Monday, May 6, 2013


The color of this room is the same I've been painting all my
bathrooms from Manhattan to my master bath in Portland.
Only my guest bath on the first floor is a different color. 

At last the glass walls have been installed.

Archie is wondering how the water is going to stay 
inside. As it turns out, he had reason to worry.

The wall sconce here is recycled from my master
bedroom. I thought the lights were too small
when I moved into the house. But I liked them and 
saved them for the right opportunity to re-purpose them.

These pebbles feel really good under bare feet. 

The shower before the glass walls were added.

One of the secrets not revealed to me at the time I bought this house was that during the bad winter storms of 2008, the basement suffered from water damage. The window frames were not sealed. Water somehow found a place to enter the basement, and as the owners contemplated a move, they apparently decided it was cheaper to gut the basement down to the studs. The inspector didn't quite do his job and without experience, I had no idea the space had been finished. But about a year and a half after I moved in, a lady knocked on my front door. She introduced herself by saying she had owned the house from the early 70s to 2000. She was curious to see what changes the house had gone through. I invited her in, poured her a cup of coffee and took her on the tour. She was impressed the previous owners had rewired the house, installed beautiful crown moldings (unusual and very appealing, than the usual crown moldings you see from Home Depot). She revealed to me that she had overlooked the addition to the house which included a vaulted ceiling master suite with a walk-in closet, a master bath and a balcony traversing the width of the house off the master bedroom. Below that was the kitchen/dining area, and below that, a poured basement under the new wing. She asked to see the basement, and when I took her downstairs, she expressed shock that the bedroom was no more and the bathroom, was stripped down to just the shower enclosure and the toilet, and neither of them worked. After her visit, I started to think about restoring the basement living area.

I asked several contractors to look over the space, but their estimates were very high and I kept dithering. At the very least, I knew that if I had a bedroom downstairs, I would have to install an egress window to make it a legal bedroom. I hired Dave McGee, a local contractor who had excellent reviews on Angie's list for his ability to install egress windows. We hit it off and I gave him the job. But he pointed out to me a big flaw in basement windows. The frames surrounding the wide windows that faced the back yard were bowing in the middle. I hadn't noticed. He showed me how the joists for the entire back of the house were resting on those frames were threatening to collapse. My first reaction was outrage that anyone had done such a shoddy thing and that I was going to have to fix it (so much for a good house inspection). Dave's solution was to place double steel King studs on either sides of the two windows and to jack up weight of the back of the house about a quarter inch so the joists would properly support the weight and relieve the pressure on those window frames. It took about a week and seemed remarkably reasonable. But with the egress window and the King studs, and three more replacement windows to replace the old wood ones, and I had spent $5,000 before a bit of cosmetic work was done. I put the restoration on hold.

Waterproofing the eastern wall of my house to stop the
leaks. This was the first step of the bathroom restoration.

A considerable part of the quote for the job was devoted
to plumbing, re-directing pipes, removing old and non-
functioning plumbing. installing the necessary hook-ups
for tenant washing machine and dryer.

A sump-pump was installed to gather any potential water
that might come into the basement and force it out deeply
into my back garden, and I installed a de-humidifier to 
lower humidity and keep the basement dry. 

The can in the middle bottom of this photo is a heavy
paint can covering up the drainage hole in the shower.
Two rats had taken up residence in the bathroom and when
Dave and I were going over initial ideas for the bathroom,
we were startled to find out those rats were inches away.

I decided to finish the bedroom last summer. It had been started by Kyle, a friend of my brother's, who moved into the basement for fourteen months and undertook a number of projects for me, most notably a beautiful brick patio in my back yard, and the construction of a large raised planter bed for a vegetable garden. The basement project was well under way and when he decided to split. After the big earth quake and tsunami in Japan, he became convinced Portland would be the epicenter for the next big seismic shift. The room was framed and only partially walled and it had to be completed. I called Dave, who came to the rescue with his crew and finished the basement room. It was beautiful and light-filled and the time seemed to be right to finish with the bathroom. My roommate had taken over the room as a place for her to watch videos, read and do her desk work. But she balked when I told her I was completing the bathroom. She didn't want to move into the basement. I told her she had to move down there or leave. She left, which was fine by me. Frankly she and I were not compatible at all. 

While this drama was going on, Dave and I began to make plans. The first thing to be done was to get the walls waterproofed, which took about a week, but it couldn't be done before the end of January. The company did an excellent job and the space was cleared out and ready for framing. I left for a week's vacation in San Francisco. When I got back, only half the framing had been completed. This was typical for Dave. This was now our fourth job together, and I was used to deadlines coming and going. I went to see a tile company called Surface, to figure out what sort of look I wanted. Picking out the tile was easy. While there, we talked about various floor treatments. I didn't want to risk putting down wood, in case of water damage. I didn't want floor tiles, and asked for all possible solutions. It was suggested that I try something called quartz carpet. Tiny colored confetti-like quartz stones were mixed with epoxy and then poured over the surface of the floor. "What's it like underfoot," I asked, thinking it might not feel so well. "Walk on it in your socks," the sales rep suggested. It felt utterly therapeutic. It was expensive, but I couldn't get it out of my head. I decided that would be the floor. 

But a lot would have to be done to prepare the floor. With a sump pump now installed, I could decommission the floor drain in the bathroom, but the floor slanted unevenly in order for water to run off and drain. This meant several layers of wet cement would have to be applied and then several layers of a floor leveler which would not entirely level the floor, but the carpet could now be applied. 

A previously planned trip to Paris meant a lot of things would be done in my absence and I wouldn't be able to supervise the finishing touches. I would be gone for another eleven days. Christian, a skilled worker who had done the framing, most of the walls, was now installing the large tiles that would traverse the entire back wall of the bathroom behind the shower and toilet. The custom shower-stall pan had been installed, but now Christian would fit the tile over the frame of the shower pan. The same porcelain tiles would be used as baseboards for the entire room. Cutting porcelain tiles is a tedious project because it is such a hard surface and it took forever. When I returned from Paris, the bathroom was essentially done, save the glass walls of the shower. I demanded a few changes (dropping the medicine cabinet lower, lowering the wall sconces, re-tiling the riser on the step up from the bedroom to the bathroom. 

The glass kept being a sticking point. The order was lost, my sales rep was out of the office because of personal issues at home, and nothing was getting accomplished. Finally I got in installation date, but that got postponed when it was discovered the hinges hadn't shipped. I was giving everyone hell about it. Finally last Thursday, the shower walls were installed. On Friday morning, I decided to take a shower in the new bathroom. I turned on the water which hit the back glass wall and promptly leaked all over the floor. This wasn't just a little trickle of water--it was a waterfall. More screaming. Today workers arrived to seal the shower with a clear substance and add a few more plastic sealers. 

In all, I was told the project should take about five weeks. It took four months. I'm very pleased with the end result, but the delays made me very cranky.  

A pocket door closes the bathroom off from the large bedroom.

Washer/dryer combo on other side of the renovated bathroom.

I couldn't get the right color of the quartz carpet, but this 
gives a good idea of texture.

The room looking East in late afternoon.

An opposite view, mostly cleared out and ready for the new occupant.

1 comment:

  1. “...bad winter storms of 2008, the basement suffered from water damage.” - This is definitely the kind of secret you would love to know before buying a house. It may be a bad news, but it's still an advantage that you found out about it immediately. At least you can give a necessary solution to it. I hope you're already done with your renovation and are now enjoying the house with your family.

    Emely @