To prepare for my mother’s arrival, several renovation projects needed to be undertaken. The first room to go under the sledgehammer was my bathroom – the only full bathroom in the apartment. It was December 5th, 2015 … the last time I would sleep in my bedroom until early March of the following year.
My bedroom became a staging area for the work in the bathroom, housing tools I had never seen before. On the positive side, my contractors were guys who worked in the building, which is about 115 years old, so they knew all about the structural and systems issues. On the negative side, they sometimes had to pause my work to deal with more pressing concerns in the rest of the building. The balance was definitely on the positive side – it is so comforting to know that the contractors tearing apart the place are honest, trustworthy and competent.
The rubble excavated from my bathroom resembled ancient Roman ruins – really, there seemed to be stones and debris that looked more like an exterior wall than an interior bathroom. Over time, the room morphed into something resembling a small and windowless prison cell. Finally, a rather lovely bathroom emerged.
Before and after:
It was an intensive effort. The old tub needed to give way to a shower with a bench, which would accommodate my mother’s arthritic knees. The ugly old wall tile needed to be replaced by … well, almost anything. The old plumbing needed to be replaced by something with an internal diameter greater than spaghetti. This was all easier said than done, as the original plumbing was embedded in 2 feet of concrete, pulling off the tile also pulled off whatever wall materials were behind it, and the old tub needed to be jackhammered out of its niche. And that was just the first week, after which I accepted the fact that this was going to be more expensive than I thought.
The plumbing took a while to figure out. For a time, where my tub used to be was foot-wide hole through which I could see the floor below and, actually, the one below that. The hole looked into the riser – for those not acquainted with high-rise buildings, the risers carry the plumbing and other infrastructure from the basement to the top floor. I was, therefore, looking into the bowels of the building. From my homeowner’s perspective, it was not an inspiring sight. The plan was to reroute the plumbing, which was successfully done, and to disentangle the pipes in my apartment from those of the apartment above, which was not successfully done. My apartment’s pipes are still directly connected to my upstairs neighbor’s unit. Words you don’t want to hear from your plumber: “In more than 25 years on the job, I’ve never seen this before”.
The holidays came and went that year without much fanfare, but with a delay in the renovation. Oscar and I were sleeping in the living room … in a twin bed. Oscar weighs about 10 pounds but can stretch himself out to about 36 inches. Given that twin beds are about 39 inches wide … you can see the problem, right? Every night included a fight with a cat who managed to monopolize the available sleeping space. He was annoyed to have been moved out of the bedroom and this was his revenge (sort of like the character in the photo below).
Meanwhile, I bought tile and more tile, grout, paint, a shower door, a corner cabinet, fixtures, lights, a fan, and a slew of other things. One by one, they were installed and in late February my bathroom renovation was complete. All that remained was cleaning. The workers had tidied up the bathroom and it looked great. Just a little buff and polish would put it right.
My bedroom, on the other hand, had about an inch of dust everywhere and, though furnished and decorated, resembled a sad and abandoned space – like something time forgot. It was about a week before it was habitable again. Once we moved back into the bedroom, Oscar was happy and slept curled up in a ball at my feet. Yep, he took up a tiny little space in the big bed (and yep, another kitty illustrating this … because you can’t have too many cat photos).
Next up: the floors and half bath get their chance to shine.