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

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House tours and stuff

Finally! The Master Bath is Complete!

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It’s been a long journey to get to this reveal post. But hey, we are finally here! Let us unpack, shall we? (And if you are interested, you can see the old bath here.)

The glass shower

This new bathroom features all upgrades we had craved for years. Starting from the new shower glass. We’ve been living in student housing and cheap rentals before this house, and all of them sported shower curtains. Having a piece of clear glass that we can see through into the shower, that is seamless, custom-made, and that requires a squeegee, is like ten Christmas’ wishes come true at once.

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The shower door and installation was done by L & L glass, a local glass company in Denver. Our experience with them is nothing but great: efficient communication, quality choices of the products, fair price, and quick and reliable service. Every interaction with L & L glass we had, from the showroom quote, in-house measurement, to the actual installation was a breeze and a pleasure. I cannot recommend them enough.

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To create a see-through shower we chose clear glass, and Slav picked brush nickel finish for the hardware. To keep the view of the glass unobstructed, we opted for a single knob instead of a long handle on the door. The fixed panel is held by silicone and a single clip, and there is a door sweeper under the moving panel as well.

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For a basement bathroom moisture is the biggest enemy. We stopped the shower glass at the height of the soffit to allow steam to escape. The new bathroom fan was mounted right outside of the shower to help with the moisture removal.

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The floor-to-ceiling tiles and large shower niche

We like to keep the bathroom squeaky clean, so floor-to-ceiling tile is one of the first things we agreed upon. For the color, I listened to my minimalist heart and went with two contrasting tones. I showed Slav the inspiration photo below and he immediately agreed. So we basically used the same colors and sizes for our tiles.

The inspiration photo

Our bath:

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In person this color combination looks even better than the photo. While the slate keeps the room grounded and feeling steady, the white lightens it and makes it restful. Both of slate and white tiles we picked have warm undertones, so the room does not feel sterile.

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We picked pebble tile for the shower which is so nice! It is like a foot massage every time taking a shower.

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Same as the tile choices, I found out what shower niche to install with the help of Pinterests. As the inspiration photo below, we chose to the one that spans the whole width of the end wall.

The inspiration:

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Our bath:

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Unlike the photo above, we made ours even simpler using the same white tiles in the shower. We did that to further reduce visual clutter. I think it worked very well with our small bath and see-through shower doors.

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I crave some green color in the basement but there is not enough lighting for plants. This Buddha head brings a bit green into the bath.

The new water-wise toilets and bidet

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Although the shower and tiles are the most prominent elements in the bath, the most important piece in any bathroom will always be the toilet. Not only we got the water-saving toilet from our favorite local water-conservation non-profit, we also splurged for a bidet seat. Bidets are necessity at home in East Asian and central Europe, so not having one during the time living in the States felt weird to us. We vowed to make this house ours which means it will fit our needs and desires. A bidet in our master bath is certainly a right step towards our goal.

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The new double-sink vanity + medicine cabinet storage

In order to expand the footprint of the master bath, we removed a linen closet in the hallway during demo. We chose a vanity to add storage:

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The sink + vanity combo is another of our favorite in the master bath. We do not like to store things in the open so choosing trough-style sinks with limited counter space is a conscious choice.

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In this way we can keep the sinks as big as possible, while keeping the vanity narrow to save its floor print. With our narrow bathroom, this particular vanity allowed 38″ space in front of it, which enables two people to walk around without problem. It also leaves enough room for us to operate the 29″ wide shower door.

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The middle drawers do not interfere with the shower door:

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In addition, we mounted a medicine cabinet above the vanity:

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This medicine cabinet holds a ton. It is only 4″ thick inside but 48″ long and 26″ tall. It is at least four times bigger than the one we previously used and provided more than enough storage for our daily use.

Where do you store your toilet brush? 

To date we have used our bathroom for a couple days. It is very functional despite not having a towel bar or a toilet paper holder. With the brand new tiles and drywall it is hard to decide where to drill for these items. We are still on look out for a few things, such as a toilet brush. Is there an elegant yet functional toilet brush out there? One can be stored off the floor? If you have good suggestions, let me know!

OMG OMG OMG We Got New Windows!

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Hallelujah, we finally updated all the windows!

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We used to have aluminum windows throughout the main floor of our ranch. Since day 1, Slav has been wanting to replace them. I do not blame him. The old aluminum windows lack both form and function. They are dingy, hard to clean, and do a terrible job insulating the cold/heat and noise.

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The pictures above show the old aluminum windows on the back and the north side of the house. These are windows in the kitchen, our bedroom, and the office:

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The previous owners added more layers to insulate, which made it impossible to clean between the layers:

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Some of the windows are so rusted that they do not open. During winter months,  condensation formed and mold was growing along the window frames:

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Colorado is so dry that we do not usually deal with mold problems. But these windows were exception. Needless to say that we were ready for this upgrade for a long time. So when DesignCrew, who did our basement egress gave us a very reasonable quote, we jumped on it with both feet. Their quote does not only include replacing 7 old aluminum windows with custom vinyl windows, but also includes the cost of making the office window bigger.

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The picture above shows the old office window on the left, and the living room window on the right. You can see the office window was shorter. To bring some symmetry to the front of the house we wanted to make the office window taller so it would match the height of the living room window.

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Making this window taller requires cutting the brick window sill off, removing a few rows of bricks below the sill, and building the sill back up again. The DesignCrew guys subcontracts the brick work to a masonry contractor so the quality of the brick work is professional.

In the morning of the window installation, we pushed everything away from the old windows and covered our stuff.

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The crew arrived after 8 AM and worked their way from the inside out, so they can clean after themselves effectively. Lee, the father of the company started to enlarge the front office window (the left window in the picture above) right away, while Ryan (one of his sons) worked on the smaller window on the north side (the right one in the pictured above).

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The bricks were removed before the windows were taking down. Lee, the guy in the picture explained to me that doing things in this order prevented the dust from entering the house. I really like how methodical and organized these guys work. Cannot recommend the DesignCrew enough!

Within an hour the bricks demo was done. Lee then removed the window and trimmed the wood framing to meet the new opening on the exterior brick. You can see how much we were lowering the sill from the picture below:

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Before noon, the new opening was done and I had a rare opportunity to peak into our exterior walls.

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Apparently our brick house was constructed in the following layers: a layer of brick, a layer of insulation board, then interior wood framing. There is no insulation between the interior studs as we discovered during the ethernet cable installation.

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It is so cool to be able to look into the walls – I love the mechanical aspect of the house a lot more than the finishes. Maybe one day we will build a house from scratch!

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The rebuilding of the window was pretty quick. I snapped the last picture above and went for a walk in the neighborhood. By the time I was back, the new window was up!

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The new and bigger window let in so much more light and the office was instantly brighter:

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And we can see a lot more of the front yard garden now with a lower sill. All the flower beds are visible as soon as you walk into the office. This new window has become my favorite spot in the morning. I love sipping my tea while watching birds and flowers in the comfort of my pj.

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All the new windows facing the front and back are double-slider windows – both glass panels are movable and can stop at any position along the window track. The panels can also be pop off easily from the inside for easy cleaning. Each window comes with a bug screen which is a continuous one-piece. The screen can be removed for clearer view. This feature is useful during winter months when we do not open the windows.

Lee saved all the sill bricks during demo so the masonry contractor could re-point them back onto the wall.

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He also replaced the bricks on the side that were cut into halves with bricks taken from the bottom of the window, so the wall on both sides of the new window looks seamless.

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And this is the new look in the front of the house! Doesn’t it look much better with both windows at the same height?

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Compared to this:

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So satisfying!

While Lee tackled the office window, Ryan worked on replacing the two small windows on the north side.

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We rarely open these small windows due to the furniture placement. All they are there for is letting the light in. To have a better view we opted for awning windows, a decision we are so happy with.

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We anticipated that awning windows will appear bigger, but we did not think it would look THIS much bigger and better. The unobstructed view out of these windows looks like a picture and instantly made the rooms feel more finished. In the bathroom downstairs we chose a hopper which is also without the middle frame. For small windows I highly recommend this approach. It also made the windows look bigger from the outside.

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And there will be no more mold!

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Also replaced are the kitchen windows:

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Which Roxie is clearly excited about:

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And the other window in our  bedroom. Directly below is the egress window DesignCrew put in for us back in January.

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A much better view of the backyard from our bed:

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The last window we replaced is in the garage! The old aluminum one was completely rusted and could not open.

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And here is the new one:

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We have been living with the new windows for a couple weeks now and really like them. We no longer hear traffic on the street, and every room is a lot brighter. The temperature inside is a lot more stable, and opening and closing the windows have been a breeze.

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In addition to the comfort, upgrading the windows brought such an instant upgrade to our curb appeal. We keep asking ourselves why we had not done it sooner! After removing the old front porch, installing a new roof, putting in new landscaping, building a new horizontal fence, and now with brand new windows, we finally checked off all the big items on our exterior renovation list. Remember the front of the house when we bought it?

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A very different view today:

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Now we can finally move into the decorative elements for the exterior. Slav has been wanting to add stone veneer to the bare foundation, and I’ve been dreaming about climbing clematis on over-window pergolas. Slav is also very motivated to paint the gables and the garage door darker to better match the bronze trims and gutters – or I should say, to let me paint the gables and the garage door darker. This summer will be full of small and fun projects to continue improving our curb appeal, and I cannot wait!

2019, Set, Go!

It is 2019! The year I’ve been looking forward to. This is not only the year I turn 40, which I feel giddy with anticipation, but also our second full year living in this beautiful State of Colorado. Moving to the place we chose and buying our first house here granted me a sense of belonging that I’ve never experienced since moving to the States. It feels nice to have a place to call home again.

2019 also marks the second year we live in our ranch. We adore this little house and the land it sits on. It is a responsibility. It is work. But it is also joy. We can change it anyway we want and we are doing just that. The process of making it ours is liberating and electrifying.

So what is in store for this cute little gem in 2019? Basement, basement, and basement. Basement renovation is our top priority this year, and saying that we are pumped is an understatement. It is amazing to think that merely a month ago, we were still clueless on what to do with this space. We were too intimated to even start demoing! But as soon as we discovered the I-beam, it is like a torch leading us out of darkness. Combining the two bedrooms and the decision to make it our master bedroom solidified our plans for the basement, and the rest became natural from there.

But there is renovation and there is renovation. To which point do we call it done? Our basement already has a very functional layout, especially after we connected the two bedrooms. We do not wish to tear it down to the studs or switch to fancy finishes, rather aim to create a comfortable nest to curl up in. It is already a big enough undertaking as every single room needs some upgrade. To make the process less stressful, I always look at such project in smaller chunks. And here they are:

1. Egress window and new bathroom windows

Sleeping in the basement makes fire safety the top priority of this renovation. We have gotten quotes from egress window contractors and are very close to committing to the installation. In short, a big window with a walk-out window well will be installed in our bedroom, likely on the wall facing the backyard. It costs around $4000, including cutting into the foundation. At the mean time, we will likely to ask the contractor to replace the broken bathroom window.

2. Sound proofing the bedroom ceiling

Our new bedroom will be directly beneath the future guest bedroom. To add privacy we would like to dampen the sound transfer between the main floor and the basement. A combination of sound-proof insulation between floor joints and resilient channels under the basement ceiling has been shown to be effective. And we are gonna give it a try. Such upgrade is not particularly expensive but rather labor-intensive since it involves removing the existing bedroom ceiling and re-drywall.

3. Can lights + new electrical

Since soundproofing requires the removal of basement bedroom ceiling, we will use this opportunity to run new electrical for recessed lights. The ceiling height in our basemen is 7 1/2 feet, so every inch of headroom counts. Eliminating ceiling lights and adding more can lights will make the basement feeling less like a closed box.

4. Water-proof laminate flooring

in 2018 we have removed all the basement flooring and exposed the concrete slab. Fortunately, the slab is in excellent shape – dry and flat. Wanting something warm and comfortable under our feet, we will likely install water-proof laminate wood flooring over the slab. It shall cover the entire basement including the utility room. We estimate to spend ~$2000 on material and install the flooring ourselves.

5. Bath vanity, storage cabinet, and fixtures

Due to water damage we had to toss both medicine cabinet and vanity in the bathroom. They will be replaced with new ones with slim profile and sufficient storage. We will also upgrade all the shower fixtures. Bathroom fixture choices are enormous. We will sure run into analysis paralysis so just wait for it.

6. Wardrobe system, furniture, paint, etc

Being completely empty this basement needs furnishing, starting with wardrobe closets. Slav and I are swinging back and forth between wardrobe cabinets such as IKEA PAX and Elfa system in framed closets. The second chuck of furnishing is for the basement living room, which will be turned into a projector-centered media room with a dedicated reading corner. A deep love seat for late night movies and soft rugs for dogs to nap on will be ideal. Last but not the least is paint. The living room are covered in dark paneling and all the existing drywall and ceilings have seen better days. Smoothing out the wall textures and painting the whole downstairs a brighter color is a must.

Above concludes the first phase of the basement renovation, which grants us a private master suite and a quiet sitting/media room separated from the main floor. Down the road, we would love to add a kitchenette in the utility room, and eventually turn it into a dry kitchen. But first we are gonna focus on getting us moved down here.

In addition to the basement, I also have plans to expand our edible garden in the new year. Nut trees and new planting beds for edible perennial shrubs will be added to the backyard. Site prepping and hardscape will likely to happen in early Spring, which will surely keep us away from the basement reno for a few weeks. I am looking forward to all the exciting changes happening inside and outside of our ranch. Are you?

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