Memphis Renovation – 6 1/2 Months In

About 2 weeks ago, we insisted on a completion date from our contractor; Monday, November 19, is the date.  That is the Monday of Thanksgiving week.  We have opted to travel to East Tennessee to have Thanksgiving at Mom’s instead of hosting the holiday dinner ourselves.  Does that convey our level of confidence in the finish date?

We’ve been playing a lot of bridge lately – duplicate bridge – it has become something of a compulsion.  I’m not at all sure it is healthy.  We do meet interesting people at bridge:  a retired mathematical physicist who suggested we advise our son, a sophomore majoring in physics, that nearly ALL students find their first physics class terribly difficult; an elderly woman with a walker who let us know that she is safe in her home living alone in  Memphis because, “I have a gun,” followed by, “I just don’t know where I put it.”  She also has a taser – it is pink, and it works great, which she knows because she tased a bug.  We’ve also met several of our neighbors at bridge, even though we play all around the area. One neighbor, a retired contractor who refurbished US Embassies all around the world, replied to our tale of remodeling woe with, “I’ve never understood why people put up with that from their contractors.”  Lovely.

We have made progress since my last post. The fireplace has been rocked!  Here is the before picture:Nov 1 Fire before

Here it is after the rock is installed:Nov 1 fire after

The island stone and counter tops have been installed and they are still covered for their protection so no good pictures of them yet, but here are a couple pictures of the island stone making its way into the house (with a lot of accompanying grunting and groaning):Nov 1 Island into houseNov 1 insland in house

The hardwood floors are all laced in:Nov 1 laced floors

Sanding the floors, the beginning of the finishing process, is to start next Monday, but we are skeptical of that date, mostly because the appliances have been delivered and here they sit:Nov 1 appliances

The kitchen backsplash tile installation has begun:Nov 1 backsplash on wallAnd, finally, something that I’m absolutely in love with!  It really does glitter in the light!  Here is a close up:Nov 1 backsplash close upMy quilting friends will recognize the tiny tumbling blocks – the material looks like sea shells.  I loved the tile when we found it, and I love it installed.  Trouble is, the contractor did not order enough of it.  The good news is, there is enough more available to finish the  walls to the ceilings, as we expected.  Happy news!

Meanwhile, fall has arrived in Memphis.  One day it was 90 during the day and well over 70 at night.  The next day the highs switched to 50-60’s and lows 40-50’s.  We have lots of sunny days with blue sky and low humidity.  We arrived almost exactly one year ago and we have lived over half of that year outside, as our remodel has slogged along.

Renovation in Memphis – Some Progress

Our new, downsized and outside temporary kitchen:Downsized temp kitchendownsized temp kitchen 2

We are now 5 months into this project.  The new (and original) hardwood floors were to start getting sanded and finished yesterday (September 17).  However, we didn’t see the hardwood floor installer until last Friday, for the first time.  When we told him we had expected finishing to start on the next Monday, he told us that when he started in this business about 25 years ago, his mentor told him point blank that this business is based totally on lies; no one knows when anything will happen.  Our experience certainly bears this out.  He also said that all he could tell us for sure is that he is on our job now, and he will show up every day until the floors are installed and finished.  Hallelujah!  We are satisfied with that!

Last Sunday, our incredibly awesome and strong SIL (son-in-law) helped Hubby move everything remaining on the main floor of our home either into storage or upstairs.  We hired pool table pros to dis-assemble and store our pool table – that’s it wrapped in plastic under our outside TV.Pool Table Stored

The main floor is now completely empty and ready for floor installation, lacing in (new to old), and then finishing.Front of houseHere you can see the new beams, the removal of old columns, the original hard wood floors, all looking across from the living room.Front of house 2This view is from the dining room (pool table room for us) across toward the living room and door to the side porch, with Hubby modeling.

The walls in the remodeled portion of the main floor happened amazingly fast.  Once the paint color was added, we could begin to see our vision take cabsThis picture is too dark to show our cabinet colors, and the cabinet faces are all wrong anyway.  We still are not sure what that fix will be.  However, the new window/door unit is shown here and it is fabulous.  You can’t tell, but we have 3 colors of cabinetry and I didn’t want to unveil the colors until countertops and lighting were in to show the complete effect, but the picture doesn’t show the colors anyway, and we want to have a bunch of in progress pictures, so here it is.fam room and cabsThis is from the kitchen looking across the new family room, with more cabinetry on the left, and the fireplace on the right.  The fireplace was not to be sheet rocked, but covered with some kind of backer board to support the rock that will cover the entire thing.  The rock installer will have to remove the painted sheet rock to start his rock installation.  You can see the wall/ceiling paint color in this picture.  We love it.  The white crown molding that will go around beams and at the top of the walls will be lovely.fam room pocket doorsHere you can see the pocket doors that separate the new family room from the living room.  The wall to the left of the pocket doors will host the TV which will be centered under the beam and live directly across from the fireplace.  The location of the TV was a central decision in this whole project, just speaking the truth.

The next progress photos will likely be related to our hardwood floors.  We considered a different flooring option for the new part of the main floor, but decided one way we could tie in the new and the old would be by continuing the original hardwood floor into the new area.  We did not want thresholds of any kind, so that means lacing in the old and new:lacing floorsThis is a chore.  This picture shows the original floor as it approaches the pocket doors from the living room side.  It is ready for the new floor boards that will carry into the new family room.

Timing?  Who knows?  It’s all lies.  Hopefully we will be able to host Thanksgiving in our new kitchen and family room.  Meantime, we feel pretty proud of spending our first Memphis summer largely outside on our side porch.  What better way to acclimate?  Speaking of acclimating, we’ve been noticing that Oregon temps now in mid-September show highs in the 60’s and 70’s and lows in the 40’s.  It’s still summer here in Memphis – highs mostly still in the 90’s (and still humid) and lows still mostly in the 70’s.  Our windows closed soundly in May, and remain firmly closed.

Next up, pictures of finished hardwood floors.  Timing?  Who knows.


Renovation in Memphis – 20 Weeks and Counting

The last time I wrote about our renovation it was July 20. After 6 more weeks, through the end of last week, things had moved only backwards.  We actually had more demo in our temporary living space.  In the process of removing 3 columns, more temporary walls were required and 2 new beams were built.  This occurred as we welcomed company from Oregon for a long weekend.  Our temporary kitchen and living room now look like this (the new beams run parallel to the temporary walls in the 2nd picture):

temp walls and living

temp walls and pool talbe

Since our indoor sitting area has been obliterated, we really do spend all of our time outside.  And with dusk, the bugs come out:


This was our friend from Oregon’s foot after a couple nights outside.  We spray for every bug known to mankind, but we are still beleaguered with mosquitos, chiggers (maybe), and no-see-ems.  Hubby often covers himself in OFF and stays outside to watch sports on our outside TV.  I prefer not to spray with OFF so I usually go inside, often to bed.  We do have a TV in our bedroom, just because we had an extra TV and that was the only place to put it.  Now, for the first time in our lives, we watch TV in bed.  Anything to escape the Memphis bugs.

Finally, our contractor got through all rough-in inspections.  We were warned that that process can take a month in Memphis; it seemed that ours took nearly 2 months.  During that time, nothing was accomplished that was discernible to my eye.  We stayed in construction zone mode and remain there.

Last week, all the remaining doors were delivered, including the pocket doors for the cased opening that will separate our new family room from the remains of the formal living room.  The pocket doors are beautiful, but not what we asked for.  We accepted them because they go better with the house; they are just more difficult to clean.  We asked for single sheets of glass, etched with the idea of wood slats, and instead received individual glass pains separated with actual wood.  I’m sure there is a name for this kind of door, but I can’t bring it to mind.  This picture shows the frame that the pocket door will sit in, not the finished door itself.Pocket Doors

Last Friday morning, the remaining walls in the remodeled area were demoed (the large windows on the left of the picture will all be replaced with a new door/window unit without transoms), demoed kitchenand then we got insulated!Insulated Kitchen  They first sprayed some kind of liquid insulation (that hardens) on the inside of the external walls and then added normal insulation.

This morning, sheet rock arrived, along with lots of workers to install it!kitchen walls  They are starting with the areas where cabinetry goes, because, believe it or not, cabinetry gets installed tomorrow!  That is great news because forward progress is being made, but how can they install beautiful new cabinetry in a construction zone and protect it?  The whole window/door unit at the end of the new kitchen still needs to be replaced; sheet rock will not be finished.  Wood floors (scheduled to be finished starting in 2 weeks) are not yet installed.  There is a lot of finish carpentry to be done, and lots of painting.  The list goes on.  We are just trusting that our contractor knows what they are doing.

Today we meet our contractor at the cabinet makers shop to inspect our cabinetry before it is delivered for installation tomorrow.  It will be our first look!  Hubby thinks we have been a bit bland on color selection, and I’m worried we’ve been too bold.  Today we might see which of us is correct.  Update post trip to cabinet shop:  the colors are beautiful and plenty bold.  However, we picked a door style that is reversible and the doors have been drilled and installed with the wrong side out.  It very nearly brought me to tears.  The fix remains unclear.  The cabinet boxes will still be installed tomorrow and measurements for the counter tops and island stone can proceed on Thursday.  As of the moment, the resolution on the doors is up in the air.

Yesterday, I missed a step 2 steps away from the bottom of the staircase and went down hard.  In the process I sprained (I think) the 3 middle toes on my right foot.  As a result, I did not get up this morning to do our every-other-day run/walk routine.  I guess I could blame this fall on the fact that a temporary wall bisects our staircase and the rail is gone on the side that is wide enough to use,temp wall and stairs but I think the more important lesson is that I need to be present minded when I go down stairs at this point in my life.  I tend to be stumbly/trippy anyway, so keeping my mind on the stairs is important.  Hubby always carries baskets up and down the stairs for me – he understands my propensity to trip!

As the day has progressed, the hardwood flooring has been delivered and brought inside, hardwood flooringbut it will have to be moved by tomorrow because it sits where the island cabinetry will be installed; all the sheetrock is here.

Simultaneously with this project, we are making improvements to the Pool House.  The stairway in the Pool House is quite steep and since we rent this space on AirBnB,Pool 4

we’ve decided to replace the staircase with a circular set of stairs.  I intended to include a picture of the boxes it was delivered in, but our contractor has taken the boxes away to storage at their facility since the work is scheduled to start on October 8.  I’ve also put off delivery of furniture for our new family room, which was to be held til late September, but was coming to us last week.  I certainly hope they can track it down and get it to us at the end of September.

Most days, we can roll with the construction punches.  Today has been a challenge, largely because our AT&T wireless went down in both the main house and in the pool house at the same time – 2 different accounts.  Dealing with the AT&T call center is a royal pain in the butt; the comeuppance was that they scheduled 2 different technicians to come out in the same 2 hour window because, well, that is how they do it.  The call center has a decision tree that they follow and there is zero common sense applied.  At least both technicians are here now; maybe between the 2 of them, they will figure it out.

Since I’ve been working on this blog post most of the day, the sheet rockers have made a lot of progress:  the top picture that follows is from the kitchen island looking across through the new family room with the fireplace on the right.  The second picture is looking into the corner of the sitting room with the fireplace on the right of the picture (in the dark).fam room sheet rockedsitting room sheet rocked

Both of these pictures look dark, but in reality the space is nice and light.  I guess you’ll have to trust me on that one.  The sheet rocked space looks great, the ceiling is high, and the light is great.  It is actually beginning to look less like a construction zone.

Renovation Posted Notices – the Good and the Ugly

Just before we departed for a Memorial Day weekend get away, we came home to this notice on our front door.

a Stop Work Order

Yes, it is a stop work order. Interestingly, it is posted on our front door, and all the workers enter on the side of the property without any opportunity to see the front door.  Perhaps that is why the trades are still working.

We send a picture of it to our contractor.  Gage replies, “I will take care of it.”  A few hours later, we ask for an update.  Gage replies, “I will take care of it.”  We depart for our Memorial Day get away.  During our trip, we ask Gage to have the notice removed as soon as possible.  We are a bit embarrassed to have it there. When we return in a few days, it is removed.  To this day, that’s all we know about it.

Then there are the happy notices, the ones we were excited to receive.  Last week, our electrical rough in passed inspection.

b elect

Today, the plumbing rough in passed inspection.

b plumbing

Those things mean we can proceed. The plumbing work can continue; the new walls can soon be built.

Demo in Memphis

DumpsterApril 16 came and we were ready for our Peabody house (midtown, Memphis, Tennessee) renovations to begin.  The happy news is that the demo crew did show up on April 16 and they went to town!  The bad news is that the dumpster did not show up until three days later.  Hubby and I look at each other and say, “Only in Memphis.”

We had emptied out the entire first floor of our home, including the kitchen, laundry room, pantry, full bathroom, dining room, sitting room, and most of the pool table and living rooms.  The pool table will remain until it is time to refinish the hardwood floors near the very end of the project, and we set up a temporary kitchen in the part of the main floor that will remain largely untouched.

The fridge is relocated to the pool table room (would be the formal dining room for almost anyone else) and its top serves as our pantry.a Pool Table and Fridge Our 5-foot square table has been moved to the front of the living room and will serve as our temporary kitchen.a Temp KitchenThe couch and TV remain in the living room, though scrunched toward the front of the house. We will spend most of our time out on our side porch, under fans. b Side Porch In June we added an outside TV to enhance our enjoyment of this outside space.b outside tv

Our son-in-law is wagering how long it will last before someone steals it.

Here is a look at demo week one.  The kitchen is emptied.Demo day 1 kitchen  The pantry is demolished.Demo day 1 pantry  The bathroom is quick to follow.  Hubby is standing in the bathroom just below.  Note the yellow tile floor in the picture below.  It was under two hardwood floors in the old kitchen area.  By the time we remove all the floors, we will gain several inches of ceiling height!Day one demo  Eventually, this is how the sitting room and the part of the living room that will be absorbed into the family room look.a Sitting room and living room demoed

Meantime, we have a hot mess.

A mess

There is definitely no turning back now.

Renovation in Memphis, Tennessee



2781fc42f6efa5321e4b83500777b3f3l-m0xd-w1020_h770_q80We purchased a 100+-year-old house in Memphis, Tennessee, last fall.  Before we even knew for sure that it would be ours, we began discussing the renovations we would require in order to make it into the home we would enjoy living in for the next decade or so.

Nearly 20 years ago, in Oregon, we completed a major remodel of our family home.  We moved into an apartment for that project, mostly because we had young children and it involved tearing off the roof structure and dismantling the heating system in early spring.  Our youngest turned one and started walking in that apartment, and our oldest started high school (after being homeschooled for several years) while our family lived there.


08This is the open floor plan 05and kitchen that we created in our Oregon remodel.  We relied heavily on the help of an interior designer at that time, and the space successfully stood the test of time.  There were many things we loved about our Oregon creation and the open floor plan was the most important of all.  Many of my memories from the years that we raised our five kiddos in that house took place in that open space, from the first hours with new kittens and later new puppies, sugar cookie making parties with a dozen pre-teen and teen aged swimmers, family dinners around the island, multiple cooks at one time claiming space to execute their portion of a large meal, gatherings for holidays, birthdays, graduations, Super Bowls, Duck football games, and the last hurrah (though we didn’t know it at the time) a Thanksgiving gathering for 30 in 2016.imagejpeg_0-1

As we began interviewing contractors for our Memphis renovation, after our general description of the goal (an open floor plan) more than one of them said, “Why did you buy this house?”  We love a lot about this grand old house, including the features that proudly declare, “I am 100+ years old!”  Our inspector explained that this house, our Peabody house, has many features that Memphians, especially Midtown dwelling Memphians lovingly refer to as, “Midtown Charm.”  That would include things like sloping floors, creaking floors, draftiness in winter, wood windows that are painted and caulked shut, warped doors that won’t completely close or latch, lead pipes, probably lead paint, knob and tube wiring, to go along with hundreds of huge mature trees (many of them flowering), gorgeous woodwork, limestone exteriors, and delightful front porches.

We chose this Peabody house to be our Memphis home because it was move-in ready for us and for our intended AirBnB guests.  We arrived in mid October 2017 and by mid November we had three AirBnB listings on this property up and running.  Main 7The Pool House is our back house with a separate entrance and gated parking for up to four guests, and we offer two bedrooms in the main house, each with its own bathroom, for up to two guests each.

Our Peabody house proved perfect for our AirBnB vision, but we quickly realized that we abhorred the kitchen space.  Main 12Our first guests were our oldest daughter and her family plus my mom and her husband. It was fall and that means college football season.  We love college football season.  We love hosting gatherings that include good food, friends and family, conversation, and the game on TV.  In an open floor plan, all of these things can occur simultaneously, but in the Peabody house, the kitchen is a galley with no seating space for anyone who wants to keep the cook company, and no access to the other areas of the house where conversation and the game are happening.  There is also not adequate space for multiple cooks, and we like lots of cooks at one time. The renovation that had seemed like a good idea was suddenly an imperative.  We hated entertaining in this space.  We needed to recreate the open space we had lived in for 20 years in Oregon.  We were not willing to live in our Peabody house without recreating that space.

We had a general idea of how to get the open concept at Peabody.  It is a traditional foursquare house with the stairway to the second floor smack dab in the center of the house.  Main 8You enter the house and see the stairway right in front of you; it goes up to a landing where a back stairway from the back of the house meets at the landing and then the stairs continue to the second floor.  We figured we could eliminate the part of the stairway that came up from the back part of the main floor, appropriate about one third of the living room, blow out the sitting room walls Main 11and all the walls that surrounded the kitchen, eating area, pantry and full bath on the main floor, thereby creating enough space for a new kitchen, large kitchen island, and a family room (hearth room per the lingo here).

One of the other things we loved about our Oregon space was the large fireplace with a hearth for sitting or sleeping on, and a vent-less gas log set that warmed the whole space. We froze our first winter in Memphis when there were many days at a time with the lows in the teens and single digits and the highs in the low 20’s. These temperatures were very difficult to battle in our drafty old house.  Gone were the days when we could turn the heat off at night; if we did that, the house would never get warm the next day.  So the remodeled space at the Peabody house would need a grand fireplace with hearth.  There are lots of fireplaces in Memphis’s midtown, but they are usually non-functional and they do not have raised hearths.

The basic goals were defined:  an open floor plan, a large kitchen island set four feet out from the wall of counters to allow multiple cooks at a time with no bumping butts, a grand fireplace with raised hearth, and a space for the TV.  That last should be embarrassing.  But it’s important to us, and hey, it’s mostly just us these days, so we can do what we want and in the evenings that involves watching news on the channel we prefer, sports, or binging on our favorite TV series.

Our first step was to hire a designer to draft the new space.  His job was to draft the existing spaceIMG_5040 and the new space with a layout to accomplish our objectives.  He wouldn’t have anything to say about the structure and whether or not the walls we wanted to come down were structural; his only job was to help us determine if the space could support a floor plan that would meet our objectives.  Our first meeting with him was on November 7, after arriving in Memphis on October 17.  It clearly did not take long for us to think seriously about remodeling.  We had our first look at his floor plan on January 3.  That first look was disconcerting.  He had placed the kitchen on the exact opposite side of the space than we had envisioned.  It took us a bit of time, but after thought and consideration and a few minor revisions, we agreed that his vision was superior to our initial thought, and before the end of January, we had a set of plansIMG_5041 that we could provide to contractors for bidding our project.

We interviewed 6 contractors: two we never heard from again, one said the project was well beyond his capability, one put his finger in the air and gave us a high number which was what he said it would take for him to touch it and that we should expect it to go higher, and two gave us detailed quotes.  By mid-March, from those last two, we selected our contractor, Capital Construction (and specifically Gage Morefield), and a project start date of April 16, a Monday.  It was necessary for us to go out that far to get beyond any AirBnB reservations for the main Peabody house bedrooms.  After that, we would shut those listings down until the project was complete.  We would continue to rent the Pool House during the remodel.

We had a date certain, and we began to make plans.  This time around, it is only Hubby and I who live in the house, and we intend to continue to live in it during the entirety of this project.  The air conditioner for the first floor would be dismantled early on, but the air conditioner for the second and third floors would remain functional.  We would lose our kitchen the first demo day, but we could move the fridge into the formal dining room (which is the pool table room for us), and move our five foot square table into the front of the living room and it would hold our temporary kitchen – Berkey water filter, coffee maker, toaster oven, silverware, paper plates, plastic cups, some spices and storage containers, paper towels, wine bottle opener and that’s about it.  We moved our couch toward the front of the house, moved the TV down in front of our formal fireplace in the living room (the one without a raised hearth) opposite the couch.  We covered the pool table with plastic, and planned on covering the TV, the couch, and the temporary kitchen with plastic each day to protect them from demo dust and later sheetrock dust.  We would turn our master bathroom claw foot bathtub into a dishwashing station for the few dishes we planned on using (coffee cups, wine glasses, silverware).   Everything else on the main floor (the kitchen, pantry, laundry room, sitting room, living room) would go upstairs and be covered with plastic, or would go into storage.

We would be ready for demo day on April 16.