Archive for the ‘SF House’ Category

a little vanity project

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

I’ve never understood folks who like to style their hair and put on their makeup in the bathroom (the most humid room in the house). Because I share our one full bathroom with Mike (and I like a steamless room to complete my morning ritual) I wanted to create a little area in our new bedroom where I could put on makeup and style my hair. I took a little inspiration from a recent blog post from Anna at door sixteen and painted an Ikea BEKVÄM step stool in colors that match the bedroom. The step stool also functions as a nice little seat. We then installed a simple shelf and a mirror. I rounded out the project with some inexpensive painted boxes to store glasses and makeup that was inspired by a $100 storage shelf from CB2. I’m very pleased with the results, and I think it will be a very functional area for me to use every day.

Inspiration thanks to doorsixteen, ikea, and cb2

The completed vanity project. Simple and functional.

a different kind of distraction

Monday, February 1st, 2010

I know that a lot of people use the internet to distract from the frustrations of everyday life. For some it’s reading every news article on their subject of choice. For others it’s checking out every video on You Tube on their subject of choice. For yet other people it’s all about wikipedia. And of course, there’s always Facebook. For me, while I try to have a nice balance to my internet interests, I’ve been finding myself spending an inordinate amount of time looking at light. Honestly, adding more lamps and lighting is item 1,011 on a 1,200 item list here at mad maison, but I can’t help myself. And, I’ve found my muse. There’s  a beautiful lamp at Room and Board that has become the grail of my quest. My goal is to find a slightly shorter, much less expensive version of the Olinda lamp. I love that the glass base reduces the “visual clutter” as my teachers at HGTV would say. My distraction has begun. I only hope I don’t have to distract myself from my distraction.

My current distraction. Photo from Room and Board

Bedroom before and after

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

mad has been happily sleeping in our new bedroom for almost a month. We’re still in the process of “settling in” to the room–unpacking any remaining boxes of stuff that belong there–but it’s been absolutely wonderful to have such a restorative place to retire to every night. I wanted to share before and after pictures of the room. The before picture was while my pops was still clearing the house out (mad was in NY when the before picture was taken). We won’t be displaying any of our art until the whole house is done (rehab dust finds its way everywhere), but the furniture is in place and (most important), the walls are done.

Here's a before shot of our bedroom, while my pops was working away.

Our newly completed bedroom. It's unusual to have both cats pose for a picture.

project sneaky follow-up

Saturday, January 23rd, 2010

I’m happy to report that project sneaky was a success. After Mike expressed a little guilt that I completed some work without him (what a sweety!), he has stated that even with the few items that need to be changed, our ‘new’ half bath is currently his favorite room in the house. Given that I picked the wall color (gray tint from Benjamin Moore) without him, I’m thrilled and relieved that he’s happy. I’m also pleasantly surprised that what I had planned as a temporary fix, spray-painting the brass frame of the mirror silver, is one of Mike’s favorite elements. There’s also something invigorating for both of us to work through a room so quickly. I’ve gotten a couple of requests to show the room with the floor visible as well (since it was so visible in the before shot). Here you can see the wood floors that run through the whole house. We’re so grateful that these floors were refinished before we arrived–and I think you’ll agree they ensure that all of our work has a gorgeous “canvas” to sit on .

New half bath with floors

Here's our new half-bath, including our gorgeous floors

Project Sneaky

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

This past Saturday, Mike caught a flight to Florida to visit his mom. He was able to leave with a sense of accomplishment, knowing that I would be sleeping in clean, restful comfort in our newly completed bedroom. What he didn’t know is that I had a plan to surprise him with some covert home improvements. I decided to enlist my pops to help me complete a small but meaningful project. It seemed like a tangible way to say “thank you” to my amazing partner who has embraced this adventure by working hard to make our house a home. Mike is en route to California now, so this is a perfect opportunity to let our faithful readers in on the project before Mike even knows about it.

We have a small 1/2 bath that was created in the early 1990’s out of a coat closet. True to form, it was decorated with wallpaper and other touches that are not exactly to mad’s tastes. The room is tiny, but something we use quite frequently. Given that the wallpaper isn’t 900 years old, isn’t painted over, and is in such a small room, I thought it presented a perfect opportunity. Over the course of Sunday and Monday (which was a holiday for me), my dad and I removed the wallpaper, primed, and painted the room. I now understand how all of these wallpaper removal products are supposed to work. We scored the wallpaper, sprayed some Diff, and after some steaming, pealed the paper off in about an hour. There are things still left to be done in the room (replacing the beige toilet and sink primary among them), but the task that has given mad the most grief over the last 6 months is done. We’ve also removed all the brass-colored fittings and replaced them with mad-friendly chrome. I’m hoping Mike appreciates the surprise. Perhaps he’ll let you know in this very blog after he recovers from his long flight and jet lag.

Here's the original 1/2 bath on our main floor. Notice the wallpaper and brass fittings.

The after. No more wallpaper, and chrome fittings. Trust me, this light is much better.

Bedroom progress

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I’m happy to report that we completed the walls of our bedroom and we’ve started the process of cleaning the floors, moving our furniture in, and hanging window coverings. We’re not fully assembled yet, but I wanted to share the different between our walls before we painted and after. I’m excited to move in and share more pictures with our faithful readers.

The bedroom walls sans wallpaper, post plaster repair, ready for primer.

Our new bedroom walls

desperate mad innovations

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

We’ve mentioned before the essential role that Big Wally’s plaster repair has played in the rehab of both our Living Room, what will be our bedroom, and we expect every other room of the house. Big Wally’s reattaches the plaster walls to the wooden lathe that sit behind it. When mad used Big Wally’s in the living room, we came very close to running out of the precious caulk. Therefore, I ordered twice the amount of caulk for the bedroom. Unfortunately, the walls in the bedroom were in worse shape than the living room. And with about 12 holes that still required caulk, we ran out. You can only buy Big Wally’s on the internet, so mad needed to implement some combat tactics in order to stay on schedule. As documented before, mad performs well under pressure. Using a chopstick and a pair of scissors we were able to squeeze those last few drops of caulk out of every tube. Thankfully, it was just enough to fill those remaining 12 holes. Most important, it kept the final week of the bedroom rehab work on track.

Completed bedroom plaster repair thanks to scissors, chopsticks, and guile.

sometimes you eat the bar . . .

Monday, December 28th, 2009

and, as the dude would say, sometimes the bar eats you. While it’s been a struggle, mad continues to make progress towards completing the rehab on what will be our primary bedroom. Our goal is to have the bedroom complete around the first of January, which means the clock is ticking. In case you’re new to mad maison, or our living room rehab feels like a distant memory, the steps for being “primer ready” are extensive:

1. Remove crazy-glued, band-aid brand wallpaper that was hidden under layers of paint. Remember to employ water, steam, DIF spray, and anything else you can think of to get the wallpaper off. Curse occasionally when a piece of wall accompanies the wallpaper. Sacrifice at least one outfit to the wallpaper removal deities and tell yourself you still have three rooms and a hallway to go (and with them, plenty of opportunities to wear this crusty ensemble).
2. Identify all of the cracks in the walls of the room and determine how many of those cracks represent the walls coming of the lathe. Grumble when you realize it’s most of the cracks. Stare in wonder at the crack that goes up one wall, across the ceiling, and down the other wall.
3. Drill holes in the wall in preparation for the Big Wally’s treatment. Remember to get out all destructive feelings during the drilling.
4. Complete the Big Wally’s repair process by spraying conditioner and then caulk into the holes you just created (yes, even upside-down on the ceiling). Screw in temporary clamps to ensure the Big Wally treatment does it’s job. Wait 24 hours.
5. Slather copious amounts of joint compound/patching plaster over every hole, gouge, crack, and crevice in the walls (yes, even upside-down on the ceiling). Wait 24 hours.
6. Sand the walls as smooth as possible without removing all the joint compound you just applied.
7. Apply two coats of primer–the first primer these walls will see in their 101 years on this planet.
8. Apply two coats of paint.

This room should have been easier than the living room. It’s smaller, the ceilings are lower, and there was no mantle to remove. Alas, this was not the case. The wallpaper was beyond comprehension and underneath that wallpaper the walls were in much worse shape. Despite this, mad endures. We’ve completed all plaster repair and we’ll have finished all the joint compound application before we head to bed tonight. I’m taking off this week from work so we can achieve our goal. Our plan is to sand tomorrow and prime on Wednesday. Painting, which Mike used to hate more than anything, will be our favorite part of the process.

I read a lot of “shelter” and home design blogs when I’m not working or working on mad maison (feel free to check out Apartment Therapy’s 2009 Homies feature to see the variety of blogs out there). When I lived in New York, these were a fun distraction that provided the occasional inspiration for a small tweak to our perfect (in our eyes) home. Now, they inspire me to action and, I will admit, occasionally make me feel a little slow and inadequate. But then I remind myself that Mike and I signed up for the entire journey together, not just the destination. I remember that I live in one of the best cities on earth where I get to enjoy not only the history of this 101 year-old building but the family history that comes with living in the house my Dad grew up in. I remind myself that all of this home rehab work will be well worth it when it’s done. I remind myself that we’ll be living in chaos for only a fraction of the time we’ll be living in this house. And I look out the window of what will be our beautiful bedroom, past the rooftops of those uniquely San Franciscan homes and at the peak of the Bay we get to see and remind myself that this is all well worth it.

We at mad maison definitely have more in common with the tortoise than the hare. Finishing will be all the 'win' we need. Photo courtesy of

We’re still here. . .

Monday, December 7th, 2009

I have no excuses. I’ve been back from my business travels for a couple of weeks now, and honestly, it took me a while to recuperate. After the Thanksgiving holiday (and I hope all of our readers had a pleasant holiday), I knew I was starting to feel better when I cooked honest-to-goodness meals in our kitchen every night last week. Our kitchen was remodeled in the 80’s, and we had some new appliances installed before we moved in. So while the honey-oak cabinets and flowered wallpaper isn’t to mad’s taste, it’s a little more fun to cook in that our tiny galley-style NYC apartment kitchen. After all that wholesome nutrition, it’s not surprising that I felt inclined to get back to work. Mike and I attacked our bedroom walls and we have removed almost all of the wallpaper. Mike and I are confident that with some additional work during this week, we’ll be ready for plaster repair next weekend. Our goal is to have the bedroom walls complete (including paint) by the end of December. I know I say this with every room, but I do believe this is the hardest room we’ll have to complete. Unlike the dining room or other bedroom, the room we’re working on now (like the living room before it) has painted-over wallpaper, which is particularly challenging to remove. But thanks to copious amounts of DIF wallpaper removal gel, a Wagner power steamer, and lots of elbow grease, we’re getting it off. The fact that wallpaper has “come back” as a design trend boggles our minds–and we think anyone who is thinking of installing wallpaper in their home should come to ours and help us get this stuff off the walls.

In the meanwhile, I was looking at one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy, and read an interesting post about a simple remodel that involves the two primary things mad plans to do with our kitchen–paint the cabinets and replace the counters with butcher block. Feel free to take a peak at a place that a little more “finished” than ours.

A little eye candy. Photo credit:

A little eye candy. Photo credit:

I could use some red slippers

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Progress on mad maison, both the house and the blog, has slowed a bit due to my October business travel schedule. Over the course of one month, I will have flown over 20,000 miles. Traveling for work has its perks (you get to see colleagues you normally wouldn’t, and in the case of my most recent travels, I’ve gotten to see customers as well, which is always fun), but it is always grueling. There’s no sleeping in to get over your jet lag, very little decompression time, and the knowledge that your “regular” work will be waiting for you in exponential quantities when you eventually get home. And I can tell you, even when your house isn’t perfect, you miss it terribly. Even though the water pressure here in my UK hotel room is better than the mad shower, I still miss home. And of course, there’s the guilt I feel about taking Mike from his hometown to the city by the bay, only to leave him alone to scrape wallpaper and care for our cats. Of course, he’s a trooper and happy to help, but my guilt persists anyway.

When we were originally planning to transform my father’s childhood home into mad maison, we were comforted by the notion that two of the rooms (our bedroom and the living room) didn’t have wallpaper. We were wrong. They have the worst kind of wallpaper–insidious, hidden under layers of paint, and unevenly applied over badly cracked plaster. We’ve repaired the walls in the living room, and Mike has been tackling the bedroom inch by painful inch. It’s taking every ounce of steam, DIF goo, and elbow grease Mike has to get the wallpaper off, but he is making progress. Until then, we’re still living in a serious state of transition and we’re eager for that to change. I’m also eager to actually scrape by Mike’s side when I return from Europe this weekend.

They may not be slippers, but they are red. Perhaps if I click my heels in them I'll be home again.

They may not be slippers, but they are red. Perhaps if I click my heels in them I'll be home again.

Lighter moments

Friday, October 9th, 2009

For the majority of my childhood, I lived within a few miles of the house mad now occupies. I have many fond memories in this house–assembling jigsaw puzzles with my grandfather, applying 4 layers of my aunt’s lipstick, enjoying my grandmother’s peanut butter sandwiches, and the occasional holiday celebration. It’s been a long time since my grandmother entertained in what is now mad maison–at least 20 years. Needless to say, mad was surprised to find decorative items still in the house that don’t have any real monetary value. Some of these items are so hilarious that we can’t help photographing them before we purge them. What’s most amusing to me about this “salad” is that the ingredients are now so passe. I mean, iceberg lettuce in a salad for company? Please.

I think mixed greens would be more appropriate, don't you?

I think mixed greens would be more appropriate, don't you?

The next project

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

I know that we owe a full set of pictures on the living room, but I thought I would share the next room mad has started working on. We were foolish enough to think that no room would present us with more challenging wallpaper than the living room. I was wrong. The room that will be our bedroom has walls that are in terrible need of plaster repair. I’m guessing someone before mad realized that, because the walls are comprised of some kind of mysterious cardboard-bandage-wallpaper hybrid that sits on top of some kind of magic adhesive, but underneath a layer of peachy-pink paint. Yup, it’s that bad. Honestly, mad would have simply repaired the cracked plaster and painted on top of the mystery walls if not for the visible horizontal “stripes” of wallpaper that can be seen on the two long walls around the 6-foot mark. So, mad has been diligently removing layer after layer of mystery substance. The only thing that keeps us going is the knowledge that one day we’ll have a real bedroom with walls that we completely understand.

Can you see the mystery stripe? It's really there, I promise.

Can you see the mystery stripe? It's really there, I promise.

mad tips

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Did you know that in addition to a wonderful companion to any home-cooked meal that Trader Joe’s Canola Oil spray is a great home-repair lubricant? It’s true. This was discovered by the brother-man when he was customizing the brackets for our window coverings. You can always count on mad for a little advice for your own home repair projects.

The secret's in the spray. . .

The secret's in the spray. . .

Rolling along. . .

Monday, September 21st, 2009

You’ve heard the adage measure twice, cut once? Today, mad is going to remind our readers why that adage exists.

One of the benefits of living in an older Victorian is the beautiful woodwork that surrounds our windows and doorways. The woodwork, coupled with the relatively small size of our living room, inspired mad to get roman shades to cover the downstairs windows. My grandparents used to have both shades and sheers on the windows, so we decided to go with something a little more sleek and straightforward. I found beautiful red cotton shades. I knew we wanted to do an interior mount on the shades, so I measured the windows multiple times and called the company to make sure I was getting the right size. When the shades arrived, we learned that they weren’t as long as stated. After calling the company they sent me an extra shade for free and I found an awesome seamstress to graft the extra shade onto the original three shades. Unfortunately, when we started to install the shades we realized that one of the three windows in the living room is two inches wider than the other two. I measured twice–but I didn’t measure each window twice. Thankfully, mad had already planned to use the same shades in the the dining room, so I can use one of the recently lengthened shades in there. But of course, we still need to receive and install the wider shade on the middle window. Yesterday, we installed the two shades that fit in the living room with the assistance of the brother-man. It seems that many things with this house turn out to be a little more complicated than originally planned–the brother-man had to drill an extra hole in the metal bracket so everything would fit correctly, but once he did everything moved along nicely. We love the color–especially against the paint color on the living room walls.

Of course, this means we can’t show you the full reveal until we receive the wider shade for the middle window (lengthen it if needed) and install it. Honestly, we’re pretty happy with two nice, new window coverings. I’m clearly getting easier to please.

our beautiful new window coverings--not on every window, but we're happy to have them on any at this point.

our beautiful new window coverings--not on every window, but we're happy to have them on any at this point.

Can you see the light?

Monday, September 14th, 2009

As mad mentioned in an earlier post, we have successfully replaced the light in the living room. Given that this is a living room and not a laboratory, we were not looking for something that was interrogation-worthy. We searched quite a bit for a lamp that would fit our taste and functional requirements and came to a quick conclusion–lighting is expensive. Given that we’re not chandelier people, our options were immediately limited. We found one fixture we mostly liked–but for the amount of money it cost, we felt that true love was necessary to justify such an expense. Instead, we found something from Ikea, our favorite Nordic big-box home goods store. We were happy with the shape, texture, materials (made from bamboo), size, and cost. the only thing we changed was the color–thanks to a can of spray paint. I will admit getting it up wasn’t as easy as other lights we’ve installed. However, with some online research complemented by our new friends at Victor’s Lighting (and less than $5 in addition parts), mad triumphed over the tarantula. The most important component to our victory was knowing that we didn’t need the tarantula becuase we were installing a much lighter fixture. Since we’re still a ways away from the big living room reveal, we decided to share a mini-reveal. Included here is the before and after–take a look at my earlier post for the during shot.

The original light fixture in the living room. Did your grandma have the same one?

Before. The original light fixture in the living room. Did your grandma have the same one?

After. Our functional and fetching light.

After. Our functional and fetching light.

We’re still here. . .

Friday, September 11th, 2009

My apologies, loyal readers. A series of annoying (yet not too devastating) setbacks plus an unrelenting work schedule have prevented me from posting lately. I’ll be back in regular form very soon. Shall I provide you with some teasers?

  • The tarantula is gone and a light is up
  • The new living room mantle is painted
  • That old adage “measure twice, cut once” is still relevant today
  • While the living room is not perfect, we’ve started to tackle our second room of the house

So you can see, there are plenty of reasons to come back to


Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Before we started this endeavor, I knew there would be setbacks. Really, I did. But when we’re so close to having the living room finished, setbacks really set me back. We’ve replaced other light fixtures in the house, but it seems that the light fixture in our living room is going to present us with some challenges. So for now, we have to live with what looks like a tarantula growing out of the ceiling until we complete some research, breathe, and reboot. And if any of our readers are familiar with replacing victorian lighting tarantulas with more contemporary fixtures, please let me know.

Not a tarantula, but it is laughing at me.

Not a tarantula, but it is laughing at me.

Pesky, necessary progress

Sunday, August 30th, 2009

We’re getting much closer to the “big reveal” (apologies for the HGTV language) in the living room. Last weekend, the brother-man built a beautiful, sleek mantle to surround our fireplace hearth. Yesterday, as a follow-up, mad learned about countersinking nails. For those of you who have never installed moulding, countersinking is the process of hammering a nail below the surface of the wood. This requires a nail set, and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. However, I’m happy to report that our mantle is countersunk and completely ready to be painted. This would have been completed today except that mad joined my family to celebrate my folks’ 41st wedding anniversary. Fun was had by all, and it was totally worth taking a day off. Our window coverings should be ready by Tuesday, and as soon as they’re installed we’ll share after shots.

The aforementioned nailset; disturbingly medieval, no?

The aforementioned nailset; disturbingly medieval, no?

purging madly

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

mad believes in purging. It’s something we grew quite accustomed to living together in a relatively small apartment in New York. Here is San Francisco, purging is an essential skill because the folks who lived here before us did not purge. At all. And while my pops did a great job of clearing the top two levels of our home, the bottom level with the garage is still full of stuff. We’ve already taken five truckloads of stuff to the dump, but mad’s aforementioned late-night car-parking extravaganza inspired us to descend to the garage and do more purging today. The only thing better than purging is guilt-free purging. And the only thing better than guilt-free purging is cost-free purging. When it’s both guilt-free and cost-free we call that purging madly. And today, thanks to the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council’s recycling center, that’s exactly what we did. We took a bunch of mixed paper (two car loads, in fact) to the recycling center. It was easy, it was free, it was quick, it was madness.

Want to purge madly? Head to the Haight Asbury Recycling Center

Want to purge madly? Head to the Haight Asbury Recycling Center

our own magic carpet

Monday, August 17th, 2009

I didn’t realize how much I would miss having any rugs in my home until we went for almost two months with only wood and linoleum under foot. Today, for our recently painted living room we got our rug cleaned. And now, it is lying wonderfully on the living room floor. And just like Bruce Willis in the first Die Hard, I was able to take off my socks and make fists with my toes (which really does work). While we’re not ready to reveal the living room (it’s not quite done), I’m happy to report that the room looks much warmer and more cozy than before. And just like Bruce, I feel much better.

Our rug, in our old living room-it looks just as good here in SF

Our rug in our old living room-it looks just as good here in SF