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

Category: Renovation Page 3 of 37

Happy Five Year Anniversary, My Little Ranch

It just occurred to us that this weeks marks the five year anniversary since we moved into our little ranch! This is our first house and absolutely holds a soft spot in our hearts. It also holds our blood, sweat, and tears too – we have been renovating it room by room since the day we moved in.

Main floor – before

Ranch House - 5

Main floor – now




Curb appeal – before

Ranch house - 1


Curb appeal – now



Backyard – before



Backyard – now



We learned so much from renovating on this little ranch. Built in 1964 and with great bones, this house has been neglected for decades and maintained with duct tape. We did not just do a quick flip – we took our time to renovate room by room, spending money on high quality materials that are meant to last a long time. And we tried our best to increase the energy efficiency of the house during the renovation, such as replacing the roof, adding insulation, putting in new windows and better doors, and upgrading to new appliances and plumbing fixers. During the past 6 months, we finally got to renovate the last room inside of the house – the kitchen! In fact, Slav just installed the range hood which capped the kitchen renovation, just in time for our five year anniversary in the house. 🙂




To celebrate the end of major renovations inside the house, we purchased our first leisure item – a hot tub! We have been testing it and so far, I love it! We are looking forward to relaxing more and spending more time outdoors this summer, instead of working on renovation projects all the time – starting from weekday hot tub nights!

But what will we be posting on the blog from now on? Do not worry, I will not be showing you fancy drinks and vacation photos. There are still so much we want to do inside and outside of the house. Just to finish the kitchen, we have door trims and baseboards to add, backdoors to refinish, and electrical to finish for the island. Slav still have to complete the air return ducting inside the island as well.


Besides tightening loose ends in the kitchen, we will also work on furnishing the living room. We sold the sofa during kitchen renovation which was a placeholder to begin with, so now the entire living room is just a console table and a bookshelf – quite like when we first moved in, actually! Slav is on the mission of hunting down a comfortable sofa for his standard. It is a high bar to meet I promise you. And I am in search of a storage coffee table, some kind of book storage, and a comfortable chair for reading and sipping morning tea in. We are excited to decorate the main floor living space completely open to the new kitchen space. So stay tuned!

I did not have time to show you the garden this Spring, but I promise you that it was not ignored – I spent every weekend in April for garden cleanup, weeding, and mulching so the garden beds were all kept in great shape despite the chaos inside the house. I am happy to report that all the perennials we have planted in 2018 and 2019 leaped this year. They got so big and started blooming profusely. We harvested so many hellebore, irises, and peony blooms so far. And more blooms of summer perennials are underway.


We certainly made lots of upgrade to the curb appeal of the house. But there are still things we can do to add comfort to our outdoor life. We gathered all material we need to pave the shed patio it will be flagstone and I am excited! And I would like to DIY some garden seating. We also would like to add a hot tub + deck in the backyard, where we can unwind with better privacy and in style.


We have talked about replacing the back fence, which has been failing slowly, post after post. We intentionally left it out when we replaced all the chain link fence in 2018 to save $$ and time. And now all the more critical renovations are done, upgrading the back fence starts to float higher and higher on our to-do list.


Thinking long term, we want to add more Evergreen trees to the property, which means to reconfigure the garden space. Recently, we even contemplated the idea of converting entire front yard lawn to a Xeriscape garden, namely to eliminate all the remaining lawn grass in the front yard. Still thinking about it though! But all these can wait. this summer is about resting, playing, and enjoying the fruit of the labor in the nest we created. Cooking our own garden harvest in the new kitchen filled with our own cut flowers sounds like a dream but we have made it come true… Happy five year anniversary, my lovely little ranch!

The Kitchen Progress: Countertops and backsplash

People say that the last mile is the longest, now I feel it. It only took 6 weeks for our kitchen renovation to match from demo to cabinet installation. Now 4 more weeks later, we still do not have a working kitchen yet. It isn’t anyone’s fault – we have been travelling for work and family functions and our contractor unfortunately contracted COVID. Fortunately there is good progress to share – since last time I showed you the new cabinets, the countertop and backsplash have been installed!

The Quartz countertop




How do you like the new countertop? This is the Hanstone quartz in color “Montauk“. We purchased it from a local stone shop who did an excellent job installing it. We can hardly tell where the seam is:


We chose 1/4 inch bevel on the edge and 1.5 inch overhang from the cabinet. I think the countertop profile looks classic and timeless.


The stone shop also produced window stools using the leftover materials on our slab. We did not know it was an option until we asked at the stone shop. I really think it helped the kitchen to look more cohesive and therefore more calm.



The sink installation

With the countertop installation, the crew also installed the sink.


We chose a single sink for a smaller footprint, which still fits most of our pots and pans. The undermount sink was installed from the bottom using clips and glue.


We also chose a single faucet for a simpler look. It is beefy and has a retractable sprayer. I think it will serve us well.


Before our contractor caught the bug, he had started installing the sink plumbing. The new garbage disposal is hooked up to the sink. We are just waiting for the dishwasher drain to be connected in order to use the sink again.


The splurge in the kitchen

What our contractor did manage to finish before his time off was the backsplash! We had no idea what style and color of backsplash to use for a long time. But as soon as the countertop was in, the choice became easy. We took a bunch of samples home – over 20 pieces of different styles, put them against the cabinets and countertops. And the answer just revealed itself.


The tile is the Bianco Carrara Hexagon Polished Marble Mosaic from Floor and Decor, and the grout color is “rolling fog”. Marble tile is not cheap. And we have 54 sqft to tile because I wanted the backsplash behind the range hood to reach the ceiling. But I think it is OK to have one splurge in every space we create – we save from doing so much DIY work on the house, and the money we saved should be devoted to things we truly appreciate. In this kitchen, it is the backsplash tile which you see immediately walking into the house. This marble tile is substantial and definitely brings the wow factor.


Unpacking the kitchen!


As soon as the backsplash tiles was sealed (marble tiles need to be sealed every a couple years), I wiped down the cabinets and started unpacking! The first cabinet I restocked was the tea cabinet. So happy we chose the glass door design.


Small appliances we use daily such as microwave, multi-cooker, and water kettle were placed along the cabinet wall. We added many outlets along this wall with these appliances in mind, so when they are situated, the power cable can be hidden from the plain view.



I was excited to hang the first poster frame in the kitchen. This is actually a piece of tile from Slav’s hometown, with the castle (yes, his hometown has a huge castle which has its own church and prison!) pictured on the tile. The color of the frame was actually my inspiration for the kitchen cabinet. 🙂


Bowls and plates, utensils, and pots and pans were all situated in the kitchen cabinets. We did pare down before packing the kitchen. So what we have here are all the cookware we truly love.




We asked for 12″ overhang on two sides of the island for more seating options. The long overhang is also perfect to tuck in Roxie’s food and drink station:


I really love the island:



The current to-dos

So, this is the kitchen we are living in today! Our contractor will come back in the next week or so (as soon as he tests negative) to finish the sink plumbing and connect the appliances, and Slav will be connecting the gas stove and installing the range hood. We forgot to prepare electrical for the range hood, which means there will be one more trip to the attic hopefully the last time – then we will have a fully functional kitchen! So close!

The current to-do list:

  1. Demoing the kitchen and the dividing walls between kitchen and living room. All existing tile, drywall, and floor will be removed including soffit.
  2. Demoing the hall closet space for housing the fridge.
  3. Running utilities – installing new gas line for the new gas stove, adding new plumbing and waterline for the fridge and dishwasher, modifying plumbing and waterline for the new sink and garbage disposal, rerouting the hood vent in the attic.
  4. Slav wiring for outlets and switches.
  5. Tiling the floor.
  6. Adding exterior insulation and installing drywall; repairing ceiling drywall and skim-coat the existing walls.
  7. Installing stair railing.
  8. Priming and painting all the new drywall in the kitchen and stairwell.
  9. Installing recessed lighting for the kitchen and the living room.
  10. Cabinets installation.
  11. Countertop template and installation.
  12. Tiling the backsplash and installing window stools.
  13. Fridge and dishwasher installation. Sink plumbing hookup (hopefully soon).
  14. Installing the gas stove and range hood (hopefully this weekend).
  15. Island outlet and HVAC return panels installation.
  16. Under the cabinet lighting!
  17. Door trims, moulding, and baseboards. Touch paint where it is needed.

The Kitchen: Cabinet Installation

The cabinets are in, and it starts feeling like a proper kitchen again.






After wrapping up the electrical work, we spent a couple days tidying up the house. We sold the sofa which was supposed to be a placeholder but lasted over four years! And the living room was clean and nicely empty for a day – until the cabinets arrived.

It was surprising how much space these boxes took. Our living room was filled to the brim. Fortunately, our contractor immediately started installing them, which took three full days.


Day 1: Installing the lower cabinets

Our contractor started with the corner cabinets and worked his way out. Right off the bat, this first cabinet threw him a curved ball. It turned out that our cabinet designer did not take the existing sink plumbing into consideration. The corner cabinet covered the existing sink plumbing, which should be inside the adjacent sink cabinet. Our contractor had to move the plumbing and waterlines a few inches to the right.


After the cornet cabinet went in, the sink cabinet followed, then the two 12″ units went in. A filler was added between the sink cabinet and the smaller units to make sure that the gas stove will be centered on the wall between the windows.


Despite the walls and floors are all new, the sink/stove wall is still wavy and lots of shims had to be used:


Day 2: Fridge cabinet and the island

The rest of the lower cabinets went in on the second day of installation. The fridge cabinets were put in not without a fight. It took two strong man to hold the tall panels up while many L-brackets were screwed in. The top cabinets were secured to the side panels with screws inside and L brackets at the bottom.


I cannot tell you how much planning and measuring it took to decide the final dimension for the fridge alcove. Honestly, up until it was installed, I had been nervous about if the fridge is gonna sit well inside… Slav stayed home and installed it with our contractor. I think they nailed down the details. The side panels were lined up almost perfectly with the two walls and the floor tile line, and the overhead cabinets were nicely centered with half an inch filler on both sides.


Here is the view I am most excited about – from the front door/living room side! We used to have a hall closet facing the front door, which had no design value to speak of. Improving the look of this wall facing front door has always been one of my motivations to renovate the kitchen. We will extend the baseboard to cover the bottom of the panel as a finishing touch. And as of the wall itself, I think it is a great backdrop for a large vertical art piece. Do you agree?


Between the fridge and the corner cabinet, two 15″ units were installed. A dishwasher will be located between them. These cabinets will be used for utensils and cutleries for easy unloading of the dishwasher.


Then the island was installed! It comprises three cabinets: one wide (36″) cabinet facing the stove for cooking utensils, and pots and pans, and two 24″ wide cabinets sit back to back as pantry storage. We lived in houses with island before and always liked them. I am so glad that we could accommodate one in our own kitchen.


Our contractor grouped the cabinets together, and pinned them down with big bolts through the tiles. Oh my, it looked so brutal.


Inside the cabinets are the HVAC air returns. The bottom of the cabinets had to be cut open. And  we will install the return cover into the side panels.


This was what the kitchen looked like by the end of the second day. The upper cabinets were still yet to be installed, but we already got a good feeling of the space. 🙂



Honestly, I was a bit surprised how wide the walkways are between the island and other wall cabinets. The distances are actually pretty standard for our time – around 42 inches. But I think our kitchen is small so 42″ feels really wide! We know that countertop will be 1.5 inches passing the cabinet fronts on either side, and the fridge and the stove will come into the room a bit too. Hopefully after everything is installed, we will not feel that the walkways are too wide to work with.


Day 3: Installing upper cabinets and trims

The last day of the cabinet installation went smoothly and quickly. The uppers were put up in merely a couple hours. These cabinets were designed to fill the wall. At the end, only a narrow filler piece was used on the very right.


Removing the soffit enabled us to install these 36″ tall uppers, which look much better compared to the old 24″ cabinets. All the five uppers have identical width for a more uniform look. Just to make things appear to be lighter, we ordered a glass door for the middle cabinet. Pretty drinkware will be displayed here, and dishes and cookware will populate the other four.


As you can see, these uppers are directly above the dishwasher. I think putting away dishes and cups will be a breeze.


The ceiling trims, toe kicks, and baseboard were also installed on the last day.




I am glad that I painted the wall behind the fridge and dishwasher dark. I am not sure how much we would be able to see the wall once the appliances are in, but having a darker color back here puts my mind at ease.


Can you imagine a whole wall of pretty tiles between the windows, with oversized range hood over a stainless steel stove? It is going to be so pretty!


The cabinets and hardware

We are so happy with the color and door style of our cabinets. The style is called Clarke, which offers a classic trim design but a full overlay. The cabinet color is Maritime, which sounds like a deep blue. But in person, it has a green undertone and I think it is a perfect blend of dark blue, green, and grey.


It is interesting to watch how the color changes throughout the day with different lighting. In bright morning light, it appears to be an earthy green, and as the natural lighting gets darker in the afternoon, the blue started appear. At night, when all lights were off, the cabinets look almost gun powder black. And with the recessed lighting on, it looks blue/grey again. I love it.


We have picked the hardware for the cabinets – these bronze knobs will be installed on both drawers and doors. We will have them installed when our contractor come in again to tile backsplash.

Restoring the normality, slowly but steadily

With the cabinets installed and a whole trailer of cardboard out of the way, we did some deep cleaning around the house. Our offices are finally back in order:



We also moved the temporary kitchen from the basement utility room to the living room, and all the (heavy) boxes of kitchen stuff inside from the garage inside. Finally, all kitchen stuff are together again! We are still not cooking due to the difficulty of washing pots and pans, but not for long!


Roxie has been locked in the basement during the day when the contractor worked on the kitchen. I think she appreciates having her “neighborhood-watch spot” back.


Moving forward, countertops!

The day after these cabinets were installed, the countertop company came in and did the template. Our quartz countertop will be installed TODAY! Then, our contractor can tile the backsplash and hook up the appliances. I can finally see the finish line and it is not far.


The current to-do list:

  1. Demoing the kitchen and the dividing walls between kitchen and living room. All existing tile, drywall, and floor will be removed including soffit.
  2. Demoing the hall closet space for housing the fridge.
  3. Running utilities – installing new gas line for the new gas stove, adding new plumbing and waterline for the fridge and dishwasher, modifying plumbing and waterline for the new sink and garbage disposal, rerouting the hood vent in the attic.
  4. Slav wiring for outlets and switches.
  5. Tiling the floor.
  6. Adding exterior insulation and installing drywall; repairing ceiling drywall and skim-coat the existing walls.
  7. Installing stair railing.
  8. Priming and painting all the new drywall in the kitchen and stairwell.
  9. Installing recessed lighting for the kitchen and the living room.
  10. Cabinets installation.
  11. Countertop template and installation (today!).
  12. Tiling the backsplash and installing window stools.
  13. Appliances installation (Contract work ends here).
  14. Slav installing the HVAC return panels on island cabinets.
  15. Slav installing the under the cabinet lighting (his pet project).
  16. Finishing the kitchen and stairwell with door trims, moulding, and baseboards.

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