Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 9-25-16

Baby steps today.

252 N. Bayview Street

Although there were workers present yesterday, it’s hard to see what they might have been doing. The main noticeable change on walking in the front door is that the kitchen has become a secondary door store (weren’t there enough doors in the back room already?).

Upstairs, I noticed for the first time (though of course it’s not new) that the upstairs air handler (last seen in a May 29 photo) has been enclosed (the downstairs one is in a closet).

Outside, new windows have been installed where there was previously a door (for reasons unknown, the back room had two outside entrances).

352 N. Summit Street

During the past week, the house has been “dried in”—roofed and wrapped with Tyvek.

351 N. Summit Street

When I passed yesterday, there was what I took to be a landscaping crew at work. There was a car or truck from Lambco (variously billed as Lambco Site Services and Lambco Landsculpting, both enterprises of Wayne Lambert in Daphne). I took a couple of telephoto shots and deferred inspection till today.

As I was approaching 352 N. Summit today, Vance McCown drove up. He rolled down the window and said, “Go check out the grading.”

I said, “Yeah, I saw them doing it yesterday. I was about to go take pictures.”

He said, “Them! That was me!” If I’d known he was at the controls of the Bobcat (rented from Lambco apparently), I might have gone closer yesterday, but today I was able to inspect the finished work. Vance reiterated that there is a “Continental Divide” in the middle of the property, with drainage to the west on one side and to the east on the other. Before he bought the property, drainage was straight from the street (which is on the south side) to the back of the lot and into the next yard, so he has improved it significantly.

As promised, the garage doors have been installed.

The front walk has also been completed (though currently under a layer of sand).

160 Fels Avenue and Environs

Progress on the addition at 162 Fels continues.

This trellis was added to the carport at 160 Fels several weeks ago, but I’ve been waiting to see whether it would painted or perhaps something would start to climb up it.

Since last week, this stump has replaced a tree at 158 Fels (the Google Street View photo shows how it used to look).

The house at 203 Liberty (with mailbox [blurred in this photo] actually on Fels) used to be surrounded by vegetation.

After it sat on the market for quite some time, it began to undergo renovation, which has included removing the fence and clearing out a lot of the shrubs and even trees.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 9-18-16

It was sprinkling a bit when I went out yesterday and had just finished raining when I went out today, so everything was pretty wet, but progress is being made!

252 N. Bayview Street

Outside, the entrance porch has been bricked (though the floor is still a temporary sheet of plywood).

Inside, an opening has been cut above the fireplace. This seems to have become the de rigueur location for a flatscreen TV (though I don’t understand the vogue, which puts the screen well above eye level for a seated or even standing viewer), so perhaps one is going to be flush-mounted?

Most of the salvaged cabinets have been installed in the laundry room, which I guess will double as a butler’s pantry.

These shots from the laundry room into the kitchen and vice versa show the relationship of the two rooms. The door to the right in the first photo is to the basement stairs.

With the cabinets cleared out, the back room is mostly empty (except for doors), but this sink has joined the dishwasher. It appears to be in pretty good shape (with several puzzling special features, not to mention disposer and Powerade) ; perhaps it will be reused in the laundry room?

The southeast back bedroom is now the repository of fans, light fixtures, lavatories, and other fixtures removed from other rooms.

352 N. Summit Street

I got just one quick snap in the rain yesterday before Vance McCown came over from 351, eager to show me the latest developments there (see below). Looks like I might have gotten some drops of rain on my lens, too!

Although the photo above shows that the house has been roofed (with plywood), it was far from “dried in,” and this morning’s rain had left swirling pools all over the foundation.

The stairs were in place, and I managed to wade over to them and check out the second floor, but as yet I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, except to say that it has several large rooms and smaller areas that I assume will be closets and baths. It is not quite what my husband calls an “intriguing floor plan,” but it was a little puzzling.

351 N. Summit Street

As noted, Vance wanted to show me the progress that had been made in paving, including this parking court. Grass will be planted in the openings (now filled with sand) and eventually will cover the entire area. Paving is incomplete at this point because the masons ran out of bricks.

Masons had just started work on the front entrance porch.

Today that porch was finished.

Similarly, work was proceeding in the breezeway, which was completed today.

As surmised, the “extra” door has been installed in the garage entrance.

Vance previewed the work to come: as soon as paving is completed, landscaping can proceed. The house will be power washed one more time, and the siding on the first floor will get a second coat of paint. Garage doors will be delivered Wednesday. Inside, work on flooring will begin this week.

Vance took me inside to show off the paneling in the dining room/library. Previous photos had shown different paneling, which was not satisfactory. This new paneling was salvaged from a 200-year old building. Vance says the rings visible at the board ends indicate the wood was harvested from 300-year old trees, so he reckons it is at least 500 years old.

Because the paneling is not tongue-in-groove and there are many knotholes, the wall behind the paneling was painted black so that there would be no white showing between boards and through the holes. The result is quite attractive. He explained that a “pickled” finish will be applied.

One of the interesting features of this room is the secret compartments between the dining room and living room. I commented on these in my July 2 post, with the photo below (showing the old paneling).

Vance said that his wife had requested “hidden doors,” and he had accommodated her with these two shallow cupboards on either side of the doorway. The “doors” are currently just propped in place (in the photo below, the level is leaning against one), not yet hinged, but they will have “push to open” pressure latches.

As can be seen from these photos, there was a lot of standing water from this morning’s rain. As I was completing a circuit of the outside of the house today, Vance showed up, and I commented that the landscapers would have some grading to do to eliminate these puddles. Oh, no, he explained, the drainage of the site has been carefully planned through grading and using French drains. The standing water we saw would drain off quickly, he promised, and would never rise higher than the brick edging.

As can be seen in the photo below, the fence has been painted.

We went inside again today, and Vance showed me the wormy chestnut he plans to use for paneling in the kitchen. He said he had bought a quantity of it years ago for $1 a board foot and had used it in several houses; now it costs $10 a board foot (and unfortunately he will need to buy more to finish this project).

The house will incorporate a number of salvaged items in addition to lumber and used brick. The deadlock on the door through which we entered had been salvaged from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, he said—an especially fine lock (in which one of the workers had unfortunately broken off a key). And he showed me this brass doorbell that had been on his parents’ home. The plate is engraved with the name McCown—almost invisible now, so he says he will probably have it reengraved.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report—Special Edition

Today’s report is considerably closer to home than usual, as I am reporting on the renovation of our own master bathroom. This is a project that, although it was years overdue, came up very suddenly. After months of calling contractors who’d left their cards, only to get no return call, we finally got one to get back to us, and, since he had immediate availability, we had less than a week to choose tile, fixtures, etc. If we had had more lead time, we might have made some different choices, and some compromises were required just because ours is an old house, but we are reasonably well satisfied with the results.

I can’t overemphasize how impressed we were with our renovators, Jason Ile and Jonathan Barnhart, partners in J Squared Construction (shown below when they appeared on the first day of work). Although they are both relatively young, both have many years of experience in construction, beginning in childhood (when he was 10, Jason said). They are both perfectionists, so everything was done right. Jason was endlessly patient with our dithering and our unreasonable requests, and the job was finished pretty much within the estimated time despite setbacks that no one could have predicted. They are hard workers, too, working straight through the weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and till 6:30 or 7 many evenings to get to a stopping point. We hired J Squared with no references other than the recommendation of our next-door neighbor, but I would heartily recommend them to anyone for a similar job. I have urged them to put up a Facebook page where they can post photos of their work, but since they seem to be fully employed with only word-of-mouth advertising, perhaps this is unnecessary! [Update: They have put up a Facebook page here.]


In contrast to the master bathrooms in all the houses I usually write about, ours is about as small as a bathroom can be and still contain a tub/shower, toilet, and lavatory. So there was limited scope for grandiosity in our design. As can be seen from the photos below, the spacing is quite compact.

The previous owners did build a “dressing table” in an alcove of the bedroom outside the bathroom. We added the built-in drawers, and this “dressing area” largely compensates for being rather cramped in the bathroom.

The current color scheme was off-white, and we were very tired of that. We knew we wanted very neutral colors—mostly white with perhaps some black or grey. When we renovated the hall bath in 1991, we got grey-speckled white tile for the floor and walls, paired with dark grey paint and a dark grey Formica countertop. This color scheme has worked well, permitting use of practically any accent color (hot pink until recently).

Our search for tile was confusing and frustrating, but at least the choice was somewhat limited by the fact that the current vogue is for earth tones, and we knew we wanted white/grey. We looked at Hood’s Discount Home Center in Foley, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and ultimately Wade Distributing Co. in Foley. There we saw some porcelain tile that we might have liked (shown below), but the Wade location there is just a showroom; tile has to be ordered and takes a week to come; we didn’t have a week. So we settled on white subway tile for the tub surround and white mosaic tile for the floor, with a mosaic border in the tub.

Jason had emailed us several photos of ideas, and this one was one we kept going back to and saying, “Yeah, do that.” This shows the tile I actually wanted for the floors, though what I got was okay.


Construction began the day after Labor Day, September 6, and was completed on September 15. During that time, Barney and I both took photos obsessively at times and sporadically at others. In the end, I had over 150 photos of the process, not to mention dozens of photos we’d taken in stores. Needless to say, I haven’t included them all, but I did select quite a few, so if you are impatient, just scroll down to “After” to see the end results.

Here is the bathroom cleared for action (except for removing the toilet lid cover). Barney had removed the solid brass toilet paper and toothbrush holders.

The first order of business was to rip everything out. In this photo, the old vanity and toilet have been removed. The vanity had been junk from its inception (homemade—not by us), but we salvaged the toilet, as it was still perfectly good (in some ways better than a new one).

Our tub/shower was a one-piece precast fiberglass unit that had been installed during construction of the master bedroom addition. In order to remove it, Jonathan had to cut it up into pieces.

Ultimately all the walls were stripped back to the studs, but the disheartening first-day discovery was that there were no actual studs in the back (north) wall of the bathroom—just 1×4s to which the wallboard had been tacked.

What is behind these “studs” is what was once the back outside wall of the house, and between this old wall and the new one, a lot of assorted junk had been used as “insulation.”

We knew that a large part of the floor was rotten. That had been one of the reasons for needing the renovation: some years ago, our toilet had threatened to fall into the laundry room below and had been temporarily shored up with a square of OSB (as shown in the first two photos above). Since that time, the bathroom carpet (originally an extension of the white carpet in the bedroom) had been missing its pad, which had been ripped out during the repair. In order to create a smooth and secure surface for the floor tile, part of the floor had to be replaced.

One of the odd conveniences of our house is that our bedroom has a door leading out onto the porch roof. The story we were told was that the previous owners (who built the bedroom addition) had planned to build a deck but hadn’t gotten around to it before the breadwinner was transferred to Tuscaloosa. Since both our front and back staircases are narrow and twisty, it has been very handy to have this alternative access for bringing in large objects (double dresser, box spring), and in this situation the porch roof also doubled as a workbench.

The guys had also brought a trailer (Jason later said he wished he had brought his larger one) to dump their trash in. At the end of the job, this was taken to the dump.

In this photo, Jonathan has constructed one of the needed studs. The absence of others did make it easy for him to install a new exhaust fan from above!

This photo, taken a little before 10 on Wednesday morning, shows the old plumbing.

By 3 in the afternoon, Jason had completely replumbed the bathroom (using PEX tubing), now with Jonathan’s new studs in place, and insulation was being installed. Also, during that period, Jason had been able to replace the faulty shower valve in the hall bathroom (which backs up to this one), giving us a shower that finally, after all these years, actually works!

A major leap forward: the last act of the day is to bring the tub in. This really was an achievement because so much prep work had been required to get the room ready for it.

This photo shows the door previously mentioned. The plastic “path” remained in place during most of the construction, as both Jason and Jon were in and out frequently (also up and down the back stairs to their trailer).

Here’s the new tub in place Thursday morning before beginning of work.

Moisture barrier has been installed, followed by the cement board for the tile.

These clever plastic inserts facilitate creation of “cubbies” in the tile wall.

The cement board installation is complete, along with PURPLE® XP® drywall. We ended up having new drywall all around. Jonathan had started stripping wallpaper off the remaining walls, but when it got to the point where he was pulling off smaller and smaller pieces, Barney commented that he’d rather pay for more drywall than pay him by the hour to pick off wallpaper!

Jonathan has created the ornamental tile border (using a scrap of the drywall as a temporary guide) and started applying the subway tile.

Jason starts work on the floor tile.

In our back yard, Jonathan cuts tile. He actually cut a lot of it unnecessarily, but that’s a story for another day! We were blessed with perfect weather during almost the entire construction period, which was important because so much of their work was done outside.

The finished tile (before grout), at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. On the right, notice the towel bar. This was one of my “nonnegotiable demands,” and although Jason claimed to be unable to locate this obsolete fixture, I was not willing to take no for an answer. I searched online and found that the Daphne Home Depot had three in stock. He reported that it was very dusty! You can see from the “Before” photos that the cabinet over the toilet had a towel bar where we hung washcloths. We never actually used them, but I figured if they were hanging actually in the tub, perhaps we would. In any case, in losing the cabinet, we were going to lose the towel bar in that location, so some replacement was necessary.

Beadboard paneling and molding have been installed.

The tub enclosure has been grouted—it doesn’t look very promising!

This was something new Jason was trying—and liking. It’s special ceiling paint that is tinted pink so you can see, when you apply it, where you have painted and where you have missed. It dries white. (I thought the name on the can was Sherwin-Williams, but the only thing I can find online like this is Glidden.)

Dark grout on the floor—again, requiring a leap of faith!

Dark grey wall paint makes the finished tiling and painted wainscoting pop.

The light fixture has been installed.

The vanity and countertop/lavatory are in. Although the countertop is marble, the sink is vitreous china. This was another of my requisites. Our previous countertop had been molded cultured marble, and, although it had given us quite a few good years of service (probably at least 25 of the 36 years we’ve been in the house), for quite a few years the sink had been worn down to the underlying chalk in places, making it difficult to clean, not to mention unsightly. We opted for a 31″ countertop and larger vanity to replace the 24″ one. I’m not sure we need the extra storage space we gain in the cabinet, but the extra countertop space will be very welcome.

Jason installs the curtain rod, a curved one, which we’re actually not crazy about but will get used to. After this photo was taken, it had to be relocated because we determined that a standard 72″ ×72″ shower curtain would not reach the tub, and the shortest “extra-long” one (84″) would drag on the floor.


These photos were taken when construction was complete but before the room had been “dressed.”

These were taken after furnishings had been added.

In this photo you can glimpse the new solid panel door (with brushed nickel lever lockset) that replaced a flush hollow door. Jonathan worked hard at getting this squared up (the old one was poorly installed) and perfecting the threshold.


For those who are interested in such things, the paint color (from Home Depot) is Antique Tin (PPU18-03). The vanity (Kountry Wood) and the Carrara marble countertop are from Hood’s. The vanity light (from Lowe’s) is Kichler Oxby. The wall cabinet (also from Lowe’s) is Glacier Bay Lancaster. The lavatory fixture is Delta Everly from Home Depot. We had wanted the widespread model but had to settle for the centerset because that’s the way the marble vanity top was drilled.

The shower fixtures are a combination. The Delta hand shower with slide bar came from Lowe’s; the valve, faucet, shower arm, and flange are Delta Celice from Home Depot (the “rain”-style shower head was not used).

The accessories—26″ × 23″ pivoting wall mirror, 24″ double towel bar, towel ring, toilet paper holder, tank lever, and double robe hook—all in spot-resist brushed nickel, are all Moen Banbury, from Home Depot.

The Better Homes and Gardens waffle stripe pieced-fabric shower curtain is from Walmart; the other furnishings—Antique Pewter soap dispenser, Antique Pewter tumbler, black marble toothbrush holder, brushed nickel shower curtain hooks, Flat Gray 20″ × 34″ rug, Flat Gray contour rug, and Flat Gray toilet lid cover—are from Target. The shower curtain, in addition to being quite attractive, has the bonus feature that it can be hung with the stripes running either horizontally or vertically.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 9-11-16

The theme today, as you will see, is doors.

252 N. Bayview Street

The house now has a front door, shown here both outside and in. I could not see any other changes inside.

Outside, work on the brick veneer has progressed, as shown on the north and south sides.

352 N. Summit Street

The front elevation drawing below was posted on the builder’s Facebook page.

At the site, considerable progress has been made toward that goal.

351 N. Summit Street

Doors! Here’s the front door.

And the doors from the living room to the patio.

And the doors from the breakfast area to the screened porch.

And on the west side, in the breezeway between house and garage.

This door inside may be destined for the garage the other end of the breezeway, opening into the garage.

Since the last time I was inside, the fireplace surround has been added.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 9-4-16

Just a few modest developments to report this week.

252 N. Bayview Street

Outside, a pile of sand and a small cement mixer provide a clue to current activity.

Sure enough, scaffolding has been erected on the northside deck.

The broken deck railing I commented on last week has now been removed entirely to accommodate the scaffolding.

Presumably this is the brick being used.

Inside, there were few obvious changes. The back room has been largely cleared of cabinetry, though there’s no indication of where it went (I didn’t find it elsewhere in the house). Closets have been framed at the west end, the end toward the front of the house; inside them are the remains of built-in bookcases. Between this room and the door connecting to the main house are a bathroom on the right and a closet on the left. (The object in the center of the room is an ancient KitchenAid dishwasher.)

Fiberglass tub surround panels have been removed from one of the downstairs bathrooms and are leaning against a wall in the kitchen.

352 N. Summit Street

Yesterday the site was swarmed by workers and their pickup trucks—at least until it started to pour. The result is the first-floor framing.

A large puddle in the center of the slab made it difficult to completely scope out the layout, but there will clearly be a porch across the front.

The foundation has also been prepared for a garage behind the house.

351 N. Summit Street

No apparent changes outside, but it appears that interior work may be imminent. This shot was taken through one of the side windows of the dining room bay, one of the few vantage points for peering into the house. Visibility will be greatly improved when the French doors opening from the living room to the patio and from the breakfast room to the screened porch are installed. The builder told me that these doors had been delivered but had to be sent back because they didn’t have the desired impact-resistant glass.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 8-28-16

Not a whole lot to report this week, but a few interesting developments.

252 N. Bayview Street

To pick up where I left off last week, I did go around back and confirm that the siding continues there. In this photo, the window on the left is the new one in the “bonus room” previously designated for attic storage. The one on the right (behind the foliage) is in the shower stall of the master bath. The space between is the two walk-in closets.

The photo above was taken from the carport, which is up several steps from the house, giving a better vantage point. Inside the carport is this intriguing collection of signs. (This is not new—just the first time I’ve photographed it.)

As I walked around back, I was struck by this bizarre arrangement of wires, pipes, and cables—presumably temporary!

The deck on the north side of the house is still in place and presumably will be retained in some form, but no effort is being made to prevent damage to the existing railing.

Inside, drywall work continues with taping of the seams in walls and ceiling, as shown here in the “bonus room” and master bedroom.

Downstairs, several of the recycled cabinets have been moved into the laundry room and side entry area.

The room at the back, currently being used for storage, still houses a large collection of cabinets. Presumably these will be reused in the kitchen.

352 N. Summit Street

Plumbing has been installed and moisture barrier laid preparatory to pouring the slab.

351 N. Summit Street

No actual paving yet, but another test pattern has appeared.

The porticos have been roofed with copper.

Gaps in the fence have been filled, and the top has been capped with a metal strip.

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Bluff Neighborhood Construction Report 8-21-16

Today we say goodbye to one of our houses, but there are still three under consideration (and all of them actually in the Bluff Neighborhood).

252 N. Bayview Street

Last week I wrote that siding had been applied to the upstairs front of the house. Later it occurred to me to wonder whether the siding had been more extensive than that. Because I’ve been primarily focused on the interior, and also because thick vegetation and the proximity of neighboring houses make it difficult to actually see the sides of the house, I just hadn’t thought to look, but today I did, and, sure enough, there are clapboards on both north and south sides of the house (and quite possibly in the back as well, though even this time I didn’t think to check on that). I am assuming that the brick veneer will be extended to cover the rest of the first floor.

Just as a reminder, here’s what the house currently looks like from the street.

Inside, things are definitely shaping up. With the installation of drywall, we can get a better feel for the layout of the front rooms—living room, dining area, and kitchen.

In the northeast back bedroom, a closet has been created.

The southeast back bedroom has plenty of natural light with windows in two walls, but, with four doors (hall, bath, and two closets) in the other two walls, it will be a challenge to decide where to put a bed, so perhaps this will be a sitting room instead.

At the top of the stairs, a big surprise: the formerly windowless room designated as attic storage has now acquired windows (obviously the destination of that mystery window unit noted last week).

In the master bedroom, the bed might go between these two windows. The corridor to the closets and bath is at right.

The alcove at right (just inside the French doors opening onto the screened porch) will probably contain some kind of built-in unit. The door farther along the wall leads to the upstairs sitting room, and the short corridor in the background leads to the closets and bath.

The master bath also takes on definition, shown in photos taken from the hall door and from the shower area (which is to the right of the tub).

352 N. Summit Street

The foundation has been filled with dirt in preparation for pouring a slab.

351 N. Summit Street

No progress on paving, but, as expected, another portico has been added.

These hollow bricks are new, their purpose yet to be seen.

160 Fels Avenue

On Monday, there were two PODS containers on the lawn, and later in the week there was further move-in activity, so we can assume the family is now settled (just in time for the first day of school tomorrow). A farewell view of the finished house.

Even though the sod damage has not been repaired.

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