Shower with Praise

The White House

Kurt has been spending the last few weeks creating a praise-worthy walk-in shower in the upstairs bathroom.

You remember the old bath tub with the pink plastic tile walls and the tiny walkway? This picture was taken after the sheet rocked column had been removed, so it was even less spacious and bright than it appears here. Ugh. (The new walk-in shower basically encloses the whole back portion of the bathroom that the tub had occupied; roughly four feet wide by five feet deep.)

Bathroom Before

But after Kurt pulled out the tub, removed the faux tile walls, had the whole room re-plumbed, replaced the spongy portion of the floor, added a bath fan that vented all the way outside and put in new lighting fixtures, it’s now pretty much unrecognizable.

Last week, he built the sloped shower pan with a rubber liner, the soap/shampoo holes, and the curb, then waterproofed the walls with some black rubber-like stuff.


Then he and I spent a few hours in his workshop, picking out the perfect combination of Italian ceramic tiles he has stored there. At one point, I lost track of him among the shelving, but a few minutes later, he reemerged with several boxes of matching tile!

Lost in the Pallets

For the floor, we decided to use this 1″ tile (Magica Micela Mosaic) that has five or six different colors.

Shower Floor Tile

Then we found some large 10″ x 16″ tiles made by the same company. We picked two primary shades (Queen Red and Keshi Gold) and decided to accent it with a couple of complimentary tiles as part of the randomized pattern.

Tile Arrangement

Once we had picked out all the tile colors and matching grout (Light Buff), Kurt took them over to the White House and got to work. Here are a few of his progress pictures.


When we visited last Saturday, he had only two more rows to complete.

Touring the Shower

I will be sure to include some final pictures once he has grouted it and added the shower head, control valve, and glass shower door.

Stay tuned.


Slow but Steady

The White House

Holy moly! How is it possible that my last blog post about the White House was in August?!? That seems like a lifetime ago. You might think that Kurt has been lounging around, watching television, and eating potato chips… but you’d be mistaken. He has been working steadily, even if I’ve been tardy about documenting it. And luckily, he also took a few pictures that I can share with you to show his progress.

In August, he put some structure and plumbing into the upstairs bathroom. Here is where we left off (with a big hole in the floor). Since then, he built a large walk-in shower area, closed off the door to the storage room, and moved the vanity plumbing to the back wall, next to the toilet.  He also installed a bath fan that vented through the attic to the outside.

I think it looks so much better with clean, white sheet rock walls instead of pink plastic faux-tiles. Don’t you agree?

He spent most of October and November patching up cracks in the walls, repairing baseboards, and scraping flaky paint off the trim, to prepare for a fresh coat of paint (coming soon).

In the upstairs front bedroom closet, he removed the cracked ceiling and discovered a colony of bats living in the rafters! After watching them all exit through a 1″ hole in the roof flashing at sunset one evening, he sealed the hole from the outside before installing new insulation and sheet rock in the closet. Now it’s nice and cozy, and 100% bat-free!

In early December, Kurt repaired the stair treads in the front entry. When he took them apart, he was hoping to find some buried treasures in the dead space under the stairs, but unfortunately, the only stuff in there was debris from the original construction.

Stair Treads

He tore through the pantry wall to adjust the huge sliding door that opens off of the dining room. When we bought the house, it opened slanted and only about 90% of the way, but that wasn’t good enough for Kurt’s high standards. Now it slides the whole way with ease (or at least as easy as a 200-pound antique door can slide). In the coming weeks, we will take off the handle hardware, clean off the layers of paint, and restore its original function and style.

Sliding Door

In the week between Christmas and New Years, he headed back to work, this time building shelves in the pantry and next to the basement stairs. He also installed a new door on the pantry and a refurbished antique door to the basement.

In the first week of the new year, he added the vintage trim and rosettes to the doors and window in the kitchen. Now they match the rest of the house! We also found matching hinges and door knobs, which will go into the kitchen and bathrooms soon.  (Thanks to Guilded Salvage Antiques in Minneapolis for all the new/old materials that are helping us make the White House perfect!)

Doors and Trim in Kitchen

We have ordered new flooring for the kitchen, but he won’t install it just yet. The rest of the house will have the hardwood floors refinished in the next couple of months.

Still to do… repaint everything inside (probably grayish walls with white trim); pick out tile for the new walk-in shower upstairs; choose flooring for both bathrooms; new counter tops and appliances for the kitchen… I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t remember right now.

Stay tuned.

A Winter Poem

The White House

‘Twas the week before Christmas, in old Myrtleford,
Two girls were playing, though never unheard.
The tree was lit and the presents were hid,
Goodie table treats could not be outdid.

Mama was huddling close to the stove,
Drinking hot tea and knitting a trove.
Papa was braving the wind and the snow,
To head off to work on the Blanco Chateau.

First a sniffle, a tickle, a sneeze, and behold,
Wouldn’t you know it, we all got a cold.
We won’t let that dampen our holiday spirit,
We’ll just keep a big box of Kleenex right near it.

So while 2017 will go out with a blow,
We welcome the New Year with a gracious “hello!”
We hope that your family is joyous and healthy,
And that 2018 sees you happy and wealthy.

A New Walk-In Closet

The White House

Well, it’s been a busy week at the White House again. There is no “slacking off” chapter in Kurt’s book. But all his hard work is creating big results; just check out the new walk-in closet.

When we bought the White house, you could only access this room by walking through a small door in the upstairs bathroom. We decided that the space would be better used as a large walk-in closet for the rear bedroom (which at the time only had a 3′ x 3′ closet).

Here’s the disaster we started with. At one end, it had a door from the bathroom, next to a blocked out corner (the tiny bedroom closet). At the other end, a very low (like actually on the floor) stationary window.

First Kurt and I had a bit of fun busting out the lathe and plaster walls of the tiny closet.

Then, when the whole space was visible, we tore out the un-insulated wall paneling and exposed the roof joists.

After all that destruction, Kurt started to add things back: framing to support the new walls, three new can-lights, framing around the window, and new insulation.

It was finally time to close the original door from the bathroom and transform this awkward storage room into a beautiful walk-in closet. A dozen sheets of sheet rock and a couple buckets of “mud” did the trick.

It’s really starting to look amazing but there are a few minor details still to do: new paint, new flooring, and adding period-appropriate trim around the door and window.

Stay tuned.

A Busy Week in Claremont

The White House

Kurt has been making slow-but-steady progress on the White House during this last week.

He finished cleaning all of the windows, inside and out, which took about an hour a piece because they were so incredibly disgusting. He had to scrape a ton of sloppy brown caulking off of the vinyl frames too. He also replaced the old, holey silver screens with less-noticeable black ones. The before and afters are awesome! Check out the upstairs bedroom windows.

Before After Window Washing

Since the front door is now officially Celestial Blue, we decided it was time to reinstall the 1940s Nutone door bell. (Even though the house is a 1910, I just couldn’t part with the adorable “DING-DONG” created by this vintage piece.) I also created new label for the window. I believe originally it said “Turn Handle” but I found that explanation to be incomplete, so after a trial-run using my laptop screen, I printed our new label out on paper (in matching blue letters, of course).

Kurt installed a brand new door on the back porch. Unlike the last one, this one opens and closes without rubbing on the porch floor in the process! He also changed from a left-hand opening door to a right-hand one. The location of the railing, the inside light switch and the adjacent kitchen door all made more sense with a right-hand swing. (He needs to put a little bit of metal trim around the outside before it’s officially finished, but it looks so much nicer than the old one, I just had to share.)

Over the last two days, Kurt and I have been working together to install a new garage door opener, with a nifty outdoor keypad entry and a motion-sensing reverse system.

And this afternoon, he finally reinstalled the newly painted (outer) basement windows. Now the inside and outside windows in the basement are sealed up and ready for anything Mother Nature can dish out. (And I’m still loving that dark gray paint!)

Earlier this week, the girls came over to help scrape wall paper off in the living room. I gave each of them a set of tiny work gloves (pink and green with a picture of Dora the Explorer on them!) and a Sharpie and had them write their alphabet and their names on the wall.

When they were all finished, they got to pull all their letters off the wall and throw them in the garbage! A wonderful way to get an hour of productivity from a 3.25- and 4.5-year-old.  Of course, I had to go by later and remove the upper six feet of paper, as well as the sticky layer, but it was still a lot of fun to have them participate. Here’s how the living room wall looked before, during, and after.

By the way, in case you’ve been laying awake wondering, you know that sticky yellow paper that you have to spray with water in order to get it off the walls? Well, if you let it sit (wet) too long in the garbage bag where it can’t dry out, it starts to mold. But here’s today’s fun fact… when it molds, it smells exactly like BRIE CHEESE! I’m not even kidding. It was the weirdest thing!

Smelly Cheese Garbage

Anyway, back to this week’s recap. When the girls weren’t helping inside, they were having a great time with their new-to-us playground set. The best part is that it fits (fully assembled minus the two red slides) in the back of Kurt’s pickup truck, so when we need to move it home or to the Berg, it’s super portable!

Next week, Kurt gets to move inside the house, to make big progress on the upstairs bathroom and the new walk-in closet.

Stay tuned.

Fancifying Up the Porch

The White House

The big exterior changes have been made, so it’s finally time for a little decoration. Do you remember the ‘owl’ gingerbread in the porch’s roof peak? You can see that some of the outer layer had started to wear away, leaving the owl with a shiner on its left eye.

Owl with a Black Eye

Well, there’s a little more to the roof-peak story than freshening up the owl. Let me back up a bit.

It all started on June 21st. I didn’t like the dark spot, so I asked Kurt if he could take it down and repaint it. While he was up there with the ladder, he saw that a small bit of the vinyl siding behind the owl was out of place. So Kurt, being Kurt, decided the vinyl should be fixed the right way. He began to lift the siding away from the wall. From my vantage point on the ground, I could see something underneath. It looked like a bit of scroll work. I immediately insisted that we had to find out what was under there!

Hidden Scroll Work

He humored me by taking down the owl and carefully peeling the vinyl siding off. Wouldn’t you know it? The White House held yet another hidden treasure.

Here’s what the original design looked like, missing only two small scrolls and the central vase feature that had been lost before the vinyl had been installed.

Original Woodwork Peak

After several weeks of debate, we decided to remove the design (for use on a future project) and replace the vinyl siding and the owl. So that brings us to this week when Kurt repainted and reinstalled the owl. (After some research, I discovered that the owl was made by a company called Fypon. The particular ‘gable pediment decorative millwork’ is called Holland style.) It looks much nicer with a fresh coat of paint.

The Owl is Back

After that was taken care of, it was time to add a little extra fanciness. Kurt painted and installed fourteen corner brackets along the porch columns.

They don’t show up very well in pictures (white-on-white when looking at the house) but overall, I think they make the front of the house look a little fancier. And I like how it compliments the gingerbread owl.

Exterior Completed

Stay tuned.


Extraordinary Exterior

The White House

With the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in southeastern Minnesota, Kurt has been especially productive during the last several days. And he has a lot to show for it.

First, there are the not-new-yet-vastly-improved cement steps that lead into the back porch. Here’s what they looked like before he started. Crumbling. Sagging. Sad.

Back Steps - BEFORE

We tied a chain around them and used pipes (and the pickup truck) to roll it away from the house. Behind the steps, Kurt discovered a lack of proper support under the back porch. So before fixing the stairs, he beefed up the underside of the porch and installed some siding to cover the hole.

Then he used several layers of vinyl cement patch to make them look nice and smooth again.

And finally, he painted them the lovely dark gray color that we used on the porch. He also repainted the black metal railing and then we shimmied it back into place and leveled it so it wasn’t crooked compared to the back door. Here’s what it looks like now that it’s all done.

Repainted Back Steps


He also straightened out and repainted the door and window on the garden shed in the back yard. He also replaced the broken pane of glass and repainted the hinges and handle. Check out these before and after pictures.

And he removed and repainted the basement windows. I was assigned the job of taping them off.

He made the outsides dark gray and the insides white. Once reinstalled, they will look sharp!

He added beveled landscaping blocks along the east side of the garage and topped off the river rock.

Garage Border

And finally, he painted the metal cellar door. It had several layers of old paint that needed to be scraped, sanded, and brushed off first. But with a shiny new coat of gray, it looks nearly-new again!

The more we use this gray, the more I love it! It is a wonderful contrast to the white siding and it looks so clean and rich.

Up next… A little frill for the front porch.

Stay tuned.

Lovely Landscaping

The White House

The grounds around the White House are really coming into focus now.

Since the soil was now sloped away from the foundation, it was time to make it pretty. (If you missed it, see this post and this post for full details, mud balls and all.)

First, I lugged a truck-load of 30-pound bags of black (wood, not plastic) mulch and 13-pound Belgian edger blocks all around the house. I put them right near (but not on) where they would eventually be needed so that installation would be quick and easy. The girls were a big help (well, as big as a couple of little girls can be.) It turns out that an old red tricycle with a small step/shelf on the back was perfect for moving blocks across the yard without making little arms tired.

Then, when Kurt was available to help (he was in the middle of repairing the back steps when we arrived; more on that later), he and I put down a sheet of plastic, tied up a string to make a straight line, and then he laid down a row of edging blocks 3′ away from the house.

Laying Border Blocks

Once it was all set, we added a gazillion bags of mulch and smoothed it out to a very attractive 3″ depth. The girls were on hand to collect the empty plastic bags and sweep the mulch shavings off of the blocks so it looked nice and clean. Here’s how sharp it looks now that it’s finished!

The next step will be to plant some perennials for a little splash of color and a bit of grass seed to fill in around the blocks and the new sidewalk. Oh, and Kurt will also be putting new privacy lattice under the porch soon. I can’t wait to see how it will look when it’s really finished!

Stay tuned.


Dirt Day

The White House

July 8th ~ Do you remember our first disastrous attempt to add soil (aka mud balls) around the outside of the house? If not, check it out here. Well, today was much better!

Kurt picked up a trailer and pickup bed full of top soil from a different location and hauled it to the White House this morning. Upon pulling into the driveway, the trailer tire blew out due to the excessive weight. (Thank goodness for good timing of bad things.) He was able to unload it along the driveway side of the house, but it was still pretty lumpy. When the girls and I arrived to work, our job was collecting mud balls in buckets so the surface could be easily raked.

The last two loads of the day came from a completely different source: our home. And I must say, hands down, we have the best soil around. It was dry and easy to rake. I wish it would have all been so nice.

While we were shoveling soil into place on the east side of the house, Kurt noticed that the air conditioner wasn’t perfectly level. So we jacked it up, dug out the blocks it was sitting on, added gravel, and repositioned the blocks so the whole unit was securely sitting on four lovely concrete feet.

I think this falls into the category of “no one will ever know you did it” but he says it’s the right thing to do because it puts less stress on the tubes going into the unit. So there you have it!

It was getting past dinner time when we finally unloaded the last load of soil from the back of the pickup truck. But the extra long day was worth it because I just love how nice the whole area looks now.

Next steps: some sort of edgers, a bunch of mulch, and then lots of colorful flowers! Yippee! And new porch lattice eventually.

Stay tuned.

New (Autographed) Sidewalk

The White House

July 7th ~ By a stroke of good luck, we had a visitor stop by this morning. He was an old friend of Kurt’s who runs a concrete business and he was looking for work. Kurt happened to be on his way out the door, headed to the White House to pour the new sidewalk! Now equipped with an automatic mixer and a skilled professional, the need for me to assist evaporated. Hooray for everyone (especially me)!

Here are the two men hard at work. (The girls and I were inside scraping wallpaper in the dining room, but I came out a few times to document their progress.)

The 18′ x 2′ strip which would have taken Kurt and me a full day (or two) was finished in just under three hours! Doesn’t it look wonderful?

New Sidewalk

Kurt decided it needed a personal touch, so he encouraged the girls (Maggie, age 3 1/4 and Cambria, age 4 1/2) write their names in the wet cement. He added the year to make it official.

Names in Concrete

July 8th ~ The cement was all dry by the time we arrived to work this morning. The girls were so pleased to see that their names were still there. Maggie said “until it rains next time”, assuming that concrete names work just like the chalk names she has so often seen washed away. I reassured her that the names would be there FOREVER, a concept they have no frame of reference for yet.

Before the girls were allowed to test it out with their bicycles, Kurt had to remove the wooden frames and then mark where the crack lines were supposed to be cut. While we watched from inside (where it wasn’t as loud or dusty), he made nice clean, symmetical grooves in our new sidewalk.

Cutting Cement Cracks

Then, he filled in some dirt along the edges and it was all done. By day’s end, I think it looked pretty flipping awesome.

Stay tuned.