Posts by Molly James-Lundak

Brand architect. Story teller. Fun seeker. Problem solver. Dancing baker. Mom. Chicago Californian. And NOW Home Renovator. See what else I like to share and say @MJamesLundak

isn’t it ironic

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought, it figures

Alanis Morissette

Remember what prompted this remodel/addition? The need for a first floor bathroom turned into a multi-floor addition of our dreams. (You can read more in Calm before the storm.) So, isn’t it ironic that said bathroom is the last room finished? Everything else – kitchen, master, family, basement – were all ready for move-in by February 1; six months to the day after we broke ground.

In this marathon project, the bathroom brought up the rear. Figuratively speaking at least.

Over the course of the last week, we’ve fully moved in, moved things around and started breaking in the new digs. Our bedroom moved to the new master suite, while our old bedroom became the guest bedroom. The floors were swept and cleaned. The former TV room furniture moved to the basement (thanks to big Jim’s help), and is now a kid cave complete with ping pong table and a laundry chute for eavesdropping. And the floors were swept and cleaned. New furniture arrived for the family room, and TV and Sonos were installed. Closets were hung, clothes were purged and put away. And the floors were swept and cleaned again.

And yet, the first floor powder room remained undone.

But thankfully it was only a week or so behind. Fast forward a week and now new tile (remember what happened in Oops?) is in. The wallpaper is up. The toilet is down(?). And we even have a door. No mirror or toilet paper holders, but it’s open for business.

They say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But, I’d say we’re close. Kind of done, but not done done. All moved in, but not finished. Maybe, close to done?

The dumpster left a week ago, followed by the port-a-potty a week later. So, seems done. Right?

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Maybe not. See, remodeling is like getting a tattoo. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.

We figured that while we’re at it, why not rethink the front room. What’s another “little” project when we’re already this far in? The vinyl floor and awkward divider wall are out of place with the updated entry and flow of the house. It was clear the house “needs” this. It wants to go back to the good old days. So, we made a late game decision to demo our front room (the converted porch, turned TV room) and tear out the floors in hope of finding something great below.

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Alas, no such luck.

Layers of linoleum and parquet and adhesive, but no porch floors. So, construction continues and we’ll be putting in new floors this week.

Isn’t it ironic.

 

 

it’s lit.

it’s lit (Urban Dictionary)
when something fun is happening or something exciting is happening and you and your friends are turnt up.
Yep. This house is lit. No, really.
The 25 boxes in our living room (great for fort making BTW), are now gracing our walls and ceilings with their own distinct personalities.
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Some are floating orbs of joy that glow like a bright full moon or a moody sunset.
Others are work hard, play hard. Like the mullet of lighting (you know, business up top, party in the back). Stripped to the bare essentials, but winking at  you as if to say, “go ahead, let’s get this party going.”
Forget global warming. I love these lights so much I am never turning them off. Like Old Man Parker’s leg lamp, I’m going to burn them brightly for all the neighbors to see.
It’s the middle of January. It’s Chicago. And if you’ve been here in the dead of winter, you know that light can turn this…
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into this…
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So, thank you Humphrey Davy and Joseph Swan for inventing the light bulb. (Sorry, Thomas Edison.) And forget the college fund; that money is going to the electric company.
As my friend and design kindred spirit Annie Dwyer says, “lighting is the jewelry of the home.” So, skip Tiffany’s. Please buy my anniversary gift at Schoolhouse Electric.

 

sinking in

When you adjust to “life under construction”, you start to forget that it will ever end. You see and hear all the chaos around you, and rationally you know it will end. But you get so used to this new way of living that it becomes second nature to do the dishes in the bathtub and to nuke something in the microwave in the office. You forget what cooking feels like. You forget what clean smells like. You forget what home looks like.

So, it’s was a bit jarring when we got five new (operational) sinks in one day.

It sunk in.

This will end. We will get to eat off of real plates again. Our dining repertoire will consist of more than three meals (Chinese chicken night, Chicken taco night and pasta). The tub will go back to being a tub (after extensive bleaching). We will get to enjoy the comforts of home. Soon.

We took a quantum leap forward this week. Here’s just a glimpse of what’s happened.

New sinks – master bath, kitchen, powder room trough and bar/butler’s pantry

New appliances (from Abt) – stocked with the essentials

Closet install (from California Closets) – just waiting to be filled (with shoes)

Master tile (from Virginia Tile) – grouted and ready for scrubbing

At this rate, we’ll be showing the final reveal by February. (Knock on wood.) And Dan will probably win the family bet on the completion date.

The prize? A very fine house.

oops.

Mistakes happen. Most of us do what we can to prevent them — but they happen. As any self-help, leadership or children’s book will tell you, the best thing you an do is learn from them and figure out how to keep them from happening again.

We’ve only had a couple of mistakes so far in rebuilding this house. <knocks on wood> Two were preventable and could have been easily avoided with better communication. The other would have required a dog whisperer or a bigger bladder.

All of them cost money.

When I was 13 and our family moved from southern California to the DFW area in Texas, a new custom-built home helped to take the edge off the culture shock. We got to pick out every detail, from the Laura Ashley wallpaper to the crown molding. My sister Kelly, being 4 years older than me, got first dibs on bedrooms. So naturally, she chose the biggest and best room with the large bay window at the front of the house. And just like the plot of a John Hughes movie, I declared it unfair.

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The Grapevine house we built in 1985 (photo 2015). The top bay window was Kelly’s room.

My mom had a gift for making things right, though. She took great care to make sure presents were equal at Christmas and that none of us felt slighted or left out. Since this was a custom-built home, the solution was to add a picture window and window seat to my smaller room overlooking the driveway. I felt satisfied.

When we got to town a few weeks before the start of the school year following our cross-country drive, our first stop was to see the progress on the house. It wasn’t ready for us to move in yet (that would take 4 more months!), but we could see the dangling carrot of the new home. We walked around the exterior of the house in the twilight and pointed out each room. There was Kelly’s room, the guest room…but when we got to the driveway, there was no picture window. No room for me! I was crushed.

Of course I didn’t know it in the moment, but there was a room for me, just no window. A builder’s mistake. Eventually it was fixed and a window added, but not quite like we envisioned. These things happen, and if you aren’t onsite to monitor every move, they can happen a lot.

This is what happened two weeks ago when we didn’t monitor the powder room tile installation on our house remodel. Can you spot the difference?

The tile setter installed the Sabine Hill pieces on a diagonal, instead of a normal grid pattern. The design is correct, but the diagonal placement along with black grout (not our choice) turned our bold design pick into a busy distraction. The crusher is that we waited 10 weeks for the tile to arrive from the Dominican Republic and removing the mistake would also mean another delay. Of course, a few more weeks at this point is a rounding error. (I’m just saying that to make myself feel better. It’s not really working.)

Then there’s the roof color mistake. We opted not to replace the entire roof and just do the new and main portion of the roof. The smaller area of roof over the front door was replaced just two years ago and we chose a slightly darker color for it knowing we’d eventually replace the entire roof. So, we asked for the new roof to match the existing.

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See the problem with that communication? We said “match the existing,” but we didn’t clarify which part was existing. It took a few days for us to notice, but the new roof matched the old existing roof that it was replacing, and the front of the house still has the slightly darker shingles. Anyone with OCD will quickly point this out to us.

Two mistakes that could have been averted with better communication and more supervision.

And then there’s the most recent gaffe.

Over the weekend we were focused on other things and neglected to give Rocky any water all day long. By bedtime on Saturday, he was barking and looking for any drop of liquid to quench his thirst. Once we realized what he was upset about we gave him enough water to fill about three bowls. He quickly slurped it all up. Of course we knew he’d need to go out to pee before bed, so we made sure he did his business.

Sunday was Christmas Eve and a travel day. We had to evacuate for the holidays so the floors could be stained and varnished. The sanding was already done and the raw naked floors were ready to be made beautiful. We had the car half-packed to get up early and drive to Lincoln to celebrate Christmas with the Lundak family.

Dan found the very large puddle when he woke up. It wasn’t on the vinyl by the front door. It wasn’t on the finished wood by Rocky’s bed. It wasn’t on the ceramic tile in the new mudroom. It was on the raw, naked, sanded, new wood by the back door. Dan soaked it up as best he could. A minor annoyance in the process of getting out of town.

Then two days later we get this text from our GC…

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The floors were cupping and the acid had discolored the wood. The three bowls of water turned into replacing all the wood in the stained area, re-sanding and then starting the staining process (that’s dripping with irony) all over again.

At this point, all that matters to us is that we get back into our house on Sunday, New Year’s Eve, and can stop being nomads.

“Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.” Oscar Wilde

The lesson here? We’re human. We make mistakes. It might mean a little delay or a little more cost, but that’s just the price of gaining experience.

And better communication — with humans and dogs — could definitely help.

practicing hope

Stick with me on this one. It’s going to get a bit spiritual. But no matter your religious beliefs or traditions, I hope you can relate to the theme of this post — hope.

This past weekend marked the first Sunday in Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. To mark the coming of Christ, we light a candle each week of Advent, with the first week signifying hope. That same day I stumbled on an email recommended by my mother-in-law that talked about the season of Advent and the “Time for Practicing Hope.”

Then it hit me. Beyond the never-ending mess, the constant inconvenience, the stress and the anxiety and the worry, there’s always hope. This project is a constant exercise in hope. Hope that the project will go smoothly. Hope that no one will fall off a ladder and die. Hope that we won’t regret any design choices. Hope that the eventual increase in property taxes won’t suck us dry. Hope that it will all turn out okay and someday our home will be back to normal (and preferably be dust-free).

Hope is a powerful thing. It can get you through times far far more challenging than living in a home during a remodel. In this year of increasing global and local uncertainty, hope is what we cling to when we really want to just crawl under the covers and turn off all media. But what’s great about the holiday season is that we get to practice hope all over again. Kids hope that Santa comes. We hope we get our lists crossed off in time. We hope the last-minute Amazon delivery gets here on time. We hope there are no family feuds on Christmas Eve. We hope that joy will appear and that we will remember we are here to love one another and this planet.

We may be getting extra-credit building up our hope muscles with this project, but in some small way I think it will serve us well in the long run when there are far more serious reasons to call on the power of hope.

Oh, and if you think we hope to finish the house this year…we’ve already lost hope on that pipe dream. But end of January is looking better and better.

And there is a silver lining of not being done by Christmas. We are taking a simple approach to the holidays with only a wreath and a half-lit skinny tree as decorations. But look out 2018 – I’m saving up extra tinsel for you.

Meanwhile, here’s a brief view of the progress. Let me know what you think!

 

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the grateful list

I love Christmas, but Thanksgiving is a close second. It’s the last holiday that hasn’t been overtaken by consumerism. There’s no Thanksgiving themed aisle of candy and decorations at the store. We don’t buy gifts or special sweaters to show we’re celebrating. And how cool is it that this holiday is all about being grateful?

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, here are the top five things I’m grateful for during this house renovation…

1. A sense of humor

Two Porta-potties?

If you can’t laugh at the dust or the 7:30 am hammering on a Saturday, don’t live in your house while it’s being remodeled. Trust me on this. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes we’re laughing just because it’s a better alternative to crying. And sometimes we’re laughing because there are two porta-potties in our driveway. Not one, but two. Who knew that stucco-guys could be so particular about their johns. Brings new meaning to the phrase BYOB (bring your own bathroom).

2. Tradesman that show up and do good work 

Drywall on stilts

We are officially done with drywall. (Yeah!) This guy was here every day for 10 days straight (weekends and evenings included) to get the job done. Sometimes he had a whole crew of cousins and mariachi music with him, sometimes he was solo. I admit that having drywaller houseguests all weekend for two weeks in a row got a little old, but it’s better than the alternative. We’ve heard horror stories of no one showing up to work on a project for a week or so at a time. Not the case here. They are moving pretty fast – even on stilts. They aren’t so good with clean up, but all the trades have done an excellent job so far. That’s all we could ask for.

3. Windows that remind me to enjoy the view

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Bedroom with a view

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Family room full of light

One thing we love about our house is the corner location and all the light we get from the East, South and West. The new addition (on the West side of the house), is full of windows to maximize the sunshine. The result is open and airy and a constant tease at what’s to come when we get to wake up and look out these windows each morning. It’s easy to focus on the mess and the incredible inconvenience of it all, but when the sun shines just right through these windows, we remember that in just a few months we’ll be enjoying the view from the comfort of a new kitchen or bedroom.

4. A chill dog

Rocky chillest dog around

When we started this project, I was most nervous about how Rocky would handle it all. I thought he might bark at all the workers or go stir crazy being in a confined space. Ironically, we’ve been the ones barking at each other (from time to time) and going crazy living in just a few small rooms.

We have no access to our backyard, so Rocky has to go out front to do his business. Every morning at 6:30 we just open the door, he goes pee on the front lawn and comes running back. Except for chasing the mail lady in the rain that one night (what is it about mailmen and dogs?), he is very obedient and comes back in the house like a good boy. He especially loves checking out the workers and the new space and rolling in the dust.

5. Reviving game night

We had to get out of the house last weekend. There was drywalling all day, combined with dust and noise, and it to top it off, it was cold and rainy.  Trifecta of unpleasantness. Lincoln was especially bored, so Dan decided to go get a new game that they could play at Starbucks on Sunday afternoon. Colby and I went along for the ride and to do homework and work-work while the other two played games. The new game of choice? Exploding Kittens.

If you haven’t played Exploding Kittens, it’s now more popular at 602 William than TV. It’s fun. It’s vindictive. It has kittens. The perfect combo. And any time you can play games with your kids that don’t require batteries, you do it. Be grateful they want to spend time with you, it may be short-lived.

Giving thanks this year

Wherever you may be this Thanksgiving, we hope you look around and can see bright spots in your life. The turkeys in power may bring us down, but we still have much to be grateful for. We have a roof over our heads and love in our hearts, and for that we are incredibly thankful.

 

end of the first trimester

Home construction is a lot like a pregnancy. It takes a lot of planning, can cost a lot of money, and causes a lot of pain. But when it’s over, we forget the trauma and are consumed with our beautiful new baby.

It’s been three months since we broke ground, so in pregnancy terms we’ve made it through the first trimester. And while we pray this doesn’t go a full term of nine months, there are probably three solid months to go.

Those aren’t the only similarities. The home remodel small talk we hear at every party or walk around the neighborhood sounds vaguely familiar, too.

When you’re pregnant people say: “You look great. I can hardly tell you’re pregnant. When are you due?”

What you’re thinking: “People lie. And they’re blind. Will this ever be over?”

And when you’re remodeling people say: “It looks great. It’s really coming along. When will you be finished?”

What you’re thinking: “People lie. And they’re blind. Will this ever be over?”

My pregnancies were never difficult. No real morning sickness or serious problems. But I hated not feeling like myself. That’s kind of where I am now. The remodel is not difficult, there are no major problems, but we’re not living like we normally do.

There’s a constant layer of dirt on every surface. There’s no real meal planning and much smaller loads of groceries. We eat yogurt and ice cream out of the cartons to save us from washing another dish. Licking a knife now makes it clean. There’s a microwave and hot plate in the office. There’s a coffee maker and tabletop convection oven in our bathroom. A refrigerator and toaster in our living room. And a mix of clean and dirty dishes in our bathtub.  And did I mention the dirt?

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But just like when you’re a first time parent, the kindness of friends makes all the difference. We’ve had so many lovely dinners at friends’ houses, where we savor real home cooked meals, clean floors and, of course, the best company. We’ve borrowed a kitchen to satisfy a baking itch. And there are offers of doggie play dates and borrowing houses during vacation. Every offer is so appreciated and helps dilute the little frustrations that come with living in a construction zone.

We’ve also embraced the little surprises along the way. From discovering pretty wood detail on the stairs hidden behind drywall and opening up the entryway (our contractor’s brillian idea), to spending more family “together time” (since we’re always sharing the same 300 square foot space). And I love the bursts of creativity when we’re planning where outlets and lighting go, and start imagining how it will all come together. I can see how this might become addicting.

Demo Dan taking down the door

Pretty woodwork hidden behind drywall

So, what will the next few months (or trimester)bring? Things like stucco, installation, and drywall, and then the long process of finishing (floors, tile, lights, cabinets, etc.). That means trying to stay upbeat, overlooking the hassles, and keeping our eyes on the prize. A few holiday distractions will help, too. Then, before we know it, all the pains will be a distant memory and we’ll be enjoying our fresh new old home.

But that’s where the pregnancy comparison ends. Since unlike a new baby, we’ll be when this is through, we’ll be sleeping through the night in our new master suite.