Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Growth: the 2020 Ranch House

It has been two months since we moved into the basement master. This move did not only grew the square footage of our living space, but also dramatically changed our way of living. In today’s post, I’d like to show you the current status of our ranch, and bring you up to date on our 2020 renovation plan. Are you ready?

The Basement Master

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The biggest change inside the ranch since our last house tour, is in the basement. We placed a brand new master suite in the previously unoccupied basement, and finished the big living space as our future media room. This basement was “finished” when we got the house, but it was in such a rough state that it required an total overhaul:

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We demoed the whole basement to studs, combined two small bedrooms to create the new master, and installed a new bath.

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The adjoining living space was renovated too and will soon become a media room for movie, music, and games:

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To be honest, I never had high hopes for the basement before it was finished. Its low ceiling and lack of lighting convinced me that it would never be as comfortable as the main floor. But with recessed lighting, smooth walls, and simple color palette, the end result was spacious, minimal, yet cozy.

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I love spending time in our new bedroom. In fact, I now prefer spending time here. I take long and hot showers, care for my skin and hair, stretch, read, and daynight-dream. Slav gifted me a massage chair recently and I started relax on it after evening exercise. This space helped me so much to rejuvenate and rest at the end of each day.

The Main Floor TV Room

As a result of the move, our old bedroom which used to house our bed and clothes, was suddenly empty. Since the holidays, it became a Slav’s TV room. Slav always likes to watch videos and play music at home, whereas I prefer quite evenings. He has been wearing headphones in the evenings. So having a TV room where he can let the volume up and close the door has been great for each of us to relax in our own ways.

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I always loved this room – it locates at the back of the house and has a big east-facing window overlooking our garden. It is private, it is bright, and it is… perky. The morning lights bounces among all white walls and fills the room, making the house plants happy. One day the bedroom furniture and TV will leave the room (after we set up the basement media room), and this room will become mine. I always wanted a grey+pink office. A yoga/tea room filled with indoor plants also sounds good… The possibilities are endless and I cannot wait to create here. It also needs to function as a guest room for weeks at a time, so making this room multi-functional yet minimal will be a design challenge for me.

The Main Floor living

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The rest of the main floor did not change much, except most of the house plants went into the TV room. We just took down the Christmas tree and I am thrilled to have this unobstructed view into Slav’s office again. I like empty space. Leaving void is big in Chinese inkpainting as it represents possibilities, growth, and inner peace. And the ability of doing so often require restrain and strength. I think the same principle applies to interior design. After gaining 600 sqft finished space, we’ve been careful not to acquire any new furniture, but let the new space dilute the pieces we had so every room now has more breathing room.

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The Basement Media Room

What happened the new media room? We had plans to furnish it with a big leather sofa and bring down the TV, speakers, projectors, and records. But considering the upcoming utility room renovation (more on it later), we decided to halt the plan so we do not expose electronic to drywall dust. For now my new massage chair is holding down the fort, and of course tools.

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Oh, and this painting. Can you tell whose portrait it is? Slav was borderline upset when I gifted him this portrait as an anniversary gift. But this is something I wanted for years. It represents everything of Slav that attracts me: handsome, intelligent, dignified, and strong.

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I am glad we did not just go out and buy a big L-shape leather sofa it was really tempting. Nowadays it is so easy to spend money just with a few clicks. But every time we waited, better ideas and choices came along. Being patient is so important part in home renovation, and so is in life.

The Basement Utility Room

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This utility room is the last unfinished space in our basement. And I think it will be our next renovation project. We need to update the old plumbing, and we would love to put a kitchenette for serving drinks and snacks downstairs. With all the demo and new electrical this room has improved so much already, but I want to make it the star of the basement. It will be finished with color, texture. I want it to be unexpected. Then we can officially close the curtain on the basement renovation – who cannot wait?

The main floor kitchen and bath

You may notice that I did not show you our kitchen and the main floor bathroom – we have not touched them at all since the last house tour. With their close proximity these two rooms will be renovated at the same time, which means the renovation project will take months, cost thousands, and turn the whole main floor into a complete mess. The plan is to tackle the utility room first so we can some place to cook simple meals while renovating the upstairs kitchen. Hopefully we can get our hands on the main floor for the second part of the year.

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Strategize the 2020 Renovation

As of the renovations in 2020, most of the interior work will be hired out. 2020 is a year both Slav and I want more professional growth, so we will try to trust and manage instead of DIY. The truth is, renovating a house requires many different expertise and experiences in each one. If we want to have high quality results without living in dust forever, we need professionals we can trust.

Looking back, I am actually thankful to the bad experience we had with the previous GC in 2019. It revealed my strength and weakness in project management, and show me exactly what triggers my stress response. I am not stressed over financial challenges, unexpected technical difficulties, or making decisions in an emergency. Years of the laboratory experience has trained me to make the best possible snap decisions without overthinking or regretting them later. What I cannot stand is incompetence and lack of communication. And this was exactly how our last GC was. But as soon as I started interacting with experienced subcontractors and focus on one task a time, I did not feel stress only excitement. So the key elements of a successful 2020 ranch reno will be to identify contractors who are knowledgeable and respectful.

The 2020 Garden

With the plan of hiring out the interior work, I will be picking up the shovel in the garden. My gardening goal of 2020 is to grow a better vegetable garden and to take better care of the plants we have. I want to stay on top of tasks such as tree pruning, lawn fertilization, rose training. I also want to improve the look and function of the existing flower beds by automating the irrigation and setting up paths and terraces. In summary, I will try to do better with less with gardening, and I believe that being more focused will help both me and the garden grow.

In 2020 we are hope for a year of growth, both professionally and personally. What is your 2020 goal?

A Look Back at 2019

Happy new year! Everyone!

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I am back from my holiday break and it was the best ever. Compared to a rather crazy 2019, the last a few weeks of 2019 were so much fun! Slav’s work hosted a cocktail Christmas party where I got to doll up and made new friends. We also got invited to a couple family-style holiday parties filled with warm hearted people and wonderful food. After a low-key Christmas dinner home, I took a trip to my sister’s and celebrated new year with my family. I enjoyed good Chinese food, hiked, tried rock climbing, and spent some valuable time with my nieces. Slav and I skied a couple times together in between, and we both had lots of time home cuddling the dogs.

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It is already a week into 2020, but I have not felt like saying goodbye to 2019 yet – even though it was so out of control for both of us. Our house renovation goal for 2019 was the basement. And basement was all it happened. I honestly did not think it would take a whole year, but between Slav’s new full-time job and an incompetent contractor, we barely made to the deadline before hosting family over Christmas.

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We started poking around in the basement last December (here, here, and here), and very quickly, the idea of a new master suite emerged. To make a master suite we love, we installed an egress window and expanded the bathroom floor plan.

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We had such a good experience with our window comtractor. When Spring comes around, we hired them back to update the windows throughout the main floor. It did not only add value to our house, but also brought comfort, peace, and some much-needed curb appeal.

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We also cut down some half-dead trees along the north fence and planted a few new garden beds:

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The outdoor work took away a good portion of the Spring. Before summer started we came back to the basement, running new plumbing for the bathroom and installing new electrical for the whole basement.

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Slav soundproofed the whole basement before closing up the walls and ceilings. By adding mineral wool insulation in between the floor joints and around the utility room, our basement is now a quiet sleeping space.

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Hanging drywall (here and here), mudding, and skim coating took a while. Drywall is a messy job and we did not enjoy it one bit.

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But everything seemed to be worth it as soon as the paint went on – nothing like a fresh coat of paint that makes a room:

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Slav and I tackled the floor ourselves. The NuCore LVP floor (in driftwood color) is the best decision we made for the basement. We love the color, we love the texture, we love its warmth and comfort. We love everything about this floor.

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At this point we hired more hands to finish the electrical and bathroom plumbing, which allowed me to focus on putting in an IKEA PAX closet system in the new master:

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After the shower door was installed, the bathroom quickly came together:

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We were able to move into our new bedroom when flipping the 2019 calendar to its last page. Till then it had been a whole year since we first put hammer through the old basement walls. It has been a long and stressful process, but I think the end product was exactly what we had hoped for:

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During the last a few weeks of 2019, after moving downstairs, I surprised myself by not doing any renovating work. We still have doors to hang and baseboard to install, but it is also important to rest and enjoy the space we just created, before jumping into the next project too quickly. It is such a good decision to take a break – not only for our back, but also for our minds. Do you agree?

Moving into the New Master

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Merry Christmas, everyone! We are having the coziest Christmas in our new basement master. Having never slept in a basement before, I am glad to report that I like basement living! The new master is quieter, warmer, and more comfortable. Although bigger, with the furniture placement and blackout blinds, it feels cozier. More importantly, it feels private. Much more than sleeping on the main floor with big windows that seeing into the neighbors’.

The east side: the sleeping quarter

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Our king bed is placed directly under the egress window we put in earlier this year. The new window let in bright light during the day, and effectively blocking cold air at night – we do not feel any cold draft during our sleep.

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For lazy mornings in bed we installed a blackout blinds on all the windows. I am very impressed with the quality and effectiveness of the these blinds. They are from IKEA and only around $45 a pop, but they are as effective as those $150 Bali blinds in big box stores. You cannot tell day from night when the blinds are closed. My tip is to get blinds a few inches wider than the window opening to reduce the daylight escaping from the side.

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Behind the bed we added a pair of velvet darkening curtains on each side of the blinds. I was really going with a grey on grey look and I like how the two colors and textures play with each other.

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For bedside tables we used the floating nightstands I built earlier this year. With wall scones above we each have our little corner to recharge, hydrate, and relax before bed.

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Here is Slav’s side:

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The theater masks were acquired on our recent trip to New Orleans in mid-November.

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I joked that it was our “renovation moon” because we took this trip right before the last push of the basement reno. It was after the DIY flooring installation, but before the shower door and the plumbing work in the bathroom, as well as the PAX assembly. It is amazing how long ago that moment felt with all the tasks completed even it was merely 6 weeks ago…

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Looking into the bedroom from the bath

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This is a view from the bathroom looking into the master. The oil painting features the castle in Slav’s hometown and it is his favorite childhood place.

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The small heater I’ve had since 2011. It is one of the first pieces of furniture I bought after moving cross-country and starting my first job. It not only puts out good heat, but also can give out just ambient light that looks like wood burning fire. Roxie loves to sleep in front of the fake fire.

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The west side: walk-through closet

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Stepping back from the bed is the closet area. We created a walk-through closet with three IKEA PAX wardrobes. They fit the space well and provide generous storage for all of the soft things. With the sliding door they give more of furniture appearance than traditional built-in closets.

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Slav and I both love the bamboo sliding doors. Mirrored doors were chosen for the corner closets to lighten up the room as well as to add function.

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The bamboo is darker than the color of the flooring, but I think they look great next to each other with the dark frame in between.

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For the space under the window we found this perfect little bench. The space between the two wardrobe is 48″ 1/4 wide, and this bench is 48″! It was meant to be.

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It functions as a drop zone for coats and bags at the end of the day. Plus we no longer have to perform tree post while putting on socks in the morning.

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Tucked away is our new laundry basket near the main door. When looking for a new laundry basket we searched for something narrow for the space and tall for the capacity, which is harder to find then you might think. Fortunately, this one popped out on Amazon.

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I liked its organic shape and soft material. After a couple weeks of use I can definitely recommend it. The fabric is thick and the basket holds its shape well. It also conceals a week of laundry without any problem.

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Above the laundry basket I hung the first photo Slav and I took together – it was over 10 years ago! We look like babies. Slav took it with a tripod and I think he planned for it. I had no idea what the photo was for – didn’t even bother to take my sunglasses off. Ha!

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A look back on the flooring

Living with the NuCore flooring for a while, I can finally give more details about them. Overall we are very satisfied with this floor. It feels supportive and warm under the feet. I can walk on it with bare feet in the middle of the night without feeling cold or harsh, which speaks a lot for its insulation property.

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The NuCore is LVP so it is harder than pine flooring. It feels solid – probably because how individual pieces are interconnected. It is quiet to walk on and I do not feel any bounce to it. I also like its texture on my bare skin.

We have not spilled water on it yet so I cannot speak for its waterproofing quality. But I did tip over a big candle and hot wax spilled all over the floor. I cleaned it up with some warm water and a razor – it looks just like new again. Overall I will give it a 4.5 star and definitely use it in the basement again. The reason for the half star off? It is because of the dogs.

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When these doggy paws hit the floor it was loud! Our dogs are terrified of clipping nail, so we might have left their nails a bit too long. But it is the reality we live in. Moreover, the texture of the floor gives enough traction for human feet but not enough for doggy paws. I notice that the dogs skid around when running on this floor. Charlie has face-planted a couple times at the bottom of the stair landing due to the speed he carried down from the stairs. It definitely brings some unease to the dogs as well as us.

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So here you have it, our new master bed and bath. We still need to work on the doors and add baseboards. But for the holiday season we are grateful to have such a cozy and comfortable space to relax in. I will start working on the doors this week and hope for some good progress. However with old basement and non-standard size doorways it will take some persuasion. Check back in the next post, friends!

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