Phase One – House Restoration 100% Complete

In September 2017 I purchased a 1924 Cape Cod styled home from the Community Board of Camp Washington. I searched almost a year with my agent Steve Petersen before this opportunity presented itself. I toured the house with Joe Gorman, former Camp Washington Board Executive Director, when another couple was going to purchase it. The vision for its restoration came to me during that tour. Almost everything I envisioned that day has materialized. It took three years, but my restoration journey is 100% complete.

I watch a TON of HGTV and DIY shows and I fancy myself an “advanced DIYer”.  I knew I wanted my first house to be a fixer upper, so that I could put my mark on it. I was empowered and emboldened by their shows to think I could handle a renovation project. Yes, this house was a bit more of a project than I set out to find. Interior design I did not consider one of my strengths. I spent the first 53 years of my life living in what my parents created. I didn’t know my decor style, so their network shows helped me find it. I enter their home giveaways all the time, but it was the 2017 Urban Oasis Giveaway that I fell in love with and it inspired almost all of my exterior and 1st floor interior color schemes. The pink door was my fastest departure, couldn’t do it. These are pictures of the areas I copied most:

I’ve already been asked if there is anything I’d do differently. I was able to quickly respond with one item, but there are three. I would have added a small can light above my stain glass window, similar to the one I put over the kitchen sink, so that window could stay illuminated at night. It’s one of my favorite original features of the house saved thanks to Architectural Art Glass Studio. I would have returned lights to the 1st floor bedroom closets. All three of the closets were reduced in size for duct work or a pocket door addition, so I didn’t think a light would be needed. I was wrong. The final item is I would have found the money and allowed Tiburon Energy to do foam insulation. I believe my master bedroom would have much better temperature regulation and I’d have less air seepage around my outlets if I had gone that route. It would have been an $8,000 investment that would have paid off long-term with energy savings.

Any regrets, many, but would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY! I shed a lot of tears and weight; not everything went according to plan, but it was a miraculous journey that I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to take. My life had purpose for the last three years. I learned and grew in so many areas. I’ve written this before, but what I’ve discovered is that at age 53 I truly enjoy working with my hands. I have a connection with the craftmanship that goes into old homes. I want to honor it and enjoy bringing it back to life. Call me weird, but my house spoke to me throughout this journey; she (her name is Janet, after my beloved mother) gave me a supreme sense of appreciation for saving her. I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from my neighbors, which is also humbling and appreciated. This house was an eyesore on the street for a very long time. I learned that the last owner actually used the backyard as a junk yard, which now explains why I dig up so many random car parts whenever I do yard work.

20201109_091635On October 24 I hosted another open house to show off the finished project. Once again I forgot to take pictures, but about 30 people came through and each got a souvenir bottle of hand sanitizer (making personalized hand sanitizers may become my new side hustle). With the news coverage of Covid-19 cases escalating the week leading into it I’m shocked anyone came. Of those that did about 40% were first timers. A business client and her husband gave up OSU football to see her a second time. They’ve been steady followers of the blog. I loved having her filled with people and great conversation. She deserves more of that. I’ve restored a beautiful house. The hard part will be making it feel like a home, which is a struggle given one vision I had for my life in this house will never come to be. The day ended with some close friends joining me for dinner and a toast of the completion.  Hopefully the global leaders will quickly eradicate this pandemic, so that I can host more gatherings like that. 

No final post on a restoration is complete without before, during, and after pictures:

Exterior: The thing I’m most proud of outdoors is the front yard. Believe it or not the very first project I did at the house was using my drop spreader to treat for weeds, which outnumbered the grass. I’ve been regularly treating the yard ever since, either myself or with a service. I put down tall fescue grass seed the first two springs, wrong time of year as summer heat got me before it really established. Finally this fall I rented a dethatcher to pull out the matted dead grass and weeds and then an overseeder and put down approximately 25 pounds of seed. With the paint job, pergola, and landscape the house is stunning, but it will only look better next spring when the grass is really full and luscious.

Original Light Fixtures: The house had been striped of all copper and metal. The 20201116_074221looters took what they thought would make money at the scrape yard, but they left things of real value. All of the original moulding, unpainted, was still in the house and most of it was in really great shape, just dirty.  That is why I personally removed, labeled, and bound together rooms before my demo crew started.  All of the doors, even the ones too damaged to use, still had their glass doorknobs These sell for $20 and up on Ebay.  Many rooms still had original light fixtures, albeit covered in paint or nicotine. I was not expecting the brass when I boiled some in hot water to remove the paint. Every original light that was left I was able to salvage, clean, rewire, and reuse.

Entry Foyer: The doors, entry and closet, were the greatest transformation. I lived with that front door through one of the coldest winters in Cincinnati’s history. The idea to put wallpaper in the hall closet was one of my favorite suggestions from a friend. Hopefully guest will be inspired by the message. I found it on a site Murals Your Way. This will be my signature mark if I ever get to restore another house.

Living Room: This room is a blend of my new found style and my mother’s. The rug, sofa, and oversized chair I selected from Haverty’s, but the rest of the decor, was my mom’s. I told my salesperson that the lamp and table must stay. I discovered my mother and Elvis (yes Elvis Presley) shared the same taste as a similar white lamp is part of the tour of Graceland. The only thing this space needs is the gas log set for the fire place. Clearly large screen televisions were not on the minds of the original builders as the height of the fireplace forces the elevation of the TV to be too high. The work my father and I did to allow for the running of electric and cabling makes it look like it was always meant to be.

Dining Room: I love the placement of the original wall sconces in this room. They were originally located in the living room, but clearly three of them were missing based on the holes in the wall. Of course the biggest transformation of this room was the removal of the wall that separated the dining room from kitchen and hall. You may ask why I have pictures of the yard with the dining room? Well the walnut trees you see are what created my gorgeous dining room table. The legs I had a full year before I bought the house. I just thought they’d make a great table I’d like to make one day, little did I know. It truly turned out amazing and having the chairs match the legs the way they do……..my mind’s eye hit the bullseye with that project.

Kitchen: Even before I saw the HGTV house I wanted blue cabinets, my favorite color. That house just confirmed I was making a great decision. Without question saving the original built-in was the greatest accomplishment of this space. The profile of the doors from an almost 100 year old cabinet I was able to select for my brand new cabinets. I impressed myself with noticing and making that detail happen. I’m so grateful Sosa Flooring (Sergio and Martin) were able to restore the floors properly. Until I made that correction the kitchen was not enjoyable to use and it loomed as my worst contractor decision of entire project that I had trouble forgiving myself for making.

1st Floor Hall and Bedrooms: When I saw the hint of brick from the fireplace I knew something special was being revealed. My cousin and his friends used a hammer and hand chisel to uncover the entire brick wall. A coating of LastiSeal stopped the crumbling and flaking to leave me with a gorgeous statement wall. Nothing super remarkable about either rooms. The first acts as my office. I still can’t believe it took me two years of searching salvage stores in the region before I found a door at Columbus Architectural Salvage. It turned out to be the exact size and swing for my opening. I just had to strip the paint and stain it to match the others. The hall and guestroom are decorated in tribute to my mom, so they stand out as my favorite areas of the house.

1st Floor Bathroom: The demoing of this bathroom was the toughest part of entire house. The original tile was set in concrete and wire mesh. My cousin and his friends were put to the test moving the original cast iron tub. I had done tile work on a much smaller scale, so what I pulled off in that space still amazes me. I know a professional would have easily charged me $5,000 or more. My goal was to restore the original look as much as possible. I used 4″x4″ tile on the floor, repeated the chair moulding, used 1″ hex on the floor. The “rug effect” was a twist and challenge for a advanced DIYer. In retrospect I should have just gone with a gray grout throughout. Putting white on white and black on black was a nightmare to do. It turned out OK, but it was also the reason I moved into the house without a functioning bathroom for the first two weeks. Converting a $15 salvage cabinet door to a mirror and putting it on a barndoor rail for the medicine cabinet was one of my most creative moments in the whole restoration.

My master suite is oh so SWEEEEET! I purchased a two bedroom, one bathroom house. More than enough for my single lifestyle. However the first time I walked up the stairs to the attic space and I saw the full height ceilings I said “this would make a killer master suite” and that is exactly what I created.

Master Bedroom: The Pinterest project to recess a $50 dresser in the wall to save space (like I needed to) turned out great. I was shocked I actually had enough clothes and shoes to fill my master walk-in closet, but I did. Of course my favorite project of the room is the bedroom furniture set (headboard and nightstands) I made from bead board reclaimed from the basement. If it were in my control I’d make sure that set never leaves the space; as long as its functioning it should stay in the house.

Master Bathroom: The bathroom is the size of my former bedroom. The original bathroom for that floor was confined to a dormer that held a 4′ tub, toilet, and sink. That same space is now just my water closet. Having the laundry room upstairs is so convenient. Converting dead space into my linen closet repurposing the small closet door I removed for the dresser insert was another sign of my growth as a designer. I had never laid flooring, let alone use reclaimed flooring I had removed to lace in with the existing floor. It was another proud moment. Sketching out and having built by the Amish my vanity cabinet was pretty cool too. Amazingly the tile work in this room, even with the angles was easier than the 1st floor. Mitch Altman, owner of Thermasol, a steam shower company, helped me turn the lemons from my poor performing shower system to lemonade by making his steam unit affordable to me. The entire space, with its massive steam shower and deep soaking tub, is a true home spa oasis that I’m not quite sure I deserve, but glad I have.

I want to thank my friends and family that supported this journey financially, physically, and emotionally. I must give a special shout out to my father who left his home in Florida to spend multiple weeks each visit with me in the first and hardest year of the restoration to help me accomplish what you’ve seen in these pictures. He has said to me many times I waited until he was old (he was 77 when I started and will be 80 in January) to finally show interest in something that has always interested him. We fought and argued throughout, but I learned a lot and the job got done. I did not have the funds to pay a contractor for what we accomplished. Our sweat equity is in the multiple of thousands in dollars saved and quality was never sacrificed. I also want to thank everyone that followed my blog during this journey. Prior to this post I had written 212 others, which have received 67,000+ views from 7,557+ visitors that have come from 68 different countries from around the world. I’m humbled and honored by that level of attention and hope that I inspired anyone hesitant to take a similar journey or helped anyone already taking one.

This is the final post of My First House – It Is Well With My Soul. I’ll be changing the name of my blog to Sista Girl With Skills, but will continue to write about my DIY projects. Phase II is the new construction detached garage. Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on the hospitality industry where I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I hope that’s not the case as my soul is yearning for another old house to renovate. I’ve found something I can be passionate about. They say a job is only work when you don’t enjoy what you’re doing. That has definitely been the case for much of my career. HGTV has Flip or Flops in several cities throughout the USA. How about Rehab Addict Cincinnati starring…………Venus, Sista Girl With Skill!.

Steamin’ Hot

The spa oasis is complete.  The Thermasol SSA 395 steam generator, Microtouch Time/Temp controller, and steam head have finally been installed.  It took some doing.  Mother nature just would not cooperate, so it took a couple of weeks after the unit arrived before Mr. McGhee, my electrician could run the electric.  I didn’t have the heart to ask him work in the extreme cold and rain.  The easiest way to run the line was to run a conduit on the outside from the panel into the location where the unit will be housed.  I was fine with that since I haven’t painted the house yet.  The conduit will be painted and hopefully blend well enough that it really won’t be noticeable.  He tucked it near the window trim, which minimizes it further.  The unit requires a 60 amp breaker and the wire for that was super thick.  Thanks to the larger panel Mr. McGhee installed for me several months ago I had the space.

When he was able to do his work, the plumber didn’t show up.  That marked twice that he no showed me without so much as a call, so my negative streaks with plumbers continued until I called Zins Plumbing.  Zins was able to send a service man, Kevin, out the same day, Thursday.  He was awesome, funny, and efficient.  Their web page (can’t call it a site) states their goal is 100% customer satisfaction.  If you aren’t smiling, we haven’t done our job!  They did their job well, I’m smiling, and I now have a plumber.  I didn’t get any pictures of Kevin while he was curled up in my crawl space, but the end result was spot on.  Even Mr. McGhee, who returned for the final connection after the plumbing work was done, commented on the quality of Kevin’s soldering.

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The one thing Zins would not do is drill the hole in my tile for the steam head.  I was ready for that.  The steam head required a 1 1/8″ hole.  The controller a 1 1/2″ hole.  I got both sizes, Kempton Coated Diamond hole saws, from Amazon.  Keeping the saw steady in one spot until it starts to embed in your tile is a challenge, so I bit on a suggestive sale and purchased a Drilax Drill Bil Hole Saw Guide with suction cup.  It worked like a charm.  Kevin provided me the measurements between studs, so it was easy and accurate project for me.

The only thing I could not accomplish was connecting the pressure valve to a drain.  I called Mitch Altman (owner of Thermasol who gave me his number to call if I had any problems – LOVE THIS GUY) said I should not have any problems and that a drain connection wasn’t necessary.  Just to be safe I did connect a metal tipped pipe on it (like the one on my water heater) which ends over a small bucket.

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There are countless articles on the Internet that tout the benefits of a steam room.  There are actual health benefits that come about due to the humidity generated in a steam shower.  This Healthline article really spells them out well.  My gym pals from the Health Plex use to tease me for my lack of sweat.  Flushing out toxins through sweat is the one thing I’m looking most forward to.  I found a SteamSauna for your healthy lifestyle blog that stated the best temperature for a steam shower is between 110 degrees Fahrenheit or 115 degrees Fahrenheit. At these temperatures, the body’s metabolism rises to the extent where core temperature begins to be regulated. This causes more energy consumption, an increase in circulation, and an increase in heart rate.  I never used the sauna or steam room at the gym.  The Health Plex did a terrible job keeping the locker rooms clean, so I never trusted using theirs.

Time to give my personal, private, steam room a try.  Thank you Mitch Altman.

Thermosol Man

 

Adding a New Water Line

In my post Here They Come to Save the Day…..Maybe  I wrote about adding a steam unit to my shower to compensate for the disappointment I experienced with my Signature Hardware Exira Shower unit.  The owner of Thermasol, Mitch Altman, took a personal interest in this project after reading about all the issues I was having.  Signature Hardware finally started providing the level of customer service I had been accustomed to receiving when dealing with issues with their product and refunded the cost of the shower unit.  That made the purchase of the Thermasol unit possible, but not probable.

The unit needs a constant water source and I did not want to splice into the existing water line to feed the unit.  The two Hansgrohe shower heads that I bought to replace the Signature Hardware heads are working great and I did not want anything to circumvent that.  The beauty of being hands on with the restoration project is I knew exactly how and more importantly where the water lines were run to the shower.  My manifold has three empty slots, so my decision to move forward with the steam unit was depended upon my ability to run a dedicated line.  These pics show the path before the HVAC ducts were installed.

I took these steps:

  1. Cut a whole in the crawl space floor.  I cut the section directly behind where the shower water lines were located.  Turns out holes were drilled in the joist, so the line to the basement were over one joist.  Bottom line I had to remove another section of the floor.
  2. Push a remnant piece of pex through the floor joist until I reached where I could see the existing lines turn down.
  3. Cut a hole in the drywall of guestroom closet.
  4. Blind feel for the piece (found it almost immediately) and pull it through the opening.
  5. Drill a hole into the floor of the closet from the basement near the existing lines
  6. Push new pex line through hole up to the point where I cut hole in drywall.  Since I was working by myself I taped a loop at the end of the line, so I could fish for it in the wall with a hanger..
  7. Tape the two ends together and then return to crawl space and pulled the new line to the shower.
  8. I had to make 5 elbow connections.
  9. Order the the steam unit as mission was accomplished

Mitch, again I have to stress that the owner of Thermasol took a personal interest in my plight, worked with one of his authorized dealers to help me meet my budget requirements.  I am getting their Thermasol SSA 395 unit and Microtouch Time/Temp controller.  I also got their Aromatherapy 100% organic Essential oils; French Lavender to promote calming and relaxing effects, Portuguese Eucalyptus to stimulate, sooth and cool (I plan to mix these two) and Italian Bergamot Citrus to reduce anxiety, depression, and insomnia (every insomnia night moving forward I will turn to my shower vs. tossing and turning until I fall asleep out of exhaustion).  I can’t wait.  Hopefully the weather will be great next week, so Mr. McGhee can run the electric line.

Here They Come To Save The Day…..Maybe

Distraught does not begin to describe my mindset when I accepted the realization that my vision for my shower with the Signature Hardware Shower system would never materialize.  At the start of this project I wanted that shower to be a steam shower, but the cost of the unit was three times the cost of the shower system, so I settled on what my friends coined “the human car wash”. One single function spray does not a car wash make, so I decided to research steam units again.  Fortunately I had already made the decision to completely enclose the shower, to keep the steam from the water in, so I knew one hurdle was down without any additional cost.

Build.com has been my go to website for a lot of the items in my house, so I started there.  They had several brands:  Mr. Steam, SteamSpa, Steamist, ThermoSol, and Kohler.  With that list I started looking for reviews of systems on the Internet and consistently Mr. Steam and ThermoSol were popping up.  Then I stumbled across a ThermoSol company video.  There was a statement in the video “employees are empowered to help the customer” that really jumped out at me.  I decided to go to their website to learn more about their product.  Not really knowing what I would need I clicked on the word “Consultation” on their website.  They provided your choice of 4 phone appointments of various lengths.  I selected Steam Shower, a 30 minute, speak with a ThermaSol Specialist to discuss the features of a ThermaSol steam shower.

I got to select a day, time in step 1; I selected early afternoon the following day.  Step 2 was your contact information and details on the size of your shower, and an opportunity to share any details.  I was fresh off the callous phone call with Signature Hardware where I was told they were severing business ties with me, so my details centered around the disppointment with the performance of their system.  I provided links to some of my post.  Approximately two hours after I hit confirm appointment my phone rang and it was a representative from ThermaSol, but not just any representative.  It was Mitchell Altman, the CEO.  He read my comments and pulled my appointment out of the cue as he wanted to personally handle my situation.  The man brought me to tears, this time of joy.

Following the call and on that same day we must have had a dozen back and forth emails. Some well past his business hours.  As promised he sent me a document with installation instructions.  I’d read some, have a question and email him.  The man responded back in minutes each time.  I sent him pictures behind the wall, in the shower with measuring tapes, so he could see heights and distances of locations where his instructions said equipment should go.  In the end he said his unit could definitely be installed, I had only one major hurdle.  Could I get a 60 amp service line up to the master bathroom.  My God send electrician, Mr. McGhee came over the next day.  He looked at my panel, determined I had space, and he studied routes to pull the line upstairs.  I have two options, but bottom line was yes, he could get a 60 amp line up to the shower.

I shared that news in another email with Mr. Altman who then sent me a package quote. With Fifth Third turning down my equity line application (due to finding no value in the collateral and for the house still being under construction) the ability to paint my house this year was doubtful, but I still have some funds I was going to allocate towards replacing the pillars out front.  I thought that would help improve the curb appeal in the short term.  Well I don’t live outside and I shower every day, so right now I’m strongly leaning towards reallocating those funds and moving forward with the ThermaSol system.  You’ll have to keep checking back for the final outcome.