Friday, December 31, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

A Cattelayan Showgirl

I went to an orchid show earlier today at Fort Lauderdale's Bonnet Park where I acquired this gorgeous creature from among a crowd of almost irresistible offerings. At noon I attended a lecture about the care and repotting of orchids. I learned that it is preferable to collect orchids that are locally grown. The ones in Hawaii are tempting and inexpensive but they are grown thousands of feet above sea level and need much time to get used to their new homes. This means they may not bloom for a few years causing their adoptive parents much anxiety. A New York window is a fine place for many types of orchids. Be sure to read up on the light, moisture, growing mix and temperatures each variety prefers. (I love the true blue of the vandas, but they require more direct sun than I can give them.) If it's your first, start with the rugged phaleonopsis that will take much abuse and still rebloom more than once a year. Cymbidiums are also fairly easy to manage, but their sprays of tiny flowers don't thrill me like this showgirl.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Bad Wall Resolved

The masonry wall of the kitchen was in bad shape where we removed the old cabinets. I decided to paint it with hopes that its imperfections might be muddled if I chose the right paint. In another house, we had used a Ralph Lauren paint called "Ambassador Silver" that worked well with stainless steel. Several coats later - and although this picture is charitable - the imperfections were even more pronounced in the areas close to the ceiling and the other walls.

This is a difficult paint. Home Depot is about to discontinue carrying this line. The color is good but my husband less than diplomatically suggested that perhaps we should have hired someone more skilled at plaster repair before we applied the paint. I had to think of a solution to what was being chalked up to the results of my own impatience, and I did. I suggested a perforated metal covering. Once again, it helps to have a husband in the biz. He designed a soffit covering that would be mounted about an inch off the wall. We played with a sample piece to determine exactly how far away from the wall it ought to stand to allow the right amount of light filtering. He made a support beam and applied the sheet of metal that he had cut and bent to fit exactly. (He had made the measurements himself because I tend to say things like "It's 87 inches and just two of those tiny lines.")

S hooks from The Container Store fit perfectly through the perforations (The ones from Home Depot were too fat.) I used those common spring clips that everyone has in desk drawers to hang the pot lids.
Some things don't become apparent when you design these kinds of things on the fly, like the fact that the support beam was unhappily visible through the perforated metal. To hide this - and also to soften the overly industrial effect of this installation - we added an oversized strip of oak egg and dart molding painted with the same Ambassador Silver. I was glad I had refrained from throwing out the little bit I had left of this annoying paint.

Feeling almost done with the kitchen, I announced that it was time to "trick it out" with some stuff we had in storage, like these industrial brackets from an old factory in Waterbury, Connecticut. A vintage washing machine agitator stamped with the endearing phrase "Spiral Dasher". Three white McCoy vases that I had kept in a box for twenty years. A Michael Aram trivet. A Bosch coffepot designed by Porsche.

We just about done with the kitchen.

Next up: that narrow tunnel of an entrance hall.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

metal radiators

Turning to the eat-in part of the kitchen, I decided to refinish the built-in metal radiator. There is also another one nearby that got the same treatment. I don't think they are original to the building (1926) but I didn't see any reason to  replace them. I doubt they were originally just polished metal but I didn't think I wanted them to be repainted. I removed many coats of heavy old paint. The Baad Lamb took the removable covers to his shop where he blasted them and clear coated them. I used an old issue of Details to cover the heating parts and I sprayed a glossy clear coat on the fixed parts and damn if they don't look swell in a butch kinda WW2 way.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Skip My Crash Course - Take Mike's Master Class

Even if you don't live in south Florida, Mike Minutillo give us some good advice in my interview in the current issue of SFGN.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Kitchen backsplash

I had been really looking forward to this part of the project given our success with the granite floor. With Chris at work, however, I'd be installing the backsplash solo. This means keeping all my "customers"  (wetsaw, mortar, tiles) happy single-handedly to avoid a tour-de-farce mess.

We had ordered and received from Home Depot glass mini-subway tiles (1"X2") on sheets. The brand is Merola and the color is "ice." In Fort Lauderdale, I had watched the kitchen guy cut my glass tiles with a wetsaw so I knew how easy this is despite common assumptions that it is some kind of difficult craft that needs years of mastering. We had purchased an inexpensive wetsaw from the Home Depot and I took the time to return to HD to get a new diamond blade, one that specifically mentions its willingness to cut glass. This may not have been necessary but it always feels good to start something crucial with a fresh whatever. And I did not buy the most expensive brand they sell. I chose the mid-range brand.

Here's the most important secret to know regarding the installation of glass tiles on sheets. They are heavy and they will slide down your wall the instant you turn your back to sneeze. In order to keep this movement to a minimum, you will need to use a high performance mortar. This is where you have to read the labels very carefully. Most buckets of pre-mixed thinset mortar carry the not-for-glass-tile disclaimer. I found the bucket that did not carry those words which is about as strong a recommendation as the maker is willing to go with. I had done a considerable amount of research and had decided to mix the mortar myself, but HD sells nothing smaller than a fifty pound bag of it, and that is much more than I needed. Also, I had no appetite for carrying fifty pounds across the width of Central Park, a trip I feel guilty about doing in a taxi.

I also discovered I'd need a trowel other than the one I used to install the granite floor. This one would have to have shallow pointy triangular teeth. So now we own two trowels each costing $10. I'm not going to throw them out, but I doubt we will ever use them again. I should do a calculation to determine the annual cost of keeping them in a small coop NYC apartment given their size and the overall cost of a square foot of space in this neighborhood. Actually, that is a calculation I should do with everything I own. I'd sell them on EBAY but then I'd have to do the calculation of time, effort and postage that would surely outweigh a break-even. Maybe someday a friend will need them.

Gay men in cities treat tools as do straight married women treat baby clothes.

Having done a plan that would mean the least amount of tile cutting, I began to trowel on the mortar which is a fiesty white blend that is definitiely more muscular than the mix prescribed for the floor tile. I slapped on the first two sheets, determined the cuts I would need to make and ran to the saw. After repeating this pattern a few times, I checked out the lines of my rows and found that the sheets had migrated a bit in deference to gravity and in defiance of the mortar. Forewarned, I did not panic. I nudged them back into line, inspecting them from a variety of angles and rechecking them until the mortar had dried sufficiently to still them forever. There is something about setting tile in place that I find immensely pleasurable. Glass tile is particularly wonderful because it changes a flat and flimsy wall into a luminous and emotional surface that changes with the passage of hours bearing sun or shadow or rain or moon.

After giving this installation the time required to set, I commenced the grouting of it. Here's where I made a mistake. Wanting to avoid the dusty mess of a bag of grout powder, and because I was going for a standard color: pure white, I selected a bucket of pre-mixed grout. Never again. Pre-mixed grout is much more watery than it should be, making the grouting process one hell of a big sloppy mess. I spent more time cleaning up the far flung globs of grout than I did on the actual installation.

I'm quite happy with the backsplash, even where the rows went a little warbly, giving it a hand crafted look. Background music for setting glass tile: Michael Buble's It's a New Day, Miss Kittin's Frank Sinatra, The Spinner's Could It Be I'm Falling In Love, Lauren Bacall's Welcome To The Theater and a mess of stuff by Jackson Brown from the Pretender album.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Love our Bianco Antico granite - Hate the IKEA service.

We drove to New jersey to "select the slab" (this is the name given by stone dealers to this part of the kitchen counter process. It is also a phrase that will resonate with anyone who has ever walked the halls of a bath house.) We purchased the granite through IKEA when we got the cabinetry. We did this because they throw in the sink for free if you buy at least 25 sq feet of counter top. (And the sink you get is a higher grade stainless than the weak and thin stainless that IKEA sells.) If we got to that threshold with our small galley kitchen, I can't imagine anyone else having a problem with this requirement. IKEA had a good selection of stone, some of which I recognized, including Bianco Antico which has a blend of whites, blacks, browns, blueish and smokey quartz and flashes of mica in undulating veins. Nice harmonizer to the stainless steel appliances, gloss white cabs and black granite floor. IKEA warns you that one downside to buying a stone countertop through them is that you will not be allowed to select the slab. Because I am not easily convinced that any policy established in this world is honorable or upheld or not circumventable with ease, I called the dealership that contracts with IKEA and set up an appointment to select the slab. When we got to the warehouse in New jersey, we found we had the option of picking out any stone we wanted, not just Bianco Antico (without forfeiting the free sink!). We spent a half hour looking at dozens of options, one or two of which would have meant an upcharge. When we settled on our original choice, the staff asked if we wanted to see the several slabs of that variety before picking one. We did! Amazingly, overhead rolling cranes and huge grippers on chains carried slabs above the shoppers. I crouched once or twice as a huge piece of Brazilian riverbed passed overhead.

A week later, I received a call saying that our chosen slab had been delivered from the warehouse to the shop. Time to schedule the making of the template. Two guys with many years of experience and glue guns showed up at the appointed time and had the templates done in an hour.

A week later I got a call from the stone dealer that made me begin to regret having made this purchase through IKEA. The dealer would not cut the slab until IKEA responded to them with the go-ahead. (The dealer had sent IKEA the exact number of square feet which is always slightly different from the estimate made at the time of purchase.) I made innumerable calls to IKEA about this and got a variety of answers from a variety of worthless people, some of whom claimed to be post-purchase customer service specialists. I got a call back from a guy who said my paperwork was lost. This call came one hour after I got a call from a lady who said she had my file and was ready to help me complete the transaction. I was finally able to pay the balance and then it took many more calls to get IKEA to give the green light to the dealer in Jersey. I advise you not to buy your counter top through IKEA.

Back on the phone with the dealer, I asked her if I could identify some sections of the slab that I really liked and one section that I did not like, so that the stone cutter could choose and avoid those sections. She said I would have to come to Jersey again to do this but reminded me that ordinarily this is not allowed because they have to cut the stone in the least wasteful way possible. I said that I understood this and that I had taken pictures of the slab and could send an email showing the parts I liked and the parts I didn't like. She told me that this would not be allowed, but I sent her the following two pictures. I kept the grammar simple because my interaction with the dealers at the warehouse, with the template makers, and eventually with the installers meant working with skilled people with limited English.

When I called her to ask if she had gotten my photos, she said "Yes, but I cannot do anything with them for the reasons I mentioned. You will have to take what you get or tell me not to cut the stone." I responded that I understood the policy and would accept the results. Just as I suspected, when the counters arrived, the cutters had honored my preferences exactly, proving that if you use just the right tone and approach to any negotiation, you will get what you want a percentage of the time even when stated policy gives you no control at all.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Kitchen update.

With the new floor in, the next step was the painting of the old masonry walls we exposed when we tore off the metal studs and drywall a previous owner had put in place. Getting rid of those walls increased our number of square feet considerably but revealed a pipe originally used to drain the icebox (precursor to the refrigerator) and various sections of plaster buildup and peeling paint. It also meant having to get the electrician to cut channels in the masonry to run conduit to the outlets that had been mounted to the metal studs. In the process of doing this, he made a crack in our neighbor's wall. Luckily, the apartment is empty. The super repaired it.

I used a hammer and chisel to chip off the many layers of old paint on the top half of the pipe. Once sanded, it began to match the brushed stainless appliances.

Scrape. Spackle. Prime. Paint. On the back wall, we used The Ralph Lauren color "Ambassador Sterling". This is a difficult paint that requires many layers, but the softly metallic result is good.
The IKEA cabinets arrived in a flotilla of boxes.

Hanging the wall cabinets was not as dreadful as one might suppose. Everything rests on on crossbar, the key element of which is the prudent securing of it to the wall using ample and appropriate gizmos. On the old masonry side, we used blue masonry screws. (Surely they have a more technical name.) On the side with the functioning plumbing (we made a hole in the drywall and looking through it with a flashlight, found that it contained all sorts of chases and drains that go through all the floors. This meant keeping the drywall on that side of the kitchen and fastening the wall and base cabinets using drywall screws wherever we hit a metal stud, and toggle fasteners anywhere else.

We also had to saw a panel for the far side of the dishwasher and cut a backing board behind the dishwasher to help support the countertop. IKEA includes the panel when they help you plan your kitchen but they don't tell you anything about how to brace it to the wall. I found slotted angle at Home Depot, and husband had the right fasteners, washers and through bolts to secure it.  Husband also had a stray piece of mahogany at his shop so I suspect we are the only kitchen in Manhattan that has an unseen mahogany backboard behind the dishwasher supporting the counter. I made shims for one base cabinet by breaking wooden paint stirrers into small pieces. Surprisingly, everything ended up perfectly level and flush with very little adjustment.

I am very much in love with the saturated Tiffany blue protective film covering the high gloss white cabinet doors. I've taken off only one piece of it. You are then supposed to let the surface "cure" for a few days before you touch it. And never clean them with anything stronger than mild soap and water.

The plumber has promised that when he returns to hitch up everything, he will replace the drain connector at the base of the old icebox pipe. This will allow me to back the fridge up closer to the wall. Here is what it looked like after we hammered off the old floor.

Resting on the base cabinet is the stainless steel range hood. The yellow packing tape holding styrofoam left some serious residue on the surface. Husband says a fluid called bestine is needed to remove this without scratches. He has it at the shop.

Meanwhile, I live in chaos and have lost a few pounds.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

My First Go At Installing A Granite Tile Floor

Taking up the old floor was a disgustingly messy job. I took up the linoleum and then spent a couple of days chiseling off a layer of concrete. Then I used a paint stripper to get through a few layers of paint and some well dissolved tar paper to get to the original poured concrete sub floor that was in excellent condition. I used a circular sander to get rid of the stubborn paint and filled in the two holes in the subfloor. For some mysterious reason, it has a top coat of red tinted concrete. It is scored, I think, to assist the tile installer.

The laying of the new tile floor appears to have worked. Everything is level. One minor crisis. As soon as I began to apply the thinset mortar, it became clear to me that we would not have enough to complete the job. Husband ran to the hardware store. They didn't have it, so he dashed across Central Park to the Home Depot and got back just as I was scraping the bottom of the bucket.

The spacers made such an eerie landscape. I didn't want to remove them.

I'll have to get one of those metal strips to bridge the gap between tile and wood. In two weeks, I will apply sealer to the grout. I have inhaled a wide variety of noxious fumes in this process. The garlic of omelets future will eradicate the scent of disturbed old surfaces.


My film debut as a dancing extra in Bear City. At 1:43. Filmed at The NYC Eagle.

Friday, September 10, 2010

and the kitchen sink

Here is why you haven't heard much from me of late. The arrogance and inflated proposal pricing of NYC contractors led me to decide that I could do this myself. So far so good. I gutted the kitchen and sent it out to the curb on the appropriate night for bulk waste collection. I have an electrician and a plumber recommended by the super so that the co-op will never say that I did the critical stuff myself. I had the super turn off the gas and I have yanked out the stove, dishwasher and kitchen sink. I have ripped out walls that covered the original walls, increasing our total square footage by approximately 15 square feet! In Manhattan, where real estate is typically $1,000 per square foot, this little increase is actually significant. We've been paying for that square footage but not using it because it was behind the walls. I chipped away a concrete subfloor over the original subfloor and this weekend we will lay a granite tile floor. I also tore down a closet and have patched the walls with Structolite followed by spackle and paint. Tomorrow, the Murphy bed, the mattress, the granite tile and the glass tile for the backsplash arrive. They better get here by 4PM because the co-op is strict about not allowing deliveries after that point. At 8:30AM, the electricians arrive to hammer-drill new channels in the masonry walls for the kitchen outlets. Oy. Then the new appliances will arrive (they haul out the old ones) and then they make the template for the granite counter tops (I got the cabinetry from IKEA and it is sitting in a stack of boxes that constitute my only furniture). Doing all this myself has saved tens of thousands of dollars and I have learned the anatomy of a New York City pre-war apartment. Valuable lesson. Meanwhile, I live on salads from the Food Emporium and I drink wine from plastic cups.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today on Bilerico: She Prayed For Love, And Guess What?

Loved receiving this letter:

Dear Father Tony,

My name is Karen.  I am writing because you were recommended to me by a friend of mine.  I have hit a spiritual crisis.  I'll be brief.  I am Catholic. I am bi-sexual.  I am marrying a transgendered woman.  I can't believe I just wrote that.  I just wrote that.  My family has been Catholic since the 1500's in France.  I can't be anything besides Catholic.  My greatest fear is that now it will be discovered, not by my family, not by my friends, but by a church.  I ceased going to mass when our relationship began almost three years ago almost entirely.  I think I've been a total of three times in as many years.  I feel torn in half.  I sound insane to people.  I love God.  I love the church.  I love this woman.  I can't, it seems have my soul and my heart enter a room without colliding.... 

For the rest of the letter and my response, head over to Bilerico.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

All Christina Rodriquez Ever Wanted Was To Be A Cop

“It’s all in my high school memory book where I said I wanted to become an undercover agent, a detective and a member of a SWAT team. I accomplished my goals. Now I’m 40 and things didn’t work out the way I thought, but I know who I am and I have never been happier.”

Christina Rodriguez is able to say this wistfully but without anger or bitterness while describing her life as a Hollywood, Florida policewoman in a profession that some might call a deck stacked against her because she is a woman, a Latina and a lesbian.

Originally from the Bronx and of Puerto Rican descent, Christina grew up in south Florida where she was a popular girl who had a passion for physical activity and for helping others. She did not realize her passion for women until she began dating one within the ranks in 2003.

Check out the rest of my article in the latest SFGN.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Practicing Safe Ex

(A hat tip to a friend who suggested this subject and title but had only examples of horribly Unsafe Ex illustrating what to avoid but not what to practice.)

As the highest form of animal life on the planet, we ought to wonder why no species performs worse than we do at ending relationships. In our evolution, have our relationships become too complex for us to handle? Have our pairings evolved (devolved?) beyond our natural capacity to manage them? If so, we ought to do one of two things: improve the quality of our relationships (our general and ordinary preoccupation) or master the fine art of becoming an Ex, which is the subject of this post.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Best Job I Ever Had

1976. Paul VI created a batch of new cardinals. In that ceremony, I was given the best job I ever had, and one that made me so deliriously happy, I could barely keep from laughing even during its execution. (Please keep in mind that this was seven years before Vanna White. I had no role model.) I was assigned to carry a silver tray holding the scarlet birettas to be conferred upon the heads of the new cardinals. I had to make several trips up and down the steps to the throne to refill the tray. I had to kick forward with each step to make certain not to trip on my own cassock. ( I had, in my childhood, watched televised pageants in which contestants in gowns employed this trick.) One unforseen problem. That silver tray was extremely heavy. While I stood by Paulo as he emptied it and took his time whispering sweet things to each baby cardinal, my arms grew weak and I began to break a sweat. It took heroic efforts to keep from dropping the muffins or passing out. I managed because I am a trouper. As I glided to and fro, a verse from the Beatles' Penny Lane looped through my mind.

Behind the shelter in the middle of a roundabout
A pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray
And though she feels as if she's in a play
She is anyway

He's Been In Our Bedroom For A Decade

Reading this, reminded me of this.
We have had an Yvon Goulet painting for more than a decade. Hung on our bedroom wall. Straight visitors and relatives getting the house tour pretended not to see it. Two weeks ago, in front of an art gallery in Montreal, I met a man whose face is in our painting. The meeting and the conversation that led to this disclosure were entirely by chance. He is an acquaintance of someone we had just met. I think he's easy to spot in the painting. Also in the painting is the legendary Mado LaMotte whose annual outdoor extravaganza, Mascara - La Nuit des Drags we attended during that same trip. (Mado has just released a new album, Full Mado - Le Remix Album.) Everything is just as we left it.