Tag Archives: salvaging

Back to the basement

When we moved into the garden unit in early 2011, we did so in a hurry. I managed to get the kitchen functional with a stove, a sink and a few kitchen cabinets.


But I didn’t get to install a counter top or a back splash. Instead I put down ¾” plywood to tide us over.


In order to rent the garden apartment, the plywood must go. And timing was on my side. Someone had dropped off two crates of solid surface counter top sheets at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Addison. Most of them had hideous colors or patterns, but I found a few sheets that were rather nice and would nicely fit into the garden unit.


This made me rather happy as it did not only fit our budget, but also our philosophy of relying on salvaged, reused or repurposed materials. Plus, the solid surface counter top is relatively easy to cut, fit and work with. I could fabricate the solid surface material myself, unlike the limestone we used for the 1st floor kitchen.

With the material on hand, it was time to put the finishing touches on the kitchen. Our first step was to remove the sink base and extend the cement board upwards to accommodate a tiled back splash, similar to what we have on the 1st floor kitchen.

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Before we got to play with the new counter top, I had to think about layout and test my furniture making skills. More on that in the next post.

Related posts:

Moving in…

Counter top fabrication

Treasure hunt counter tops

A (back)splah of salvage


Salvaging graystone treasures

Don’t let the blog post title fool you! I am still thinking and talking about our yard and vacant lot.

We have a yard, but you can’t call it a garden – yet. So what do we use it for? In the early days, during the deconstruction process, we staged the dumpsters in the yard.


Some yard space was repurposed into a material storage depot – which brings me to the graystone treasures.

We lost two vacant graystone buildings on our block in a massive fire during Thanksgiving night 2010. We didn’t live in our building at the time. But I stopped at the house to take care of a couple of tasks the day after Thanksgiving and was shocked by sight of two burned out building shells.

The good news is that no one was hurt and the nearest occupied building was evacuated and saved.

The burned out building shells were declared dangerous and emergency demolition started within one and a half days. With the demo crew came a team of brick salvagers. Rather than having the Chicago common brick dumped into a landfill, the salvagers pick the bricks out of the piles, clean the mortar off and stack them onto pallets. That is the kind of brick I can then buy for masonry repairs.

What nobody was interested in, to my surprise, was all the graystone from the building facade. It didn’t matter whether they were window sills, steps, plain graystone, carved graystone, columns, or ornaments.

The demo crew was happy to let me pick out those pieces. Less weight for them to haul off, and with that less tipping fees.

One of the buildings had beautiful carved front porch columns that, despite being knocked over, remained intact.

But boy, were those suckers heavy! At first, Cathy and I attempted to wrestle them with a dolly. Needless to say that we decided otherwise before either of us or the dolly got crushed.

I decided to replace the dolly with the truck and recruit as many strong help hands as we could reasonably fit around the big columns. Even with the amount of muscle, it was still a daunting task. To move the columns, we had to set them upright and swivel them inch by inch towards the truck.

Two columns and a sill was all the truck could take in one load. Each column must have weighed about 800 pounds.

Back in the yard, sliding the monsters off the truck and laying them down was a little easier than loading them.

We plan on using some of the pieces on the house, like the steps and some of the facade stone. Other pieces will probably become part of the garden, like those big columns. I am just happy that I was able to score those treasures, and safely transport them into our “material storage depot.”

The big question is – for how long will it remain a material storage depot?

Related posts:

From wish list to reality

Deconstruction (or rückbau)

Rebuilding the parapet


Pondering the pocket doors

The good old pocket doors – they have been weighing on my mind a lot and for a long time.

While we were deconstructing the 1st floor, we were delighted to find that our building once had pocket doors. The framing for the pocket doors was still in place, but the pocket doors themselves were gone (to our great disappointment).


Finding antique salvaged pocket doors is an expensive proposition. But good fortune sometimes comes with time. And after checking Craigslist for about a year, we found an affordable pair of pocket doors we liked. A down side to the doors: they were painted and needed stripping.


With the pocket doors in our possession, I now could adjust the framing to fit the new doors. Along with it, I built a rail system that matched the original rolling mechanism of the doors.


So far so good. But another down side of the pocket doors was that they were a notch too short. I refrained from lowering the height of the doorway to fit the new doors, because there was a pleasant consistency in the doorway height throughout the unit. Altering that didn’t seem right.


I have been tiptoeing around adjusting the doors, i.e. adding an extension to the top and bottom to make them fit, mainly because it seemed an intimidating task that if not done right could ruin the set.

But there is no longer any avoiding it, and our friend Drew insisted that it would all work out just fine.

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Pondering the pantry

We got the 1st floor ready enough just in time to throw a Christmas party. Cathy prepared a fabulous ham which delighted our guests.

One thing we noticed right away was that our cooking and food supplies were rather disorganized – because I had not yet finished the pantry. Needless to say, the pantry made it to the top of the priority list in a heart beat.

What has become the pantry was once the staircase into the basement. I reframed the floor structure, effectively closing up the staircase, installed floor tile and got everything painted. But we still needed shelves.


A couple of year ago I read on the Rebuilding Exchange blog how someone used salvaged hardwood flooring to build pantry shelves. I thought that was a very cool idea, so I went to the Rebuilding Exchange and got myself some short oak and douglas fir floor board scraps.

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The scraps were easily converted into three 15 inch deep shelves, which I mounted on the track and brackets system at the back wall.


I also purchased some longer oak and douglas fir boards at the Rebuilding Exchange.

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These pieces were repurposed into long, four inch narrow shelves.

The advantage of using the salvaged flooring was that they came already with a floor finish on one side. I just touched it up with some fine sandpaper, sanded down the bottom of the boards and that was it.


I mounted the shelves along the side walls of the pantry.

The idea for these shelves came from our friend Drew. While I was contemplating how to install salvaged 12 inch deep wire shelves and make it spatially work, Drew floated the idea of the narrow, four inch wide shelves for single line shelving of canned and packaged goods.

 pantry-11 pantry-12

It didn’t take much convincing. The narrow shelves don’t protrude beyond the door opening and make maneuvering through the pantry easy, while maximizing the storage capacity.

At the end, I gathered all cut-offs and leftover scraps and put them together into a counter top for the cabinet at the back wall.


I have to say that the narrow shelves are a hit! Everything on them is visually accessible the moment you step into the pantry. And because items are organized in a single file, you don’t have things in the back that get forgotten.


Thank you Drew!

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The race downstairs

I am racing downstairs, from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor, with the intend to get to the needed finishing touches.

Moving into the 1st floor has been within our grasp – for months! Except that I regularly got distracted with work on the 2nd floor. Enough of that. We have plans to celebrate Christmas day with friends on the 1st floor. I better bust a move to meet that deadline!

We have laid some of the ground work. Take the finishing touches to the kitchen, the range hood and addition of ornamental tiles. We finished the front door to the 1st floor unit and installed our slender closet doors. We made significant process with the paint removal and refinishing of the remaining door.


The same applies to the beautiful and tall baseboards. I have looked at them leaning against the wall for long enough and rather have them installed.

Cathy was able to carefully salvage most of the baseboards during the deconstruction. Having the original baseboards in all major rooms, where they are visible, was important to us. But we were short by a few pieces.

We solved the problem by using baseboards that once were in closets to fill those gaps. The closets, we decided, can receive other salvaged trim we purchase on the reuse market.

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Adding a touch with tiles

If you read the recent posts about the kitchen backsplash installation, you may have noticed that we left a gap at the stove location. That gap was reserved for something different – a special kind of backsplash tile.


During one of our many excursions hunting for salvaged materials, I came across a handful of beautifully painted Mexican style tiles. At the time I didn’t know where I could use them, but I bought them anyway, certain that there would be just the right place for them.


The backsplash behind the stove has become that place. Another place that tells a story about frugality and the charm that some salvaged materials have to offer.

Why did I wait this long to do the installation? I needed to wait until the range hood was installed. The bottom edge of the hood was the starting point along which I lined up the tiles.

I often observed and admired artful ornaments, such as hand painted plate hung above the stove. In this case, Cathy and I decided that the whole backsplash behind the stove could become artful with these unique tiles.


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Paint removal – Part 6: Digging through doors

There are several aspects to time, such as age and duration. I sometimes have to wonder if there is a proportional relationship between the two.


Take the original 100+ year old doors from our building – the age component. These are solid and heavy and had salvaging and reuse written all over them. Despite all the layers of paint we got the occasional glimpse of the buried treasure.


The process of recovering that treasure is a familiar one. The Silent Paint Remover removes the bulk of the paint, followed by a layer of Soy Gel to take off the residue.


That leaves the wood clean and ready for sanding, which is quick and easy, except for the panel profiles, particularly the corners. Those required a lot of attention to detail – and are a time suck – which gets us to the duration component.

It feels like working on the paint removal has extended the duration of our project indefinitely. And refinishing 12 of these age-old doors certainly factors into that equation.


The two coats of zero-VOC lacquer helps wrap up the refinishing and restores the doors to their old glory.

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These doors will always be special to us, because of their quality, their age, and the time and tender loving care we put into them. This might just as well be the definition of salvaging.

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Paint removal – Part 5: Battling baseboards

The original baseboards in the building are quite something. Something with quite a little bit of paint on it.


There is a tall bottom piece with an ornate cap. The cap and bottom together stand about 10 inches tall and are both milled out of 100+ year old oak, most of it quarter sawn. And we have quite a bit of it, which is a blessing and a curse.


These were items we wanted to keep out of the waste stream. The quality of the millwork begged for salvaging and reuse.

But we also have that tedious chemical archaeology ahead of us – the paint removal. How far should we take the salvaging and reuse, and when would it be time to draw a line in the sand and decide it is not worth it?

The decision tipped in favor of salvaging and reuse once we realized that even if we could afford to purchase all new baseboards, we wouldn’t be able to find baseboards in this kind of quality nowadays.

Let the paint stripping begin!


The Silent Paint Remover usually removes the bulk of the paint, and does so at reasonable speed. But a couple hundred linear feet of baseboard take some time to work through. And we still had to apply a layer of Soy Gel to remove the remaining paint residue.


Sanding the baseboards took some time too. The flat surfaces were easy and fast. The more intricate profiles required a scraper, steel wool and time. But with each pass the wood grain became a notch more beautiful, until it was ready to get lacquered.


Staining the oak was out of the question! The natural color was part of the charm. Instead we stuck to our zero-VOC rule and opted for the clear, satin finish Acrylacq by SafeCoat. It made the warm honey color of the oak pop.

This was very frustrating but ultimately rewarding work. It was frustratingly slow and time consuming, but with payback in the beauty of the salvaged and refinished product – particularly when we consider what we started with.

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Closet doors for the slender

We largely restored the original floor plan of the house. There were a few exceptions, and one of them was the closet we added to the master bedroom.


The original shape of the master bedroom was oddly long and skinny. We decided that by adding closet space to the south end, the bedroom would become a little smaller but better proportioned.


By placing the closet doors on each end of the wall, we had room to place a queen size bed between them. That is why we used small closet doors … skinny closet doors … 18 inch wide doors.


The Rebuilding Exchange came to the rescue once more: We found a set of salvaged French doors with pivot hinges, each door 18 inches wide. By splitting them up, we got the perfect skinny doors for our closet.


The challenge now is to make sure that we, the users, stay slender enough to fit through the doors…

Thanks to the pivot hinges we can open the doors either way, push them open into the closet or pull them open into the bedroom. That adds some spatial flexibility that may become helpful.

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What is left is to put up some shelves and clothing rods in the closet. But that’s a task (and a blog post) for a little later.


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Counter top fabrication

There is no better opening line for this post than the one I used for the last post:

Back last summer, we were lucky – very lucky. We found … the counter top for our kitchen cabinets. Two large, salvaged limestone slabs. And again, it was a ReStore that delighted us with this find.


Although we were now the proud owners of these two stone slabs, they were not yet counter tops per se. We needed a stone cutter / counter top fabricator that would mill the slabs into the right dimensions with the right finish.

Who is fit for the job?

Cathy had done the research and asked me to drop the slabs off at GeoKat, which is only a couple of miles from us. I also left a plan with the counter top layout and dimensions.


I soon knew that the this job was in the right hands. I got phone calls from the staff at GeoKat asking for clarification. Those guys knew that they only had one shot at this, and wanted to make absolutely sure that there was no misinterpretation. No matter how small the doubt – I got a phone call. That gave me a lot of confidence.


I continued to be impressed. The two slabs were just about large enough to accommodate the counter tops. The guys at GeoKat arranged the cuts in such ingenious way that there was enough material left for four inch tall backsplash pieces.


At the end, I even ended up with a sizable spare section. Not sure what I should or could do with it. But I think for now I will hang on to it.


The sink issues

We will have a corner sink in the 1st floor kitchen. That brought up the question about the sink cut out. Transporting a stone counter top with a large sink cut out is not a good idea, particularly if the stone slab is only a 3/4 inch thick. The narrow bridges around the cut out would most certainly break.

The staff at GeoKat recommended to deal with the cut out once the counter top is installed. Sure! I have the small angle grinder with a masonry diamond blade. I could do that!

The problem was the corners. I would not get a clean cut at the corners with the angle grinder. The solution: Geokat cut out small triangles at the corners for me with their computer controlled water jet.


All I had to do, once the counter top was installed, is cut from one corner to the other with the grinder. That gave us the the corner sink cut out we needed.


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