Home Renovations: Part 18 – Lighting

Now that the under-skins are installed, I have been able to complete our new kitchen lighting installation.

While we had a designer initially involved with the project, the actual lighting plan came down to us. Fortunately, we were able to leverage some expert advice and get the proper light fixtures for our whole project.

First, on our sloping ceiling, we previously had lighting provided by 2 cans, one ceiling fan, and a curvy track light near our 3-sided “sun window” in the front. None of that was really sufficient for the area and made the whole front room rather dark at night.

In the early stages of electrical, we had the track lighting removed. Well, to be honest, we had it removed even before construction started so I don’t think I have a picture of what it looked like.

Well, nope: looks like I found an old picture.

This hideous light fixture is gone.

To replace those and make the lighting more ambient, we had the electricians and contractors install new light cans on both sides of the room so that the light is evenly distributed. In addition, we changed the flat LED recessed light inserts to gimbal mounted lights so that we could pivot them parallel to the floor.

Here is the new layout (shown during the painting phase). Instead of two lights on the right and the track on the left, we have more lights in an even line.

Here is a closeup of one of the lights tilted down.

Once we decided on those, the lights for the main kitchen area were next. With our designers giving us a general guidance on what do to, we replaced the flat LED lights with individual brushed steel liners and individual LED bulbs. This meant that looking at the ceiling, the main lights did not glare like the old ones did, and the bulbs are cheaper and easier to replace.

Here’s a comparison between old and new: the new one is top right, and all the others are the old kind. Notice the hotspots when you look at them. The new deeper lights hide the brighter parts when looking at an angle.

Here’s a close-up view.

I liked it so much, that I ordered replacement lights for the living room, the gym, the hallway, the bedroom, and my office. Those are all replaced now.

Next up, and last, was the under-cabinet lighting. From the last post, you know that I needed to put on the under-skins to get ready for that installation. Once that was done, we were ready to start installing the lights.

For installation, I needed to mount the transformer (connected on one end to 120V AC house power and on the other to the 12V DC powered LED lights) and the light channel, which is an aluminum track where the LED strip sits.

Here is a picture of the LED strip inserted into the light track, which is screwed up through the under-skin into to bottom of the cabinet.

I mounted a small section in the buffet area first, both as a test and since it was close to the main switch.

Here is the first section with the transformer and diffuser strip on top of the LED tape. Notice the extra line going from this transformer? Well, that is for two things: first to have a connection to the other cabinet since they are not connected, and secondly to have small LED puck lights inside the glass-fronted cabinets.

Here is that first section from the front.

Once I got this section out of the way, I moved into the main kitchen area for the longer pieces. The rails are only 48″ long, so I had to add cut pieces to make up the additional 10 or so inches. Both sections are just under 60″.

Here is the main section of the kitchen illuminated only by the undercabinet lights.

Here is a final view of both sections of LED undercabinet and all four internal puck lights. To install the puck lights, I had to use a 1″ Forstner bit to make the hole for mounting – what a lot of saw dust! It felt like it was snowing in the house.

The idea for the cabinet lights is to provide illumination of both the items on the shelves, and the blue background so it does not appear black.

The final step for this install was switching out the standard 3-way switch and adding a “companion” dimmer to it. The main dimmer was already present, so the companion dimmer allows us to dim from each location. I replaced that switch yesterday, so all lighting is now complete in the kitchen.

The last piece of work for the kitchen will be the final flooring touchups and baseboard reinstalls. This will happen next week.

Home Renovations: Part 17 – Underskins

What in tarnation is an “underskin” you ask? I know I had to.

As our cabinet maker is very custom and everything is created to order, the pieces for trimming them out also need to be cut to size on installation. None of those “flat pack” or pre-fab boxes for us, these were all made to exact specifications. This doesn’t include the trim pieces, though. Those pieces like crown molding, side panels, etc. had to be scribed to the walls to fit exactly. Especially since sheetrock walls are never actually flat – they only appear to be.

One of those pieces that needs to be customized before installation is called an “underskin”. This piece covers the potentially unfinished bottom side of the upper cabinet boxes so that they appear finished as well, and can cover the seams between the boxes.

Here is an example of the unfinished underside of the cabinets. Note the seam in the middle. There are also gaps at each end.

These underskins must be in place before the undercabinet lighting can be installed. Since I didn’t want to add any more expense to remodel cost, I decided to do this myself (as well as the lights, but that’s later).

Each underskin was 1/4″ thick, 12″ wide and several feet long. To cut them to size, I needed a table saw. Fortunately, Laura found a used one for us to purchase from someone else in the area.

This is the portable table saw folded up for storage. It was quite useful and easy to put away.

Once we cut the pieces all to size, we brought them inside to fit into place. (Yes, we did several test fittings before permanently attaching them.) Instead of using screws, which I thought about at first, we decided to use some construction adhesive to attach the skins. Partly to avoid visible screws, and partly because the undercabinet lights would use screws to hold up at least one side of the material.

This stuff is sticky, and we used almost the whole tube.

Here is the first one we stuck up in our spice cabinet. The boards we used to hold the skin up until the glue cured (24 hours or so).

We used some clamps on the ends to keep the some from falling.

And a combination of both for the larger sections.

Here is one section completed and ready for undercabinet lights.

The only downside to this project was that I inhaled a ton of sawdust cutting the boards to the right size. This led to a full blown “sinus event” in which I couldn’t breath properly for over a week.

I will be wearing a mask next time I cut that much wood.

Home Renovations: Part 16 – Home Office

This post should really be right after the Part 1 overview of our kitchen progress as it came about sometime while we were uncertain of the timing of when we could actually finish the kitchen.

So, while waiting and deciding the direction of the kitchen, we got impatient. We did several other projects including the master bedroom, replaced a few closets, some back yard work, and of course: my office.

I’d grabbed the room right at the top of the stairs for my home office: it was originally a bedroom, but for some reason had a French door installed. Maybe the previous owner thought it should be an office, but it had carpet and a closet just like a bedroom. It is separate from the other upstairs bedrooms – off to one side and apart from all the others, and the glass paned door made it perfect to modify for a home office.

At the time we moved in, the job I had did not allow me to work from home, so it wasn’t used every day: it was just where I set up my computers.

Then came the pandemic and forced “work from home”. Now, working from home is something that I had planned to make a part of my next job, whatever that would be, so I embraced the home office. Even my new job was mostly work from home.

This meant the office needed to be brought up to snuff as a real workable space.

Before any changes

The actual work space.

The first thing I wanted was to be able to roll my chair back and forth on my floor without getting stuck in carpet pad ruts. The padding was so thick, that my chair wheels would not roll out of the depressions easily. That meant a new floor. So, we went shopping for flooring and eventually decided on an engineered hardwood floor made of acacia wood.

We brought the wood in to acclimate.

Once that decision was made, we contacted our floor guy who helped us with the master bedroom to do the install. That meant removing everything:

Of course, any change in the room meant painting the walls also. You can see some of the samples going up.

This was beginning to look beautiful.

Floor install complete

Ready for the next steps.

Once the floor was in, painting could begin.

Dark colors take many coats.

Lots of coats.


We painted the rest of the walls a cool gray to go with the blue.

Once the painting was done, we could move on to the finishing touch: a removable wallpaper. We chose the wallpaper first, matching the color tones from it for the walls. Installing it would be a challenge: but one we were up for!

Laying it out on the floor, we noticed the sun would be obscured by the window – and we didn’t like that.

However, I noticed that at some points, the design was made in such a way that we could move the panels around and they would still be aligned with each other. We moved the sun over.

Laura is very good with the detail work, and I’m good with the larger things. I hung the panel, while she lined it up and did the fine cut-in work at the edges.

Going around the window was especially difficult, but we managed it.

A final empty room wide shot of the finished project.

Putting my equipment back in, and adding a whiteboard made this feel like a real office.

Since we had some leftover pieces from the window area, Laura decided to add some trees to a blank area.

Bonus room: since the closet was empty for the new flooring, we decided to paint it also, but using a custom designed (by me) geometric pattern getting its theme from the wallpaper.

Finished project.

Now, everything is moved back in and I’m using the office almost every day.

This was a very worthwhile project and investment.

Home Renovations: Part 15 – Electrical Work Done

Back in the “part 3” post, I mentioned that the electrical work was three times what was initially planned and budgeted, and that might have been slightly less than the final bill. I think we may be at quadruple what was originally planned.

But is it worth it? I think so.

In other parts of the house, when a large appliance or device is powered on, such as a printer, the lights flicker and dim. In the kitchen, we will never have this problem now.

Where there were maybe 4 circuits before (oven, stovetop, lights, and all outlets for 3 rooms), now there are 8. Breaking up the outlets into zones and removing the lights from outlets will make a difference. In our temporary kitchen, we can only operate one cooking device at a time – either the griddle, the toaster oven, or the microwave. We’ve tripped the breaker a few times with those.

The initial wiring work was done back when Part 3 was written (new wires run in the walls, tied in down in the crawlspace, and “home run” back to the panel), but the finish work has only just been done. A few weeks ago, the first plugs went in just after the tile work was complete on one wall, then last week, the last of the plugs were wired in (almost).

This week, the final pieces were done. The oven plug was finished off (apparently a code issue for modern ovens – no more direct wire) and the final hall 4-way switch was replaced (that wasn’t present in the last effort to finish so I had to buy a new one).

One problem we discovered when we plugged everything back in, was that the ceiling fan was not working with the new switch and wiring and initially, the electrician couldn’t figure it out.

Yesterday, while the electrician was taking a look at the wires, we noticed a small black dangling wire sticking out of the base of the fan where it attached to the ceiling. Turns out, it was attached to a black box – a wireless receiver which turned the fan and light on and off. Even though the wires to the wall were connected directly to the fan, the previous owners used a wireless transmitter/receiver combination to control the fan speeds and lights. This is no longer necessary since there are capable wired switches that can do the job.

The black box and old switch controller are now gone and no longer interfering with fan operations.

Here is the new 4-gang switch group with the new fan switch on the left.

So, it’s all done now. Well, the electrical is, and we have sufficient power and nice fancy new switches.

There is one thing left for electrical related items: we have new kitchen lights on order, so once they arrive, we will install them.

That’s something we can do ourselves.

Home Renovations: Part 14 – Paint

Now that the tile is done, we are moving into the final stretch of the remodel.

Painting, which had we known which color we wanted, could have been done earlier in the process with less disruption. But, to choose a color, we needed the cabinets, counters, and tile all in place with the lighting in order to determine the best color. So it was a catch-22 proposition. Can’t choose before, but painting after is harder.

After several shades of gray (yes, too much color would detract from the beautiful blue cabinets – or compete), we landed on a very mild gray called “Olympus White”. It’s not white. I’m not sure why the call it that. But, those paint companies have to come up with creative names for “gray” all the time.

We had our contractor paint the ceiling a very bright white – brighter than even “ceiling white” which is pretty bright. We wanted it to lighten up the room since we removed a window and a door – we didn’t want to lose that light completely.

Everything had to be covered – we had the ceiling paint sprayed on, and even with the coverings, it went everywhere.

The sloped ceiling was the hardest part, but the painter brought scaffolding to help with the process and wrapped the lights to protect them.

Once the ceiling was done and dry, the wall color went on in the corners first. Notice how dark it looks here? Well, it dried a much lighter color.

This is the finished color for the kitchen walls and ceiling.

And since we were at it, we had the painter do the entry way. You may wonder why we bothered? Well, see how tall the ceiling is here:

I am not getting up on a ladder here.


Again: nope.

But it looks nice. It’s a slightly darker shade of the same tone of gray, which is the exact same color as the back wall of the living room, the gym room and the hallway, so it’s now unified.

When we decide to finish painting the upstairs hallway, we’re almost done already.

Now that the painting is done, there are only a few more touches to finish.

Home Renovations: Part 13 – Appliances and Fixtures

Now that the tile has been installed, we can look forward to the appliances coming into play – most of them, anyway.

Since the refrigerator has already been installed, there are only three left to go. Of these, the oven is still the outlier. There’s just some wiring work to finish on the oven before it goes in. Fortunately, we have been able to save some money on appliances by re-using our oven/microwave combo and our dishwasher.

Now, the last time we did a kitchen remodel, we tried to reuse our old dishwasher. However, it was somehow damaged – either during the removal or the installation. The first attempt to use it showed a leak. In this case, though, our rather nice Bosch dishwasher got installed and we are able to use it without leaks.

Phew! (Saved a bit of money there!)

Dishwasher installed.

Now there is a slight issue with this, but it’s easily fixed. The dishwasher has been mounted too far out – it’s protruding about 3/4″ when it really should be flush. The contractor has agreed to align it properly, so that will be fixed soon.

Next up was the range top.

Now for the rangetop, the plan all along was to upgrade us to gas – and not only gas, but a real “statement piece” for our main cooking area. I wanted to go with a full 48″ Wolf rangetop with a griddle. I wanted a 24″ griddle with 2 burners on each side. We did not want the full range – first, they are way more expensive, and second, we didn’t want to have to bend over to put things in the oven. We have gotten used to our wall ovens.

I also wanted to save some money on it as it’s really expensive. It’s high quality and made in the USA. The problems, though, were that at full retail it’s VERY expensive, it also never goes on sale, the specific model I wanted was also hard to find in stock anywhere, and the supply chain issues I mentioned when ordering our refrigerator also would have affected our ordering the rangetop. It could have taken 6 months to a year for it to come in.

So, this being the desired main appliance, I actually started looking for one over two years before our renovations began. I tried to shop at clearance centers, major sale days for appliance resellers, but the model I wanted never showed up. There were occasionally some similar models, say with a 12″ griddle, but never any with the 24″.

Then, lo and behold – one day while trolling eBay, I discovered an appliance shop that sold used Wolf, Viking, SubZero and other high-end appliances. I discovered them because I set up an automated search which sends out emails when something matching pops up. One day, something did. Not only was it the one I wanted, but it was over $1000 below retail price. The only problem: it was in Connecticut. Never fear: they shipped. Not only that, but they also crated it up with great care and it got here in less than two weeks. This rangetop has been here in the garage for over a year waiting for its debut.

Well crated rangetop in February 2022, lived in the garage for a long time.

Uncrated to make sure everything is there.

After waiting so long in the garage (yes, I covered it back up and kept it safe) it had to be moved only once: for the installation of our garage shelving system.

Now that th e cabinets, counters, and tile have been installed, its time has come to shine. It was installed and tested (and then promptly covered up for painting prep). Now, it has been freed and I’ve even cooked our first meal on it. We can’t do too much in the kitchen yet, though – there is still much more work to be done.

Rangetop in place. Left the plastic on the front to protect it while the renovations are taking place.

The next appliance is the oven. It will go in soon, but before that we must make sure that there is the appropriate plug in place both on the oven and the receptacle in the nook where it will be installed. Also, since we are re-using the old oven, we are installing spacers in the nook to allow us to use our 27″ oven in a 30″ space. The old oven was smaller than the new common sized models, which are all 30″. We did not want to limit future upgrades to only 27″ but didn’t want to spend the money to upgrade just yet. I mean, we are spending enough already.

Finally, by the end of the day, the contractor installed the faucets and soap dispenser. This completed the plumbing work allowing him to attach the new disposal and hot water tank for out dedicated hot water tap.

I tested the sink out by rinsing my skillet.

Hot water tap front and center! Also, ignore the blue stripe: that’s painter’s tape in preparation for the trim painting that will happen next.

We are getting so close!

Next up: painting.

Home Renovations: Part 12 – Tile

Now that the counters are installed, it is time for the tile to go in. So, the next day after the stone is delivered and installed, we bring out our samples of our chosen tile and lean them up against the wall on the new counters…

And it doesn’t look good. The tile we initially chose was a white, large size, textured tile for the main part of the kitchen, and a rustic white brick for the buffet area. We set them on the counter to see how it would look.

The brick tile looked great, but the large tile: well, it looks washed out and gray. Not at all what we had in mind.

Notice how it just looks gray and dark?

This was unfortunate since we loved the nice texture and “waves” it had which would match the movement of the range section “centerpiece” tile (see above picture on the right side). But the feature we loved about it, the texture, caused shadows and darkness that we didn’t think looked good at all.

Here it is next to our brick tile and you can even see that not only is it too dark, but it almost looks pink in tone.

So, we panicked for a bit. Just a little.

Eventually, after much discussion and a few samples later, we decided to just do brick everywhere. It’s not quite what we wanted, but it does add a little “organic” texture to the modern kitchen – and the color is a lot better. We ended up deciding on a light gray grout to minimize the seams, but not eliminate them with white.

First section of tile going up.

As the tile was going up, we had to make several adjustments to tiles along the way since the side are a little uneven – the organic nature of the material made it a little sloppy, so we adjusted where we could behind the tiler. Along with the tile, though, we installed floating shelves. When I say “we”, I mean our installer of course. On the last one, though, there was a problem with the mounting that we didn’t see until he left- so we spent a few hours correcting it. That was hard, and we woke our neighbors with the hammering late at night. (Sorry, neighbors!)

The end result looks great!

Our centerpiece tile in the area behind where the rangetop will go.

Left side of floating shelves installed.

The window trim also went up on tiling day. Well, tiling “week” as it took a whole week for it to get done.

Pre-tile floating shelves on the right.

Tile around the spice cabinet.

Main wall before grout.

Grouted section – nice light gray which matches the veins in the countertop.

Tile around the sink and window.

Tile and shelf in the buffet section.

I don’t have any pictures of the caulking, but that’s okay – you shouldn’t be able to see it from this distance.

The grout might even be a little lighter now – it wasn’t fully dry when I took these pictures.

Next up: appliance installs and maybe even knobs & pulls?

We’ll see!

Home Renovations: Part 11 – Stone


So, the delay I mentioned earlier was simply an overestimate by the countertop company to take into account any number of delays, which there really weren’t. The only delays in that process were getting measurements done and approved. once that was done, less than a week later, we have stone. Rock. Counters.

It was a beautiful sunny day today as the stone truck arrived. Inside it were our custom milled counter sections. (Yes, I know everyone has custom milled counters, but it sounds nicer that way.)

Kept safe with clamps and dry inside the truck, our stone is ready to install.

Now I say “stone”, but it’s not really stone – it’s quartz countertop material, which is bits of quartz embedded in resin, shaped and colored to look like just about any natural stone such as granite or marble. Ours is a Calacatta Laza marble-like quartz countertop. We’ll call it “stone” since that’s what the industry guys call it.

I don’t remember what brand it is, but that’s not the important part here. What is important is that it is here and installed.

There are 7 pieces of stone to install here, and only one seam on the longest section. 6 counter pieces and 1 windowsill of the same stone above the sink.

I will say that these are a BEAST to move. There were 5 guys on site for install and they did a fantastic job. They moved most of the stones by hand, but for a couple, they used a small truck to roll it in.

First section installed.

The island piece was the biggest and heaviest.

Installing it took all 5 of them.

Another view of the finished island stone.

Our side wall area (calling it the “desk” area, but not for seating).

The buffet area that will be in the new dining room section. (Yes, I know there’s a drawer front missing – we are having it repainted as it chipped.)

The longest counter section – there’s a seam in the other end somewhere if you can find it.

Finally, our sink and windowsill all matching.

It is hard to describe the feeling we have now that we are SO CLOSE to finishing this project. It now looks like things are on the downhill slope, accelerating towards the finish line.

Next, just a few more things to go: tile, toe kicks, trim (baseboards, doors, and window), knobs and pulls, faucets and plumbing, appliances, floor squeak repair, painting…

Well, maybe more than a few things.

Home Renovations: Part 10 – Realignment

Now that the cabinets are installed, we have been noticing a few things that we did not notice before. Especially, we noticed that the lights above the main cabinet for the fridge were mounted too close to the cabinet, in fact: if the crown moulding were installed, it would cross the light bezel making it impossible to replace.

Notice the two lights above the fridge cabinet. The one on the right would just touch that corner of the crown moulding if it were installed, whereas the one on the left would be partially blocked.

This issue really came up for two reasons. First, because we didn’t pay enough attention to the placement of the cabinets and light fixtures already in the ceiling.

Is this our fault, or our designer/contractor? Sometimes I think we are telling them how to do their jobs… And we are.

They looked fine where they were according to our idea of where the cabinets were supposed to end up. Second, the cabinet company (unbeknownst to us) decided to extend the fridge cabinet depth 3 additional inches. Now, this might have been seen as a considerate concession: meaning they were concerned about the fridge doors opening up and hitting the counter, since it protrudes about 1.5″ from the cabinet doors (a little over 24″ depth). In most cases, this would have been fine. However, the particular fridge we purchased had a specification diagram outlining the exact measurements required for installation – and it was PRECISELY 24″ deep. Not 27″ inches. The doors are specifically designed to not strike a counter when opening. They hinge in such a way that no part of the door will pass 90 degrees of the opening.

All that consideration was for naught, AND it left us with a light buried behind the crown moulding.

So, we had to move the lights.

Since we had to do that, we moved the right light over enough that it was proportional to the other light next to it on the right. The left light, we pulled out to balance with the pantry wall light and centered it on the fridge compartment.

Now they are in the right place.

Of course, that means that we had to have the ceiling carved up again. Right through the new sheetrock that got replaced just last month. When I say “we” here, I mean our electricians moved them.

Our sheetrock guy was NOT HAPPY!

He came back today and repaired it.

Patch work.

Now, we are letting it dry for sanding, texture, and priming.

Sometimes, it’s two steps forward, sometimes it’s spiraling towards chaos.

But we are getting closer to done, and we have a sign-off meeting with the cabinet people on Monday so that will get done soon.

One small step for Casa Phillips…

Home Renovations: Part 9 – Side Project Living Room Painting

Since our counter tops have been delayed, for some unknown reason which I mentioned a couple of posts ago, we had some time to leave our living room empty of furniture. At first, we just wanted to make sure the finish was fully cured. But, as it sat empty, I got the idea to finish the wall painting.

Now, you will notice that the wall on the left side of the fireplace is blue (the color is called “lakeshore”, but I will call it “blue” for simplicity) and on the right side it is the drab green/gray color that the house was painted when we moved in. I call that color “paste”.

The “before” picture of the fireplace wall.

The original idea was to paint it, but we didn’t want to move the furniture around. And since there was a nice hard break in the wall, we could do it in phases.

Now is the time for a new phase.

So, we patched some holes, sanded, added texture, taped it off and then painted. First, we updated the tepid gray “paste” to a much cooler gray color which is painted in the gym room. Then, we added the blue to the remaining side walls in the living room. This includes the window wall, but not the back half-wall. That one we painted the new gray.

Here is the difference between the two grays: the one on the right is new, while the left side is the old color throughout the whole house.

New blue walls completing the room.

Final gray matching the room behind the half-wall (which is the gym).

You might see that some touchups are needed at some of the edges if you zoom in to the pictures, but we’ve completed those now. You can also see all of the items stashed in the gym while we shuffle all our furniture between the rooms being refinished.

The next step will be to move all our stuff back into the living room and clean out what we crammed into the kitchen and other rooms.

Now, we have to work with the stone people again soon to get things started up. Let’s hope we can get things moving soon.