone was telling me we had to put our main light switch in this odd location because of the placement of the studs.  I kept insisting on moving it to a more logical spot, and they figured out a solution.)  Also, pick a contractor with a lot of experience in your type of renovation on your type of house, because his/her knowledge will come in handy (like knowing where to find used brick that matches your house when you brick in a window and door).  

With the completion of the renovation, I also feel a sense of completion with this blog.  I am ready to move past the computer into more flesh and blood.  I want to move past planning and documenting and analyzing to more doing - sewing, painting, reading books, talking to people face to face.  I am ready to move beyond myself into better relationships.  I may be back on the Web one day.  But I don't know. This has been a blessing to me...and I hope to you.  So, for now (with misty eyes but no tears), I leave you with the greatest lesson I have learned through writing this blog -

You can only find soul balance through Jesus.

(Ok, now there are tears.)

With happiness in moving forward,

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Day 39

The infamous light fixture is finally hanging in my dining room!

We're almost finished...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Day 36

It's starting to come together.  We got our countertops.  Pebble Caesarstone in the kitchen and Staturetto marble in the dining room.  

I don't have a photo of the marble yet, because it is still covered up for the painters.  As you can see above, our Bianco Carrara marble tile backsplash has been installed (but not grouted).

We have new interior doors.  (Thanks, Dad!)

And behind Door #1 is my laundry room with my new shoe shelves -

When Greg saw the shelves he said, "We don't have that many shoes."  I have almost filled it up, and I don't think everything is going to fit.  But at least most of the shoes will be consolidated from many random places in our house.

Although my contractor told me that we might get into House and Home magazine if we expanded my patchwork paint on the walls, I decided to go with one color - a much lighter shade than any that I showed you -

The color is Misty Moonshine by Glidden but mixed by Sherwin Williams.  It is almost white with a hint of gray.  It reflects so much light that we don't need to turn on the lights.  It kind of makes me feel like I'm living in an art museum...without the art.  I love it.

Now, if someone will just help me clean up all of this dust, it will look great.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

What is your everything?

I don't know if I should admit this or not, but one of my favorite shows is "The Rachel Zoe Project".  Half of you probably don't know who Rachel Zoe is (she is a fashion stylist and designer), and the other half of you may not be able to stand her "whiny personality" (as my husband describes it).  However, I enjoy watching the process of styling, and I respect the fact that she is successful at what she loves to do.  One of the entertaining aspects of the show (and something that may have made her more famous than her styling) is that she is always coming up with catch phrases to describe how much she loves a garment.  Last year, it was - "I die" or "Bananas".  Her most recent phrase is - "This is everything."  When I first heard her say that I thought, "Really? That dress is your everything?"  And although I think she would say that she loves her son more than fashion, she would probably admit that it's a close call.

It made me stop and think, "What is my everything?"  What do I get really excited about?  What do I get really upset about?  What do I worry about?  What do I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night?  Lately, it has been my house renovation.  It has been my "everything".  And I can tell you that it's a difficult, elusive, never-ending master.  I've learned that it's much better to be content with what you have than to try to reach perfection with your house, because you will never be finished.

Before my house, it was artistic outlets - fashion, painting, sewing, photography, blogging.  I still really enjoy all of those activities, but they each make for a very shallow "everything".  Art and fashion can express substance, but they can't be the substance.  You do reach the finish line in art (as opposed to house decorating), but the satisfaction of the art piece only lasts for moment.  Then you must create again to fill the void.

Today (Easter) is the most popular day to go to church, but I doubt that God is "everything" to many people.  It's just too easy to ignore God (at least in the good times), and there are too many things screaming for our attention.  This morning in church, the pastor said that we can't have a moderate view of Jesus, because Jesus made a lot of claims that didn't leave that option open to us.  The pastor's statement made me think that often I just want a moderate amount of Jesus in my life.  But Jesus didn't really leave that option open to us either.  He continually asked people he met to make him their "everything".

God was the first artist, the first fashion designer, the creator of relationships, the creator of talent and work.  He thinks all of that is good.  But he didn't mean for any of that to be my "everything".  He's the only one that has enough substance for me to soak up for a lifetime.  He's the only one with enough beauty and goodness to never lack for depth.  He's the only one I can't suffocate with my needs.  He's the only one that offers enough love to fill my soul.  He's the only one that is worthy to be my "everything".  


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Day 29

I can totally see how they renovate a whole house in one weekend on those television shows, because everyone is super fast when they are here working.  But when we are waiting on the trim or the doors or the countertops, nothing happens.  And when they are waiting on me to make a decision on paint color, nothing happens.  So today, in my quiet house, I looked at paint.

We have an assortment of grays and grayish greenish blues.  I actually like the wall like this. But since Greg will never agree to this paint treatment, I will have to use it as inspiration for an art piece.

Grays are hard to get right on the wall.  They so easily look too blue or too silvery or too much like putty.  And they look totally different in different lights.  The top contender so far is Coventry Gray by Benjamin Moore (second one from the left on the top row), because we could use it in the living room and the kitchen.  That would help connect the two spaces.  I really like Cloudy Day (by the molding) and Silver Mink (the big greenish blueish blob in the middle), but I don't think we could use either in the kitchen due to too many other colors already going on.  The Pewter (second from left on bottom) may end up in our laundry room as a backdrop to white shelves.

I'm going to see how they look tonight and hopefully love one of them.  I was at the paint store so many times today that they said, "See you tomorrow," when I left around 3:00.  I hope I don't have to see them tomorrow.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Day 26*

We have cabinets -

I know the base cabinets look black in this photo, but they are actually "gunmetal blue" and look very pretty in real life.  All of the handles and trim have not arrived yet, so there is still some work to be done.  But I'm glad the cabinets were the correct size.

I also finally got my acrylic chairs -

CB2 vapor barstool

 The countertops should be installed this week.  I decided on the Caesarstone Pebble Gray.  Now, I just need to decide on paint color...

* - Initially, I was only counting the days of actual construction, because I was so impressed at how fast they were going.  However, I am now counting every day since the beginning of this project, because it feels like this has been our life forever.  We might be lonely when we don't have a bunch of extra people banging around in our kitchen and living room anymore.  

Monday, March 18, 2013

The countertop decision

So, I like the floors.  I picked the color, and it took me the longest of anyone in my family to like them.  I am super sensitive to color, and they just weren't what I had pictured in my head.  But I think they will be a great background to everything else in our house.

I thought that the floor color and then paint color would be the final decisions in this process, but I have come to the realization that the decisions aren't going to end until we finish construction.  My biggest problem is that I make a decision and then revisit it many times before I move on (which drives my husband crazy).  My latest revisitation was with the countertops.  I had originally selected Cambria white quartz countertops (which aren't supposed to stain or etch or need sealing) but then found out they are out of stock and then read that they might stain.  So, I moved on to Pebble Gray by Caesarstone.  It is still fairly light and uniform and kind of looks like concrete.

I visited Melvin at the stone yard again to see if I could find a marble remnant for my dining room.  It was meant to be, because I immediately saw a beautiful slab of staturetto marble that is perfect -

While I was there, I starting pining for natural stone.  I would love to put this marble in my whole kitchen, but I really don't want to have to worry about my countertops.  I had been steering away from granite, because I just don't like how busy it is.  However, I saw this beautiful quartzite, which is even harder than granite -

It has similar coloring to marble but is still busy like granite.  It might take over the kitchen.  I would also have to change my back splash to accommodate this stone (and I don't need anymore decisions).

I really like this soapstone, which is more subdued -

However, it's a little dark and I've read that it can etch.

So, I'm contemplating my countertop options (until tomorrow when I have to make a final decision).  Then, on to doors and door knobs...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Day 13

 They went from this - 

To this - 

Minwax Classic Gray

The floors are finished.  To be honest, I don't know if I like them yet.  They are a washed out grayish, reddish brown.  They look different in different lights - sometimes very reddish, sometimes very gray, sometimes brown.  The fact that the project manager and then floor guys really like them makes me feel better.  (But the project manager also told me he is color blind, so I don't think I should be listening to him.)  I think the floors look lonely, so I'm hoping once we have the walls painted, the art hung and furniture back in that they will look good.  Now, I'm going outside to enjoy this perfect day in Atlanta...


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 11

It's starting to look prettier!

We have hardwoods in the kitchen!  They aren't finished yet, but the whole space looks so much more cohesive already.  And now we talking about removing the diagonal wood paneling from the living room walls.  The are too country to stand next to our new modern kitchen.

As a side note, this whole process hasn't been too bad (except for all of the decisions) until now.  In order to  finish the floors, we had to cram everything into our bedrooms and basement.  Now, it's starting to feel crowded.  However, this part shouldn't take too long.  The cabinets are coming next week, and then we'll really get going.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Day 10

Drywall is up.  HVAC ducts have been installed.  Useless window and door have been bricked in.  Now onto the floors.

I have spent the last few days emptying our 92" x 84" bookcase of 17 boxes of books.  Soon, we will have hardwoods in the kitchen and this orangey-yellow floor will be a different color.  Then I can start showing you pretty stuff rather than torn up stuff.

To add to the stress of doing the floors, the contractor told me today that he wasn't sure we could use the wallpaper.  However, after he left, the project manager said, "If you want to use the wallpaper, we'll figure it out."  And that's why God put him on our project.  To keep me calm.

While they sand the floors, I'm off to look at marble for our small dining room cabinets...

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Three items that have tremendously helped my renovation

There are 3 things unexpected items that have helped a lot during this kitchen renovation.  The first is a zipper -

This is the plastic that hangs between the kitchen and the living room.  It is essential to keeping all of the dust and splinters and nails from coming into the living room.  I think every kitchen renovation has the plastic.  But, I had never heard of putting a zipper in the plastic.  I didn't know they even made zippers this big.  (It was my contractor's idea.)  The zipper makes it so easy to reach my washer and dryer, which the crew has graciously worked around.

The second item is the toaster oven -

You could go with a microwave, but I think the toaster oven makes a meal taste like real food.  Our favorite meal so far was salmon (seasoned with lemon pepper from Trader Joe's), sweet potatoes, and brussel sprouts.  Coming in second was a combo of Italian sausage (which I sliced so it would cook faster), mac and cheese (from Trader Joe's frozen foods section), and pre-sliced mushrooms, onions, and asparagus (also from Trader Joe's).  

The third item that has made our renovation go smoothly is a good project manager.  I didn't take a picture of him, but he really is key to this whole operation.  The project manager is the person who schedules all of the different parts to be done at the right time - demolition, framing, insulation, drywall, electrical, plumbing, floors, cabinets, countertops, appliances, painting.  Your contractor could serve as the project manager, but if they have multiple projects going on at once, it is awesome to have a dedicated project manager who is on-site everyday.  You could serve as the project manager on your own renovation, but it is a little bit of a nightmare to arrange all of those groups so that everything runs smoothly - especially if you don't know in what order they should be installed.

As a side note, I was talking to my mom about my crooked ceiling, and she said, "Well, just don't tell anyone about it and probably nobody will notice."  Too late.  I did hesitate before I posted that, but I decided that I wanted to share whatever might be helpful to someone else in the same situation.  At the end of this project, whether it turns out good or bad, I hope this "renovation diary" will give someone more information for their own renovation.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Day 6

The hardest part of this renovation is not that we don't have a kitchen or that our house is very loud for most of the day.  The hardest part is that the decisions never end.  Yesterday it was - "Where do you want all of your lights and outlets?"  Today it was - "Your ceiling is extremely crooked, and your geometric wallpaper is only going to highlight that fact."   (You notice it especially over the window, which is level.  The ceiling goes up 1.5 inches over the course of the wall.)

Greg's solution was - "Pick a new wallpaper."  My response was - "I designed the whole room around that wallpaper!"  So, unless I come across another wallpaper that I love and that works brilliantly, we are using the wallpaper.  We never thought about the ceiling being crooked before the project manager mentioned it, so nobody else will either (except for all of you who are reading this).  And our light fixture will certainly attract attention to itself and away from other things.  Our project manager suggested some kind of molding, but I don't want molding.  I want to either wallpaper in a straight line at the top and "cheat" the ceiling, or just wallpaper to the ceiling, and let the pattern be a little off at the top.

I really hope that nothing else comes up, because my decision maker is almost broken.  I have enough left in it to decide on paint color and floor color, and that is it.  Do you hear me house?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 5

Old lights and window -

New lights and window -

(Ignore all of the random holes in the ceiling and the wall.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Day 4

The wall is down and the ceiling is up.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Day 2

From this -

To this -

From this -

To this -

From this -

To this -

Day 1

It doesn't take long to gut a kitchen.

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's getting close

I know you haven't heard from me in a while.  That is because planning for this kitchen renovation has hijacked my life.  However, the demo starts on Thursday!  I am ready to stop making decisions and start doing stuff.  It seems like the decisions never end and they are all inter-related, so when you make a decision about one thing it affects other things you decided on 2 months ago.  We keep going around in decision circles.  The cabinets and appliances have been ordered (which is probably a good thing because I can always come up with something to change.)  Our current issue is the flooring.

Originally, we were going to tile our kitchen and dining room.  However, the remainder of the house has hardwood floors, and the dining room is very visible from the living room.  Plus, my feet are always cold and the thought of cold tile in the morning makes me shiver.  So, we decided to put hardwood in the kitchen...which means we have to refinish the entire house to match...which means I have to pack up the whole house and move it...which also means that maybe we should replace all of the doors and baseboards (which we were going to do but then decided against because I didn't want to have to move all of the furniture)...but maybe now it's too late to order doors.  

So, we decided on hardwood, but we still have to decide on the color.  Our contractor said that we could look at floor stains once the floor is sanded, but I'm a little impatient.  I went to Home Depot and bought some red oak boards and cans of stain.

I selected Minwax "Classic Gray" (top) and "Weathered Oak" (bottom).   You can see how different they are from our current floors.  I don't like strong yellow or red undertones in wood floors, so I'm trying to "gray" them out.  We may mix the two, so they don't turn out too dark.  The funny thing is that when I mentioned the "gray" to my husband, he said, "I don't like gray."   That stopped me in my tracks, because half of the kitchen is going to be gray.  I showed him the wall color and the countertops and the floor boards and the backsplash, and he said, "That's not gray."  Well, OK then.  Evidently, we see color very differently.

Today, we (I mean, an AT&T repair man) successfully re-routed the modem and moved the computer to the basement, so I will be able to keep you updated on our project...

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The dessert of one thousand steps

Last year at this time I was preparing for Fashion Week.  This year I am living in the land of cake pops. Cake pops are a old news, but my daughter adores them and had her heart set on making them for all of her friends at school.  There are many blogs out there from which you can get recipes and directions, so I am just going to give you a warning.  It took us all afternoon and evening to make these.  This is the dessert of one thousand steps - 1) make the cake, 2) make the icing, 3) mix the cake and icing together, 4) roll into a million little balls, 5) refrigerate balls for 2 hours, 6) melt chocolate, 7) dip the balls into chocolate, 8) cover with sprinkles, 9) beg your husband to find more styrofoam to hold up the chocolaty cake pops while they dry, 10) wipe all of the chocolate off of your children before they start touching other things in the house, 11) attempt to sweep up all of the rolly sprinkles and then resort to picking up each one with your fingers.  So, maybe that was only 11 steps, but it felt like the making of the cake pops would never end.  I like to be a little more "make it and move on" with my desserts (or even "buy it at the store and serve it on a nice plate").  However, my daughter enjoyed every minute.

Friday, February 1, 2013

C'est fini

My one year of not buying clothes is officially over today.  How do I feel?  A little sad.  I already miss it.  It simplified my life and made it better in so many ways.  I learned to be content with what I have.  Without the option to buy something new, I really appreciated what I already have.  I grew to like my clothes better and never once said, "I have nothing to wear."  I wore more of my clothes and stopped saving my nice things for a special occasion.  It never felt like a hardship.  I was actually happier getting dressed in the morning.

Did it have to be a whole year?  For me - yes.  I needed that long to gain the right perspective.  During the first few months, I was very conscious of not buying clothes.  It didn't bother me, but occasionally I would think, "I wish I could buy that."  After a few more months, I stopped thinking about it, and it was only when other people mentioned it that I would look forward to buying certain things (new jeans, a certain necklace).  But just in the last month I noticed that clothes have became slightly less important to me.  I don't really care about having anything new.  I'm fine with what I have.

I'm still a believer in looking nice when you leave the house, but I've noticed that the people who consistently dress well have a sort of uniform that works for them.  And you don't need a lot clothes to do that.  I could really wear dresses most of the time.  A dress is an instant outfit.  I may become known as the "wrap dress girl".  These days I like anything that simplifies my life.  I am determined to buy fewer items of better quality.  And I am going to get rid of everything that I "might wear someday".

I honestly considered not buying clothes for another year, but most of my socks have holes, my pajamas are falling apart, and my tennis shoes are wearing thin.  There are some things that I need to buy just so I don't look like a hobo to my own family.  However, I hope to buy more wisely and not very often.

If you are considering giving up something for a while, my biggest tip for you is to move toward something else.  I was so distracted by planning my kitchen, working on art projects, and learning how to sew better that didn't have time to shop even if I had wanted to.  Fill your time and your thoughts and your passion with good things and the non-beneficial things will be pushed out of your life.  (And it does help if you blog about it.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

January deals - Part 2

I really believe we should start saving our money and all go shopping together in January.  I found another great deal.  It was at Target, where there are many deals to be had, but this particular deal was a "big name designer" collaboration.

This dress is perfectly puffy and a beautiful color for my blondies.  And as a bonus, the designer is -

My daughter knew exactly who is behind the name Marchesa, because we watch Georgina Chapman judge Project Runway All-Stars every week.  The only problem was that when I first saw it, the dress was priced at $79.99.  A little much for a little girl.  Last week, it was 40% off.  Better price, but it's "dry clean only".  This week, I decided I was going to buy it anyway, because I knew my daughter would love it.  Bonus time - it was on clearance for $23.  Sold and sold.  Now, both of my girls will be wearing Marchesa for Target at their next fancy outing.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January deals

I have always found January to be the best time to shop.  Clothing stores have amazing after-Christmas sales.  Of course, I will miss out on that opportunity this year.  However, I just found another place for great deals in January - ebay!

I bought my youngest daughter a brand new ipod nano for Christmas.  After spending many frustrating hours working on it, I finally accepted the fact that it is not compatible with our computer.  I realized that I was going to have to find find an old ipod.  A friend suggested I try ebay. I went online. There are so many ipods for sale on ebay.  I don't know why I didn't go there in the first place.

It arrived today.  Looks like new.  And was MUCH cheaper than the one I originally bought at Target.  It's nice to get some money back after Christmas.

(By the way, if you are as frustrated with iTunes as I was, you can use Windows Media Player for your music by following the instructions on this website.)