Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Counter Intuitive


I hope everyone had a good holiday weekend, and that you remembered to take a moment to have a good thought for those in uniform and the families who support them, and those brave servicemen and women we have lost.

Things are still hopping over here at the casa, and today was a good day!  Today we got the first two countertops installed in the basement!

Did you catch the first countertop post?  No? I'll wait here...

So, today the amazing installers from Stone Masters arrived with the countertops for the basement bathroom and laundry room, and here is how it went...

The guys showed up right on time, and started unloading:

This is the Silestone that our gurus over at Cosentino helped us pick out.  It is a really cool color called Cemento Spa, and I just love it!  I originally thought we would go white in the laundry room, since the cabinets are white and it seems so clean, but Cosentino thought it might look a little sterile, and suggested this one to pick up on the concrete floor and stone walls, and I'm so glad we did!

Dry fitting the counter.

Starting to work on the silicone...

Installing the backsplash and lining things up just right!

Installing the undermount sink.  One of the things that is great about Stone Masters, they carry a wide line of sinks, so that you can do one-stop shopping if you choose.  We got one of their stainless single bowl utility sinks.

 Getting the sink set ...

Working on the silicone caulking.  This is where I learned a cool trick for all you DIYers...after they lay down the bead of caulk, they spritzed it with glass cleaner before using their finger to remove the excess.  That way the silicone sticks to their finger and doesn't smear onto the stone, so no having to go back with a knife to try and clean it up, it was a very slick move, and they said you can also use just soap and water in a spray bottle.

Here is the sink, all ready for the plumber!  Its important to know what your faucet is before you have them cut your countertops so that they can pre-drill during fabrication.

The finished product!  I know it is a laundry room, but I still think it is sexy.  And I'm so glad Cosentino advised us on this color, it just looks fantastic!  And of course, Silestone is nigh on indestructible, so this should last forever.

Then it was on to the bathroom.

There is our bathroom counter in the truck!

Coming down the hall...

Dry fitting, and getting the sink set properly.  You might remember from this post that we are doing a single long trough sink with double faucets.  The sink is from Wetstyle, a really amazing company with a range of cool products that we really fell in love with.

Getting everything in order.

Here is a good shot of the stone.  This is a natural soapstone.  Originally we thought we would also do a Silestone product in here, but once again, Cosentino to the rescue!  They suggested that since we were repurposing an antique buffet as a vanity, we might want to make it look more like it was the original top of the buffet!  Since you know we are all about period appropriateness, we were very intrigued by this idea.  We knew we didn't want to go marble, which would have been common at the time, so Cosentino recommended this soapstone, which has some wonderful green undertones, which would have absolutely been a palette that would have matched the period of the buffet, and some really nice movement  and variation in the stone.  It really stands out in the bathroom, since it is the only place we are using it, and I just love how it grounds the space.

Getting ready to attach the countertop to the undermount sink.

Settling it into place.

Final caulking, again with the glass cleaner trick!

Love how this looks!


As usual, the guys from Stone Masters were exceptional, the whole install on both pieces was fast, clean and impeccable.  They offered great advice on care for both counters, which was really helpful, especially that you should only use either Windex, or a mild white vinegar and water mix to clean them, and never anything abrasive or acidic.

There will be much more next week as we finish up the basement countertop project, but in the meantime, if you love your Polymath, do me a favor and be sure to Like both Stone Masters and Cosentino on Facebook!

More soon.

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Couch Part 1!


Spring has finally sprung over here, and while it is still bouncing into the chillier temps, there are hostas a popping in the front yard, and we are officially at punch list in the basement!

This means that I am spending chunks of my day making a zillion small decisions.  Punch list time is a lot like going for an eye exam.  "Do you want this here, or a half an inch over?"  "Do you want this on the left?  Or the right?"  "Do you want this higher?  Or lower?"  Is it better now?  Or now?


Seriously. Every decision checks something off the list.

Toilet roll holder I found and sourced eight months ago?  Stage right, please.

The Flor carpet tile in the media and exercise rooms?  All the way to the walls, and not area rug style, thank you kindly.

It also means we can begin doing some furnishing, which is my favorite part of all.  I'll be taking you through those as we go room by room, but for the moment, I want to talk about the couch.

Or I should say, THE Couch.

Remember our adventure with our designer MaryJo over at Walter E. Smithe?  And how we finally pulled the trigger on a fabulous sectional for the media room? 

(I'll wait if you want to go re-read those posts and get up to speed)

Well, the big day finally came.

First off, this is how the room ended up when empty:  Sherwin-Williams Peppercorn on the walls, and FLOR carpet tiles in Charcoal Fedora.  I love this tile, because it is like a very thick felt, no pile at all.  It looks like someone took all of Cary Grant's hats and flattened them out on my floor.

This is the steel beam that helps hold up the second floor.  All polished up and glowing.

And this is the shelf that will be behind the couch, a great place for the phone, a box of Kleenex, or to rest a drink.  I love this shelf.

For those who aren't in Chicago, Edward Hines Lumber is a local company that has been providing building materials since 1892.  Our old girl was built in 1907.  This was in the ceiling, it was the place the ceiling joists butted up against.

Nothing like being tucked into the ceiling for 108 years to keep your stenciled name looking fresh!

I love how it looks against the steel!

Then, the truck arrived.

This is Truck 86.  It is manned by Mario Estrada and Jose Granados.  They are, quite simply, the best furniture delivery guys I have ever worked with.  Let's watch them maneuver a massive sectional in four pieces into a building that was designed for daintier furnishings, with nary a nick in a wall or a bit of damage.  Magicians.

Our contractor Dennis was awed a bit..

The first piece coming in, this was the biggest single piece, 9 feet long, and 3 feet high and over three feet deep.  Did I mention the sectional was massive?

 In safe and sound!

Here is Jose attaching the feet to the couch.

Unwrapping the pillows.

Here comes the next piece!

The sectional consists of one couch with one arm and a corner, one armless loveseat, one wedge shaped corner and one couch with one arm, which all come together to make a U shape.

Getting the last piece unwrapped.  It is at this stage I should tell you that I am having trouble capturing the true color of the fabric, it is a much deeper less blinky red than it appears in these photos, a red with a lot of blue in it.  Think classic 1960 lipstick red.  If you are a fan of The Women, it is definitely Jungle Red.  Frankly I think it is the most perfect red on the planet.


Here is the couch with the other corner.

They get connected by the armless loveseat, there are actual connectors underneath so that the pieces don't come apart when you are flopping on it.

Getting it all hooked up.

MaryJo, helping get it all tricked out with our custom gray and blue pillows and our fun throw blankets.


Walter E. Smithe doesn't forget a thing, even though we got the SmithKote stain protector, they also gave us this little kit with a stain remover spray and two special cloths just in case one of us is a little klutzy and spills something.

We all know this will probably be Jen Lancaster.

I know I was effusive before about the Smithe experience, but let me say this.  I undersold it.  This is the single most comfortable piece of furniture I have ever perched upon.  It is exactly what I had in my minds eye, and the fact that I could walk into their store and meet MaryJo and end up with something that exceeds every expectation?  Smooth as silk, with delivery guys who were skilled and funny and sweet and insanely efficient (less than an hour all-in!), and a designer who came to our house three different times to make sure everything was perfect, for no charge?  In a process that can be fraught with decisions that go awry, with people who push you to do things that match their aesthetic and not necessarily your own, when things beyond your control can send things quickly into chaos?  To have an experience where everything isn't just competent, but exceptional.  Where everything is exactly on time, on budget, on schedule, as promised with no changes or excuses?  Where you end up with THIS:

That is priceless.

I'll fill you in more on the fabulous tables (yes, those are steel frames that match the beam in the back, and are on casters so we can move them around as we need them) and other bits and pieces as the room finally comes together.  But in the meantime, I'm gonna go snuggle up into that there wedge corner with a book, and tuck that throw blanket around me, and make all the pillows squish around me in a nest, with a glass of bubbly from the bottle that MaryJo brought us to congratulate us on the delivery.

And I may start dreaming about the future living room...I know where I'll be shopping!

Yours in Comfy Taste,
The Polymath

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dancing on the Countertops


This is likely to be long-ish, in part because I have a lot of hopefully useful information to impart, and in part because it is just so ridiculously exciting to finally be at this stage!

Today we are talking countertops.  Specifically for the basement, we will be chatting kitchen counters soon enough (or actually not NEARLY soon enough for my tastes, but you know what I meant).

The basement has four places where we are getting countertops.  They are:

The console underneath the television in the media room.

The bathroom vanity.

The laundry room sink and cabinets.

This antique commode, which goes into one of the basement bedrooms.

I'm going to start with how we started, researching the right products.  For that, we went to a place that carries all of the different products we wanted to consider, Cosentino.  The short version is that we wanted to be able to consider everything from natural stone and marble and granite to manmade materials like quartzite and other composite products, and we didn't want to have to go to different companies to explore our options.  Cosentino is an international company known for the highest quality products and most cutting edge materials, so we met with them first.

And it was an eye-opening experience.  We explained the different spaces and how we plan to use them.  We talked about our aesthetic.  We talked about our budget.  The Cosentino team listened carefully and then took us through the different options for each space.  

The most important things we learned from them were these:

1.  Function, not look, should be your first consideration.  It's easy to fall in love with all those white marble kitchens all over Pinterest these days, but the truth is, marble is soft, porous, and hard to maintain.  Gorgeous?  Yes.  Useable in the right places?  Of course.  But if you are a red wine drinker, or have kids, or need a space to really be a heavy duty work space, marble is not the best choice.  There are better materials that can give you the look you want for almost any application, so form really should follow function for countertops or you will spend the rest of your life annoyed.  Case in point?  The kitchen counters at our family weekend place are gorgeous.  Deep gray natural stone.  Its been a nightmare since the day it was installed.  It has been sealed numerous times, but if you get one drop of oil on it anywhere, it soaks right in and leaves a stain.  The edges are all chipping, hit one heavy pot to close to the edge and a little chunk will fly right off.  They looked fantastic when they were new, but we regret them.

2.  Be flexible and patient.  Don't expect to make this decision quickly, and be willing to change the picture you have in your head if you discover the material you think you need so desperately is either out of your budget or not the best material for your space.

3.  Budget appropriately.  I had no idea that the most expensive, and frankly, most important part of countertops is the fabrication!  I sort of just presumed that the place where I bought the material would have people to turn it into my countertops, and that would be a simple labor charge.  Cosentino was very clear with me.  You need to have a terrific fabricator on board, and their costs are often higher than the cost of the material itself.  I wanted to learn why, so they connected me with one of their favorite fabricators and I went on a field trip!

Stone Masters is a company of countertop artisans, and I don't use that term lightly.  Their commitment to the finest fabrication of countertops in any material is extraordinary, and I met with the owner, Tom, who took me through the process!  He's been in the business almost 20 years, like his father before him, and their facility is completely state of the art.  Check out some of the equipment!

This suction-cup thingy can move up to a 2000 lb slab!

One of the saws, imported from Holland. Those blades are the size of a tire and cost $500 to replace!

The CNC machine, a computer-driven cutter that is accurate to .001 of an inch.
It can cut details as big as sink cutouts or as small as etched designs.

Another CNC machine
Tom explained that the reason good fabrication is so expensive is that accuracy and attention to detail are incredibly important.  All of this specialized equipment requires talented people to run them, as well as the craftsmen who do all of the finish-work by hand.  Edging, bevels, rounding corners, it all happens by hand.  Here are a couple of the artists who were working when I was there!

Hand-polishing a top.

Working on a beveled edge.
Tom said that when you are picking some of your materials, especially natural ones, it can affect the price of fabrication.  Some granites, for example, have embedded crystals or veins of steel or other natural metals.  Crystals can break out whole, especially on edges, which can make fancy edging nearly impossible.  Metal can actually create sparks and fire when being cut, even though the saws have a constant water stream!

You can see the water dripping off the table as this piece of marble gets cut.

This is the concrete table surface.  When the saw cuts through the materials, it gets sharpened by the concrete surface below.  They have to re-pour the concrete about every two months, which is about the time they have to replace the blade.

I asked Tom about the most expensive piece he ever did, and he showed me this scrap:

This is a semi-precious agate, and that is the actual natural color!  He did a back-lit fireplace surround, so that the light could shine though.  This stuff is $16,000 per 10x6 slab!!!  Apparently it was nearly $60K just for the fireplace surround.  Tom assured me that our counters would be much less Robin Leach worthy. On a busy day his team can do 5 whole kitchens!  It was so cool to see the whole operation and I strongly suggest if you get to go meet your fabricator that you take the time, it is really an exciting field trip.

After meeting with Tom and seeing the work being done at Stone Masters, we went back to Cosentino to make the final decisions!

For the media center console, we decided on Silestone, which is a man-made quartz product that is amazingly durable.  We picked a color called Pacific from the Ocean series.

It has great movement, and is a sort of mottled blue-gray with ivory and a taupe.  It will pick up some of the other colors in the room and I think will look amazing against the wood base.

For the bathroom vanity, we wanted a natural stone.  The room has limestone accents and a concrete floor, so we thought something a little warmer would be good.  We decided on a deep gray soapstone.

For the laundry room, we went back to Silestone, and went with Cemento Spa.

And finally, for that antique commode, which had a cracked marble top that needed replacement, Tom found us a remnant of marble that will be the perfect thing!

Best part?  They will be ready for installation next week, so you'll have another update very soon.

(If you are doing your own research, you can find out more at the Cosentino Website or the Stone Masters Website.)

Stay tuned for more updates, its going to be full steam ahead over here for the next two weeks as we get the basement buttoned up!

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath