Terrific Broth

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

A Look Back on the Ranch Renovation in 2020

If the star of our 2019 renovation was the master suite, the ranch house has seen many stars in 2020. Like most Americans, we self-isolated at home for the whole Spring and Summer. With the time saved from commute and socializing, we were able to complete many projects more than expected, and truly improved the way we live in our little house.

1. The Basement Utility

We kick-started the 2020 renovation in the basement utility. It was the last unfinished space in the lower level, and we were dying to have a dust-free living quarter. The utility room was completed in late Spring, consisting of a laundry nook, a utility closet, and a storage closet under the stairs.

The utility closet houses our furnace and water heater:

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The laundry nook:

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The left side of the room:

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The storage closet with a pocket door:

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The whole utility room:

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Although a simple room, it involved some major utility work, including moving a floor drain and upgrading most of the water lines. We framed in the unsightly furnace and water heater, insulated the exterior walls, brought the LVP flooring into the utility room, and installed a pocket door on the storage closet.

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2. The Basement Trims and Baseboards

After the utility room was completed, we proceeded to install door trims and baseboards throughout the basement.

All the basement doors got as craftsman style trims, including the basement entry door:

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The bedroom door:

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And the bathroom door:

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Due to the ceiling height we did a simple trim profile for the bathroom pocket door:

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After installing all the door trims, the baseboards were installed. We picked a simple but beefy style for the basement, which worked really well next to the wood-tone LVP flooring.

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3. Furnishing the Media Room

Once the trims and baseboards were in place, we started bringing furniture into the media room, starting with a TV and a media console:

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next we moved downstairs Slav’s record collection and record players.

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I ordered this commission portrait for Slav’s birthday last year because no mancave is complete without a grand portrait. Right?

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Charlie was the first to move into the basement. I guess he wanted a mancave too.

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Due to the concern of delivery-related COVID transmission, we did not purchase any furniture for the media room for a while, and instead furnished the room with pieces we had. So the basement looked a little bare over the summer:

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But coming into the Fall, after the risk of transmission had died down, we pulled the trigger for a big L-shape leather sofa Slav always wanted.

The sofa really completed the media room. Since it was in Slav has been using the media room every night! This is exactly the outcome I was hoping for by renovating the basement – to create a cozy and relaxing space for Slav to wind down after a day of busy work.

4. Fluffing the Garden

The pandemic picked up in the States right around the beginning of Spring. While Slav was busy working in the basement, I focused my energy outside. 2020 was a great gardening year – it was not only the first season I got to watch perennials waking up in Spring and flourishing in Summer, but also the first season I could wander around and really think how I want my garden to feel. After two years of busy planting, my taste for garden design and plant selection had definitely evolved. I also had a lot more knowledge regarding the growing habits and companionship of plants. During this growing season, being able to watch my own garden changing day after day gave me a great opportunity to come up ideas to fine tune it, “fluff” the garden if I may.

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The first big change I made to the garden was to carve out a patio around our garden shed. I’ve been thinking about how to elegantly address the steep slope towards this corner of our yard for a couple years. At the end, all the options and inspirations brewing in my head finally birthed an adequate solution – a terraced garden over a flagstone patio with a seat-intergraded retaining wall.

With the blueprint in mind I started digging into the hill to create the terraces.

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The edge of the existing garden bed was also changed to follow the curve of the future patio.

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And this is more of less how the new patio garden bed looks like:

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Due to the lack of building supply, we did not actually pave the patio, nor build the retaining wall around it. All I’ve done was to form a temporary “retaining wall” with wood stumps, just to hold up the terraced garden, and covered the future patio space with black plastic for weed suppression. But it was good enough to start planting.

The first plant went into the terraced garden was this apple tree called “transparent”.

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And the second one is a ginkgo Tree.

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As the garden becomes fuller, I was more and more clear what plants I really wanted. Maybe it is just my Chinese heritage speaking, but peony and chrysanthemum are the most elegant flowers to my taste. I planted a hedge of peonies this year in the new patio garden space. And I hope to eventually add chrysanthemum into my garden as well.

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I’ve long wanted to add seating and planters into my garden. This set of planters with seating I built for the patio area was undoubtedly my favorite wood working project to date. The cherry on top was that it was built with leftover cedar planks from our 2018 fence build! Talking about one stone two birds here…

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Encouraged by how nice and useful the new patio planters were. I built a potting bench/outdoor kitchen also with leftover cedar plank trimmings:

Followed by another planter located in the front yard:

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And a small fence to hide the HVAC unit from the view of the master bedroom:

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The ugly AC unit was no longer visible from the bedroom window:

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These cedar pieces echo our horizontal fencing and really added dimensions and interests to the garden. I enjoy looking at them this year. Towards Fall, with Slav’s help, I completed the most physically demanding garden “fluffing” project – edging the vegetable garden beds and mulching the walking paths with pea gravel.

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5. Automating the Irrigation

One of my personal goal of 2020 was to reduce stressful and time-consuming work for ourselves. We all have limited time which should be reserved for creative projects and relaxation, but not house chores! In our garden, the most annoying, stressful, and time-consuming task has been watering. Our property did not come with sprinklers, so the precious summer nights were often consumed by dragging hoses among flower beds, vegetable garden, and lawn space, as well as adjusting yard sprinklers every 30 minutes. Therefore, I was determined to automate the whole irrigation process.

The first I did was to install drip emitters for our front yard lawn space, which enabled automatic irrigation for the lawn grass:

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Then I connected all the drip irrigation grids, including the ones installed in existing flower beds, to two battery-powered water timer, one for the front yard:

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And one for the backyard:

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Since the completion of the automatic irrigation grids, we have not needed to spend any time or effort to even think about watering. The entire front yard, including the flower beds and lawn space, as well as all the flower/veggie beds in the backyard were taken care of without our attention. This upgrade, which took a couple hundred dollars and a couple weekends of time, greatly improved our life quality and reduced our anxiety during growing season.

6. My Retreat Room/Home office

After a whole Spring of basement work and a busy summer in the garden, we turned our attention to the main floor of the house. We still have a number of rooms to renovate on the main floor, including the kitchen and the main floor bathroom. But before getting to the tough jobs, we decided to convert the spare bedroom into my office/retreat room.

Over the Fall months, a desk was built, the two existing closets were reframed to accommodate a murphy bed and a winter gear closet. This room will be used by overnight guest as a bedroom.

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I just realized that I have not given you a full reveal of the room yet. It is currently decorated for Christmas, so maybe after the Three Kings day when we take down the Christmas decorations, I will take you on a tour. So stay tuned, friends!

7. Starting the Main Floor Bathroom Renovation

The last major renovation project we at least started, is the main floor bathroom. It is currently ongoing but slowly due to Slav’s busy work schedule. Without getting into it too much, I’d say that we have completed the demo and electrical upgrade, and are anxious to start the plumbing process. You can check on our inspiration and design post here to get an idea what we are working towards. It is gonna be a long journey!

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To summarize…

2020 wasn’t the year I expected it to be. But maybe, it’s the year I needed. I am grateful for what we’ve learned to appreciate during this unprecedented year. Patience and tenderness, growth and reflection, generosity and sacrifice, all led to strengthen and refine. 2020, I will remember you!

Main Floor Bath: Electrical

Since the demolition Slav has been working on upgrading the electrical in the bathroom. And today I’d like to show you some progress:

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The first task was actually to remove the old bathroom ceiling. We decided to install recessed lighting and a new exhaust fan for this bathroom, all of which would be integrated into the ceiling drywall. The existing ceiling drywall was moldy to begin with. So Slav took the old drywall down.

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At the corner was an old vent for basement water heater. Since we installed the tankless water heater three years ago, this vent has not been used. Slav simply terminated it inside the attic, and cut the rest out of the bathroom. Removing this vent and the framing around it gained up a few sqft in this bathroom.

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The only inconvenience of removing ceiling drywall was the attic insulation. Our attic does not have any flooring – the main floor ceiling drywall is the only barrier separating the insulation and the main floor space. To make sure the attic insulation does not fall into the bathroom, Slav had to crawl into the attic and rack the loose insulation away from the bathroom ceiling area.

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Slav then put down some plywood underlayment to prevent the insulation from falling into the bathroom. At this point, he started working on the electrical from the bathroom below.

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First, a new exhaust fan was installed. It has sensors for not only motion, but also humidity in the room. Based on the humidity, it can also choose between two flow rate automatically (80 and 110 CFM), both of which are higher than the required flow rate by code for our small bathroom. Slav positioned the new exhaust fan between the future vanity and shower, almost directly below the roof vent.

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Slav then wired the new fan independently. The old fan was piggybacked onto the vanity lights, which meant that whenever we turned on the light, the noisy ceiling fan had to come on as well. The new exhaust fan is on its own circuit and can be operated independently from the lights.

Next, Slav wired for three recessed lighting on the ceiling. They are also wired on an independent circuit.

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Now the original circuit was only for the vanity lights. He kept this circuit and simply brought it to where the switches would be. We will be upgrading the vanity light down the road – Slav is entertaining the idea of a light-integrated mirror and I am dreaming of a pair of vanity lights. No matter which direction we go with, I cannot wait for the stage of picking out fixtures!

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We will be adding a couple outlets at the vanity height to accommodate things like hair dryer and electrical toothbrush, as well as an outlet for the bidet behind the toilet. For now, the electrical on the wet wall was left unchanged. We need to finish the plumbing upgrade here first.

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The switch used to be on the left side of the door, next to the vent we removed. We have decided to install a pocket door here, so the switches would have to be brought to the other side of the door. Slav extended the original switch controlling the vanity light(s) over the door, and installed the switch on the bath/office wall immediate next to the door. The switches for the new exhaust fan and recessed lighting circuits were also brought here:

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We now have three switches in this bathroom: one for the vanity light (left), one for all the recessed lighting (middle), and the last one for the exhaust fan (right). The metal box is the light switch facing the office.

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Speaking for the office, I have long wanted to relocate the router to the corner of the room. I could not find a recent photo of this wall, but from the picture I took during the office renovation below, you could see the outlet and the Ethernet cable connection were both located in the middle of the wall, determining the location of the router:

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This was what the original Ethernet connection and outlet looked like from the bathroom side. Having the bathroom side of the wall open provided a wonderful opportunity to relocate them with ease:

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Slav kept the wall outlet and simply added a new outlet near the bookcase. The Ethernet connection box was moved right below it on the same stud:

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To patch the drywall for the Ethernet box, Slav screwed on a piece of scrap wood from the bathroom side.

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Here is a close shot for the new outlet and Ethernet connection, now next to the bookshelf:

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After making sure that everything is working as intended, Slav patched the drywall and mudded it smooth:

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Followed by some leftover wall paint.

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It looked like the Ethernet box was never there! Now I can tuck away the router (on top of the bookshelf)

To date we have crossed off 90% of the electrical work in the bathroom, except installing the ceiling cans and adding a couple outlets on the wet wall after plumbing upgrade. Another big progress in the bathroom is that the new window was in!

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To make sure we won’t have water issue around this window, we opted for a fixed panel window. The window is obscured for privacy, but still lets in plenty of light in the mornings.

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After the window was in, I insulated the wall cavity. It was done just before a snow storm and I was glad that the new window and insulation kept my office warm! We also installed sound insulation between the bathroom and the office/guest room for privacy.

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With most of the electrical work done I am happy to report that the bathroom reno to-do list is a lot shorter. The next big job? Plumbing!

1. Demolition – removing all the fixtures and wall/floor materials;
2. Assessing the water damage and mold control;
3. Installing new bath window and insulating the exterior wall;
4. Removing the ceiling drywall from the attic, wiring for new recessed lights;
5. Installing a new exhaust fan;
6. Upgrading wall electrical, including adding outlets and rewiring for switches;
7. Installing recessed lights and ceiling drywall, taping/mudding/priming ceiling;
8. Pocket door framing;
9. Upgrading plumbing for toilet and shower;
10. Ordering new toilet, sink/vanity, and shower fixtures. Upgrading/installing water lines to the fixture;
11. Installing new subflooring, closing up the walls, and waterproofing;
12. Tiling the floor;
13. Tiling the shower wall with a shower niche;
14. Installing new window stool/trims;
15. Priming and painting drywall and ceiling;
16. Installing glass shower doors;
17. Installing shower fixtures, vanity/sink, and toilet/bidet;
18. Installing pocket door, mirror, and lighting.
19. Door trims inside and outside/updating nearby closet trims at the same time;
20. Accessories, plants, enjoy!

Main Floor Bath: Design and Inspirations

Now Slav has completed the demolition of the main floor bathroom, it is time to talk about the rebuild. We have been designing this bathroom since September, and have a pretty good understanding how we want the room to function and feel.

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Let us start with the function. This bathroom is the only other bathroom in the house besides our master bath, and also the only bathroom on the main floor. We use this bathroom while working from home during the daytime, and when we hang out in the living/kitchen area in the evenings. Now we have set up a sleeping area in the adjacent office, this bathroom will also be used by guests.

For perspective, this picture was taken when standing in the living room. The room on the left is my office/guest bedroom, and room with blue walls and tiled floor is the bathroom.

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We have decided to install the office door between the hallway and living room, which means that when the door is closed, our guests can have their own private suite and do not have to walk into the view of the living room to travel between bathroom and the bed.

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Since we do not shower in the main floor bathroom, we’ve decided to install a walk-in shower without a tub. A walk-in shower is much safer for our eldly parents, and also easier to keep clean. Below is the old bathroom layout, with shower/tub next to the window, and the vanity and toilet on the right side of the bathroom.

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And below is an inspiration photo indicating the future layout. The shower fixtures, vanity and toilet will remain on the right wall, which contains all the water pipes and plumbing, and the future shower area will be wider (32″) than the old 30″ tub to provide more elbow room.

Different from the inspiration photo above, the shower door panel will be frameless like the one we installed downstairs and in the inspiration photo below. It should create a roomy appearance for this 5′ x 8′ bathroom.

Similar to the inspiration photos above, our bathroom has an east-facing window which lets in a lot of light. We want to keep this bathroom bright and cheerful, so we will be using white tiles on the wall, and dark tiles on the floor, similar to the inspiration below:

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In terms of the tile choices, I always likes high contrast not only in color but also in size. In our master bath downstairs, we chose big dark tiles on the floor and one wall, and white subway tiles on the other two walls:

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To make things a bit different, we will switch to dark small tile on the floor and white big tiles on the wall for this bathroom.

Choosing smaller tiles on the floor allows us to keep the tile pattern uniform throughout the entire bathroom, including in the shower pan area. This will help the bathroom look bigger too.

One feature we really liked about our master bath is the shower niche spinning the entire back of the shower. Unfortunately, due to the window height we are not able to replicate this look. But what we can do instead, is have the niche on the side of the shower, and terminate it on the exterior wall, like that in the photo below.

Other details we plan to add include a pocket door:

And wooden/glass shelves above the toilet for towel and tissue storage.

With white toilet and vanity I think this small bathroom will look simple, clean, comfortable, and cheerful. Imagine opening the pocket door and seeing bright tiled walls, dark and geometric patterned floor, glass shower, with a touch of wood and lots of green plants! Surely we have a long way to go – Slav has been working on electrical over the past a couple weeks and it took a lot longer then we anticipated – but looking for inspirations gives me hope and motivation to push forward. Stay tuned, friends and family. It will be great!

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