2015: The Snowball Year

As we embark on yet another New Year, I thought it would be a good time to take a look back and reflect on 2015. It was a year of constant renovation and projects -- one seriously tiring, but satisfying year! While we live in California (where there is a severe drought and NO snow)... it was still quite the snowball year for us! We completed the Kitchen Renovation a year ago, right before the 2014 holiday season (and hosting my family for Christmas Eve Dinner). The kitchen itself was complete, but we had not yet started on the dining room, sliding doors, or family room. (or Exterior for that matter.) The more we stood in the new kitchen space, the more we hated the small living area and dining room.

That's what started the "renovation snowball effect" which I know many of you DIYers and homeowners know all too well! After the kitchen, began the transformation of the Living Room area, Dining Room, then Exterior.

Building out the new media wall and installing large windows was a game changer!

Not even sure anymore the order of operations, but we moved on to replacing a bunch of sliding doors and restoring the living room, then somehow got into the exterior of the house too.


LEAST favorite parts of 2015? Ripping down all that siding! Front. Atrium. Back. Ugh.

Removing Siding

Highlights of 2015? -- Most definitely our family trip to Palm Springs, which was a much welcomed break from DIY projects and served as inspiration for design and creativity, and of course fun family time together.

Here is the first "Desert Eichler" in Palm Springs:

Desert Eichler #1

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2015 has also been a very special year connecting with friends (old and new!) who share our same passion and love for midcentury homes, design and DIY projects, whether in person or online. It is still amazing to us how technology and social media have shaped how we can connect with people, all around the world.

Over the summer, we enjoyed a "weekend getaway" up to Sacramento to visit our friends Andy + Karen from fogmodern, attending a fun Rivercats game and a stay at their lovely Eichler home to catch up on their latest DIY projects.

Go Rivercats! (and Giants!)


Fogmodern's wonderfully organized and pretty-to-look-at home office. I wish. 


In the fall, a wonderful Meet-up hosted by our South Bay Eichler friends Karolina + David from dearhouseiloveyou brought a bunch of us Eichler folks together from all parts of the Bay to enjoy great food, company, and house talk. We're well overdue now for another!


This fall, we tackled a few more smaller projects, finally completing the back of the house:

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Eichler Siding Replacement IMG_2065


We hosted the family again this year for a festive Christmas Eve dinner:


And one last project to squeeze into 2015;  new walnut paneling in dining room to come!


If you have read down this far, you really are wonderful! :) Happy New Year to you all. Hope it brings whatever it is that you are hoping for!

See you in 2016!


Karen (and John)



Eichler Exterior Redux


Our "strategy" when it comes to the prioritization of our home improvement projects has been an inside-out approach. We started with the heart of the home (in our case, the kitchen), then are slowly working our way outwards. So our largest project to date is the kitchen renovation, followed by the living room and media wall, and a bit of work in the dining room. As we worked on the dining and living room, we ended up replacing both the sliding doors that go from each respective room, into our central atrium. That then led to us pulling off all the vinyl siding in our atrium, and suddenly, we found ourselves pulling siding down from our car port wall, then the beams (yes our beams are also covered) ... then trim around the garage door, with the rest of the front of our house to go.

Eichler Siding Reveal

Wait, how are we outside already?! We aren't even done with the inside!

So now that the wheels have come off (or in this case, the vinyl siding), we are starting to think about tackling our house exterior, far sooner than we had planned (and the budget is planned).  I've been gathering inspiration on exterior paint colors from all over, including our recent visits to the Orange and Sacramento Eichler neighborhoods and scouring Pinterest. We have a few paint samples to test out this weekend, but here is the color scheme I have been envisioning:

Navy and Turquoise Exterior Inspiration

We haven't seen a lot of dark navy Eichlers, but after working on the San Jose Ct. Eichler project, I have always admired the crisp, clean lines of a dark colored house with white beams and accent colors. The barn photo above is Polo Blue from Benjamin Moore, which I plan to test on some siding this weekend. The lovely Palm Springs shot is from Flikr and the two on the right are from a MCM Austin AirBnb and the Eichlerforsale website.

We also have some wonderful darker gray samples to consider, though our neighbors (who have an amazing house) next door are also gray, so we want to respectfully "complement" their house.

More to come! We still have yet to pull the rest of the tan vinyl siding off, but once we do, at least we know what color it will be.


Atrium Sliding Door to Dining Room


Where there used to be a huge 10'x6' sliding door and transom in the original home, the previous owner walled it up and installed a vinyl window with extra fancy muntins - this also had to go. We had to take down the wall to install our 8'x8' door, the largest that Milgard offered. 2015-04-18 13.46.11

As a reference, this is what this room originally looked like (neighbor's house):


We started from the top and worked our way down.

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Was tempting to leave like this and make a "take-out" window:

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Waiting to finish up with another glass transom above the sliding door. But now, when you walk into our atrium, you can see right into the dining room. We have quickly put the old window and vinyl siding out of our memory. Too bad the rest of the house is still wrapped in it, but now we know it's not difficult (just laborious) to remove the vinyl siding.

New Eichler Atrium Sliding Door

The vinyl door with the fancy faux muntins had to go - despite the fact that it was a perfectly good door. Our dear Craigslist helped to upcycle the door to a new home. We began by breaking down the soon-to-be transom section to make sure there wasn't still glass up there and to take a peek at the framing, but wanted to remove the door first. 2015-03-22 10.51.35

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After the door removed, we continued with the area above the door.

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We had to prepare the sill and also reinforce the post, which had been terribly sawzalled in half! The previous owner wanted to use an off-the-shelf replacement door from The Home Depot, and needed about 3 inches, so they cut 2 inches from one post, and an inch from the other - ARGH!

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We filled in with wood filler and a finishing coat of higher end spackle then painted using an old can of grey paint laying around (final colors for another day).

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Milgard Sliding Door Frame Assembly

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We installed the door frame, panels, and hardware.

Next we trimmed out the transom, got a custom piece of glass from Diablo Glass.


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[Final shot to be added]

Living Room Remodel: Media Wall, Windows, Closet - 75% Complete


We wanted to accomplish a number of things with this project that spanned several weeks:

  • Create more living room space
  • Remove the weird walk-in closet entrance in our Master Bedroom
  • Remove the weird angled-wall in the living room
  • Create a new media wall with a flush mount TV
  • Bring back some wood paneling as an accent wall
  • Put the original 2 sections of glass walls back in where they were filled in with studs and drywall.

The Very Beginning of Our Eichler Kitchen and Living Room Remodel

Below is a shot of the room when the kitchen took up most of the area. We miss the that pine ;)



Bedroom Closet Rebuild

Wood Paneling the Media Wall

We went to MacBeath Lumber to buy a half dozen types of sample sheets of paneling. The pre-finished options didn't quite suit our liking, so we opted for the unfinished 1/8" Walnut panels.

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Exterior Wall Demolition

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Original picture from our neighbor's house to compare:

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Time crunch was upon us before leaving for a trip, so we had Dan's Glass prep the opening and install the glass. They farmed out the prep work, finishing in half day by adding a new sill and installing the interior pre-primed wood stops. This ran us about $1,500.

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Kids Modern Loft Bed

Our boys share a bedroom and since we recently relocated most of the toys from the family room to their room, it had become a constant disaster zone. We considered bunk beds, but thought a built-in loft would be a good way to gain vertical living space that included both sleeping and play areas. Here is how we constructed it:20150307-105821 The loft bed is supported at the long ends by two 2x4's, and a 2x2 against the back wall into studs. A 2x6 spans the outside edge that is screwed into the ends of the 2x4's. A 2x2 rail is screwed into the inside of the 2x6 to mount the 2x2 ribs. 1/4" wood paneling went on top of the ribs to finish the platform. Finally, a 2x8 was sistered to the outside 2x6 to give it additional support.

kids-loft-bed-platformWe had almost a 12 foot span to support, and by deck building rules, twin 2x12's can support a 12' span, so was comfortable with just the 2x6 and 2x8 sistered beam, as this is hardly a deck. With the whole family on the loft, there is no flex.

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We repurposed an Ikea above-fridge cabinet from our kitchen renovation (white) as one of the storage units on the floor, and a Land of Nod book case, which lives underneath the table top, an Ikea wall panel. Ikea RIBBA picture frame ledges double as a Hot Wheels track and book storage. It makes cleaning up cars more fun! ;)


We stained the side piece, to give it a finished look, with some walnut stain from our wood panel media wall project.




The SF Giants bobbleheads now have a permanent home!


Additional accessories include under-loft LED lighting from Ikea, some wall baskets, coat hooks, and bedside LED reading lamps. An indoor-outdoor rug provides a cozy place to play on one end of the loft. The rug is so durable, it can even be rinsed with a garden hose!



Modern Kids Loft Bed

We would've liked to have raised the loft about 10" higher, but the window was in the way. Overall, it turned out great and makes the room much more enjoyable.

The project came out costing about $150 for lumber and the kids absolutely love it!

Resources: Lumber Ribba Picture Ledges from Ikea Indoor Outdoor Rug from Land of Nod Hanging Wire Shelf from Homegoods Pencil Bins from Ikea


Eichler Kitchen Remodel - The Final Reveal

After seven long months, we are beyond excited and relieved that our DIY Kitchen Renovation Project is finally complete! Planning started officially in May (and pretty much the first year we lived in the house), but the chaos that consumed our lives really began on Demolition Day. Some how, some way (through a lot of hard work, tears, takeout, stress and support/help from family and friends), we managed to live in our house with two kids, while it underwent a massive transformation, mostly done by ourselves.

Here are some of the "Before" shots; our house had already been significantly altered away from original Eichler style and features, so we knew there were great original "bones" to get back to.... through a LOT of undoing and careful planning.

Our old kitchen (Note, kitchen below is nowhere near an original Eichler kitchen, but instead, has seen "renovations" over time that weren't original to Eichler homes..

Before the Eichler Kitchen Remodel


After the Eichler Kitchen Remodel

Our end goal: to rebuild a new, modern kitchen and living space, reworking the layout so that it would be an open concept floorplan. We really wanted to bring back many of the original features and characteristics of Eichler homes, many of which had been removed or hidden by previous owners (for example, original glass transom/windows covered in sheet rock and vinyl grid doors instead of more streamlined aluminum framed sliding doors). We were also on a limited budget, so planned to tackle a majority of the work ourselves, while spending larger parts of the budgets on feature items such as the tiled backsplash, Bluestar Range and lighting, while saving money on labor costs.

And here it is... what used to be the old dining room is now a gallery kitchen with large island. The old, traditional (non-Eichler) lighting and fans have been removed and replaced with globe and modern lighting; the back (formerly vinyl) sliding door replaced with an aluminum version and clear glass transom, to match the original ones that would have been part of the house before.


Steps of Our Eichler Kitchen Remodel

Here were the major phases and materials we used for the final design:

  1. Demolition
  2. Installation of VCT (vinyl composite 
  3. Ikea Cabinet installation with Semihandmade Doors
  4. DIY concrete counters
  5. Bluestar Gas Range
  6. Vent Hood Installation
  7. Fireclay Diamond Tile 
  8. Miseno Sink from and Grohe Faucet (ebay find)
  9. LED toe-kick lighting
  10. Tom Dixon Beat Lights from
  11. Aluminum Milgard Sliding door and Transom replacement
  12. Wine Fridge

Q & A of the Remodel

What was the hardest part(s) of the project? There were many, but the first that come to mind:

1. Demolition and cleanup

2. Prepping the concrete floor slab. We removed the porcelain tile, then we needed to get the surface back to a level, smooth state, in order to install the VCT. There was a ton of bits of crumbly concrete and leftover mortar that had to be grinded down. That was a project-low.

3. Concrete counters. A ton of trial and error; getting the mix just right, waiting for it to set (days), then seeing if the surface was counter like and not chunky-like (the first 3 tries were the latter). Then we had to build 7 more slabs.

4. Living in a house that is in complete renovation mode. Dust, debris, no working kitchen, small children. That was not fun.


MUCH thanks to everyone who helped us out mixing, hauling, delivering, lifting, and sweating with us.


Tom Dixon Lighting


Tom Dixon Beat Wide White

Inspired by the sculptural simplicity of brass cooking pots and traditional water vessels on the subcontinent. This pendant light is spun and hand-beaten by renowned skilled craftsmen of Moradabad in Northern India. Made from brass with a white lacquer exterior.

What's cool about it, aside from its flashy underside finish, is that the hand-hammered bell is perfectly smooth on the top. The white finish to the bell provided an unobtrusive pendant for the room with just a peek of flare.

Tom Dixon Beat Lights


DIY Concrete Countertops

After a visit with my old friend, Mark Melonas, from Luke Works in Baltimore, MD, we received encouragement and inspiration to try our hand at our own concrete countertops. I expected a learning curve, so I wanted to share our experience with as much transparency as possible because the pros like Mark, make it look easy - and it's NOT.

DIY Concrete Countertops: The Approach

  1. Styrofoam Forms - Most of the DIY videos out there utilize the technique of forming the molds using melamine sheets. A newer (but not new) technique is foam rails instead of the melamine/particle board, so I decided to try it out as the lazy method to avoid having to cut the rails. I didn't have great carpentry skills and want to haul several pieces of 4'x8' melamine sheets from the store.
  2. Avoid Polishing - Polishing can, theoretically, be avoided entirely by using the glossy polycarbonate casting base and glossy form tape. Typically, the molds are melamine, which leaves a matte finish, so polishing is required. The thought of no messy polishing came to mind, so I was motivated to try a glossy base for my form. There are newer techniques using acid to reduce polishing time, but in the end I still had to polish. (So much for that idea!)

DIY Concrete Countertop Supply List:

  • $145 Cheng Pro-Form Mold Making System 2.5"- I had recently junked my table saw, and found it inconvenient to buy many sheets of 4'x8' melamine sheets for the mold, so I thought I'd avoid all that cutting and use the foam rails. While the $145 price seemed a bit steep for a bunch of foam rails, some tape, and vinyl, it was actually all worth it for the 7 uniquely sized slabs I had to form. I tried to source foam rails elsewhere, but failed.
  • $300 Concrete mixer from Lowes - I thought about renting, but due to the amount and size of the slabs I was making, buying was in my best interest. It took 3 hrs to assemble, and it works really well. I've rented mixers in the past from The Home Depot, and was unimpressed... the motors were really worn out, gears slipped, and I told myself I'd never do that again.
  • $65 Polycarbonate 4'x8' sheet from Tap Plastic to use as a casting base. In the end I went through 3 sheets.
  • $66 Cheng Glossy Form Tape 2.5" - expensive tape to make shiny edges
  • $32.50 Cheng faucet knockout for form
  • $25 Lowes foam insulation board to cut out the sink knockout
  • Silicone caulk
  • Masking tape
  • $150 Hydraulic table on wheels from Harbor Freight - for move the slabs from the casting table to the kitchen. Each slab was about 320-420 lbs.
  • $25 Cheng Acrylic Slurry - for patching holes and blending seams.
  • $165 Hardin VPS5 wet polisher from Amazon
  • $29 Cheng Sealer
  • $23.50 Cheng Finishing Wax
  • Black edging for the plywood between the countertop and the cabinets
  • Jigsaw, disc sander for cutting out sink knockout
  • Metal screen and rebar
  • Concrete mixing tub, trowel, shovel
  • Sakrete 5000 concrete - 24+ 80 pound bags

Concrete Countertop Guys Do It Upside-down

When you cast a countertop, you need to imagine everything you do upside-down. The finished surface is actually the bottom of the form. The finished surface will be as good as the concrete touching the base surface of the form. We constructed the mold using the Cheng foam rails. You setup the rails, tape the vinyl liner, caulk the seams, and pour. We used a glossy polycarbonate casting base to leave a super glossy countertop finish.

Concrete Countertop Mold

We constructed the mold using the Cheng foam rails. You setup the rails, tape the vinyl liner, caulk the seams, and pour. We used a glossy polycarbonate casting base to leave a super glossy finish.

We tried the Cheng additive to reduce the setting time, reduce the amount of water required (for strength) and supposedly the chemicals also make it stronger, but later own after numerous failed attempts, just used the straight Sakrete concrete with water, which seemed to work just fine.

Mixer from Lowes took about an hour to assemble.

Plastic over the concrete to help keep in the moisture and warmth to reduce cracking and let the chemicals work their magic.

Our first attempt came out a complete failure, as the mixture was too dry. By the third try, we found the right consistency. There is a slump test we failed to do that you can Google.

Our third attempt came out nicely - here are the slabs taken out of the forms and flipped over to reveal the surface. They appear very dark before all the moisture finishes evaporating during the curing phase.

With the plywood in place, we installed our first slab, wheeling it into the kitchen with the help of our hydraulic lift from Harbor Freight.

With this installation, we went straight from mold to counter. At this phase, we should've polished, but we got impatient and moved it in.

The other pieces were casted reusing the rails - the image above showing the knockout for half the sink and vent.

Here is a Cheng knockout for a faucet or vent, which allows standard faucets and fittings to fit into a 2.5" slab. This is really important or you will have no room to fit the nuts around the threads. 

Here we added some mesh for strength.

The surface here doesn't need to be perfect, as it'll be the bottom of the slab when installed.

Waterfall Edge Concrete Countertop

We loved the look of the waterfall edge for our concrete countertops, but knew I'd have to do it in two pieces rather than attempt a single piece. A single piece would've been attainable with a pour in place or GFRC, but neither of those options seemed viable at the time. We ended up doing a 2-piece corner using a mitered joint, then filling in the seam with a slurry mix. You can see in the photo above the 45 degree end piece overhanging the island.

The two ways to do the waterfall joints:

Here is a more basic finish option.

Here is a more basic finish option.

Here is a seamless waterfall edge.  Photo by Luke Works.

Here is a seamless waterfall edge. Photo by Luke Works.

The island slabs were much more complicated for various reasons: They were larger, required a mitered edge for the waterfall sides, and had a sink in between slabs. We calculated the larger possible slab we could cast on our 4'x8' sheet of melamine, and casted 3 pieces for the surface that, unfortunately, had to split the sink in half.

There were seams, that we could have slurried over, but we felt that we'd leave the seams that would add that artisanal feel to the countertop. The Cheng method for seams is to not hide them, but to make a clean butt joint, a sharper edge than normal, by whiping away all the caulk when you run your finger over the mould seam, instead of keeping a smooth contour like all the other seams between the base casting surface and the rails. (This would be only along the seam that would butt up against another piece.)

Vinyl Edging for Countertop Sub-countertop


We also added black vinyl edging to the plywood edge just below the concrete to cover up the raw wood and add a shadow effect. It irons on easily and helps accentuate the shadow just beneath the countertop and cabinet. 

There were little holes from air bubbles that needed to be filled with a concrete slurry, and after we applied that, we needed to wet polish. There was a square outline indented in the surface from the two previous casts of smaller pieces. The silicone residue left from the previous cast was not visible to the eye, but the concrete was extremely sensitive and picked every little thing up.

We made the mistake of prematurely installing the countertops before they were polished, but we didn't think we would end up needing to polish. The seams and sink were filled with silicone before the wet polishing routine which we ended up doing a couple times. This created a huge mess, but was better than moving all the slabs back outside.

I bought a wet polisher from Amazon for $165 and started the polishing process.


Revisiting our initial approach:

1. The foam system was simple and easy, but there were drawbacks:

  • The rails warp after the first use from either the tape, weather, concrete, moisture, etc. But I reused them several times.
  • It's hard to screed the cement compared to a wooden rail, as they are delicate, and don't allow a 2x4 to slide across the tops easily.
  • They are hard to cut accurately on a table saw. I had several slabs that required 45 degree miter joints, so the rails needed to be trimmed at 45 degree angles. Not sure they the Cheng rails ship w/ a 40 degree angle, but it was quite the pain to rip off 5 degrees.
  • They are delicate, so removing them caused them to break easily, so I learned to remove them from the surface tape very gently.
  • It was easy to not form a perfectly straight edge, so I had several slabs with curved edges (amateur move since I refused to use a template)

2. Casting on the glossy poly sheet proved to produce an awesome finish, but the reality is you have to still wet polish. No polishing will ever produce the same gloss, but it'll still look nice. Here's what I learned:

  • If you have to apply slurry, you have to wet polish. The slurry creates a dull film across the surface that I tried sponging off, dry polishing off, and scraping off... but it doesn't matter. Once that stuff dries, you need to wet grind it off.
  • The glossy casted surface might look perfect with no voids or holes, but once you start polishing, you'll notice that you uncover many little voids that will need to be filled. It's sort of a false sense of perfection.
  • The glossy surface is actually coated with a light later of white cloudy concrete chemical, so if you want a richer color to be your final finish, you will need to polish it off.
  • You CAN avoid the wet polish, but with the caveat that the finish will be lighter than desirable, and if you did have a lot of voids, you would have to ditch the gloss and start polishing. I did try two of my first slabs going straight from form to counter to sealer and wax, and it does look fine, but will look better if I had spent another day polishing, slurrying, polishing, then sealing and waxing. The two smaller slabs on each side of the stove had no polishing and they look fine, but I would believe that any experienced concrete countertop guy would spot that it wasn't quite finished.
  • The surface of the casting surface is SUPER important to keep flat; every tiny little imperfection on the casting surface is picked up during the casting process. The polycarbonate sheet had little dips that you couldn't see, which made polishing difficult. Messy caulk smears, and residue from previous castings created marks on the concrete that I spent extra time wet polishing off.

Mistakes I wouldn't want anyone else to make:

  • Complete your slabs outside the house before moving them in. I thought I could move them in and make sure it all fit before the slurry and polish, but wet polishing inside the house really sucks.
  • Not used a template - I didn't have materials to make one, so I just used measurements. I wasn't too far off, but it makes the mold making process 3 times longer, and less accurate.
  • Wasted my time with trying to avoid polishing. Although you can theoretically avoid polishing, the finish isn't what you would expect. It was costly, and in the end, I still had to buy a polisher.
  • I made a mistake with the mitered edge on one of the pieces, where I measured the mold size to the outter edge instead of the inner edge of the final countertop. Because you do the mold and everything is upside down, and the fact that I didn't use a template, I had to recast a very large and intricate sink piece with a mitered edge TWICE.
  • I made multiple casting on the same sheet of polycarbonate - you should really be using a fresh piece each time to avoid picking up imperfections caused by each casting process.

If I was to do it all over again, I would consider GFRC and a foam core. Five of the 7 slabs were each 320-425 lbs, and for the 2.5" thickness required much more concrete [in theory] than with a GFRC process, and would be just as strong, if not stronger. The learning curve and tools required require additional cost and ramp up time, but I would believe that the front-loaded investment would payoff in the end. If you were doing a 1.5" slab, I'd say just cast it conventionally, but for a 2.5" slab, it just requires more concrete, and yields a slab that most DIY hackers would want to avoid.

Eichler Sliding Doors: Replacing Patio Doors


It was time to rid of our white vinyl sliding doors that came with the house. These aren't one of these doors you can pick up at The Home Depot or Lowes. As you can see, the previous owner grabbed something off the shelf, a standard vinyl slider that didn't exactly fit, which inspired some post cutting, lots of shimming and trim work. The original transom was taken out and drywalled over. eichler-vinyl-slider


Comparing Slide Door Options for Eichlers

1. Arcadia Sliding Doors


Eichler homes were built with Arcadia doors, and although they are still in business, mainly doing commercial applications, they still sell a line of doors that will work. The 5000 Series of doors were available through Eichler Solutions. One of the principals visited and quoted us about $3,200 for the door and transom. These are pretty awesome doors, as our neighbor had them installed all around the house and they look and function great.

2. Western Windows / Blomberg Sliding Doors


Western also sent out Bob from Associated Building Supply out to quote us a Blomberg Series 600 door, also around $3,000 with the transom.

3. Milgard Sliding Doors

At the Concord Eichler yard sale fest, we happened to pick up a free Milgard door that fit perfectly into one of our openings. The previous owner explained how it came with the house and was purchased, but never installed. We figured to give it a go and if it worked out, order more of them. After a successful install, we got a quote from Dolan Lumber for $1,100.

The Dolan Sale Rep also mentioned higher end doors from Fleetwood, so I'm sure that would be a good option as well.

Removing the Old Door

This was fairly straightforward, as we cut the fins, removed screwed, peeled back adhesive, and popped the door out. There was also vinyl and aluminum siding to remove from the eves an posts (in case you're wondering what all that stuff is hanging from the eves).


Installing the New Sliding Door

  1. Prepared the framing, cleaned up the posts
  2. Prepared the sill with redwood and flexible membrane
  3. Assembled the Milgard aluminum frame
  4. Mounted the frame - caulked, leveled and shimmed
  5. Installed the panels and hardware
  6. Frame the transom
  7. Installed the glass
  8. Finished the interior door trim










The Milgard door we got at a garage sale didn't come with an interior handle, strike plate, or stopper. We called Milgard directly, and because of the 10 year transferrable warranty, they sent us all the parts for free. Great customer service!




Eichler Kitchen Remodel: Fireclay Tiled Backsplash

About Fireclay Tile

Fireclay Tile was wonderful to work with. The California-based ceramics company has made a name for itself in the sustainable handmade category. Each batch is made to order and took us about 4-5 weeks to receive our tile.

We chose the Fireclay Escher Diamond pattern in a Lagoon color on a white ceramic tile base. We ordered it on sheets, where the tiles were taped with clear poly (plastic) sheets to the faces of the tile. In previous experiences with mosaic tiles, there were mesh-backed, as well as paper facing, but this was the first time we used the poly-faced sheets. After the tiles were dry, we peeled off the poly sheets, grouted, and fit in final missing pieces.

Installing Fireclay Mosaic Tiles

We must admit, it was the more messy of installations, as it wasn't perfectly square sheets of tile as we were used to. We needed to layout all the tiles first on the ground to find the optimal configuration to fit the wall, and precut the tiles to waste the least amount of tile.

Overall, we thought it turned out great and would love to include Fireclay in upcoming projects.

Eichler Kitchen Semihandmade Doors & Panels


We were so happy to work with Semihandmade, who make aftermarket doors and panels for Ikea cabinets. You send them the 3D sketch from the Ikea software and they manufacture perfectly fitted doors and panels for the project.  We had a slight discoloration on one of the panels, but they quickly turned around a replacement, free of charge. We chose the flat-sawn walnut option, which we also saw in one of the San Mateo homes from the Home Tour. semihandmade-cabinet-doors2


Eichler Kitchen Plumbing & Electrical

We didn't want to move the drain, so we focused on putting the island where the sink could reach the existing drain. We also wanted to keep the junction boxes where they were mounted, and mount them inside one of the cabinets. It was a little tricky carving out the base of the cabinet to fit the drain and electrical conduits, but we managed to arrange the island to get it all fitted nicely. We arranged the cabinets to gauge spacing before we actually started digging.

We had to turn the cut off valves around so they would be accessible, remove the vent pipe, and run the water lines in the ground, so dug a trench in the concrete slab that ran over to the nearest exterior wall, where we ran water and vent vertically to the roof.

Up on the roof, we had to redivert the water lines to run down the wall to connect to the waterlines we ran from the trench, so we tapped into the existing lines on the roof. After the new copper was installed, we covered up the pipes with more insulation and spray foam.

We filled up the trench with gravel, sand, and concrete. The island loop was necessary to ensure the water drained well, and backflow exited to the vent instead of backing up into the sink.

We then installed the cabinates onto 2x4's, and secured the cabinets to each other.

We installed the dishwasher to make sure we had the right cabinet height and ensure our countertop would mount nicely.

We installed an undermount sink, disposal, and insta-hot water unit, and used a router to get the sink edge flush with the plywood sub-counter. I installed the faucet, temporarily, so we could get a working kitchen back in order, while we spent the next couple months on the concrete counters.

Sink: Miseno 32" from for about $350.


Eichler Kitchen Remodel: LED Toe Kick Lighting

Freshly placed waterfall slab
Freshly placed waterfall slab

I installed the low-voltage self-adhesive LED strip lights $15 at Amazon, and connected the AC adapter to get it all installed a tested. I then spliced into the AC adapter to add the motion detector and daylight sensor, so that it only activates when it gets dark in the room. I mounted the motion detector in the toe kicks and the room is lighted as I enter enough to walk into the kitchen at night for a nightcap.

Fireclay Tile

Fireclay Tile San Francisco Showroom
Fireclay Tile San Francisco Showroom

We have been looking forward to our end of the summer (and nearly end of the renovation) Staycation, planned around a visit from John's sister and nephew. Right before we went to the Airport to fetch them, we decided to stop by the Fireclay Tile Showroom on Brannan Street in San Francisco to get our backsplash order done. They have a gorgeous showroom, with beautiful sample installations everywhere you look.

Fireclay Tile San Francisco
Fireclay Tile San Francisco

Since we have had their samples on our counter for a few weeks now, we pretty much knew what color and pattern we were going to choose. Turns out the larger wave pattern we thought we wanted did not come in the color we choose, so we made a last minute swap on the pattern. Fifteen minutes later (we had to get to the airport!), our sales person Emily had our order in the system, paid for and due to ship to us in a few weeks (free shipping)!

Fireclay Tile San Francisco Showroom
Fireclay Tile San Francisco Showroom
Fireclay Tile
Fireclay Tile

Sebastian was getting into it too:

Fireclay Tile Samples
Fireclay Tile Samples
Fireclay Tile San Francisco
Fireclay Tile San Francisco
Fireclay Tile
Fireclay Tile

I could think of all sorts of places to put in more Fireclay Tile, but let's get the kitchen done first.Can anyone say Bathroom Remodel?

Eichler Kitchen Renovation - Ikea Cabinet Assembly

Thanks to help from my brother, we got over the fear of assembling the gigantic mound of Ikea cabinets awaiting us in the garage. He helped lay out the assembly line for the first few cabinet bases, showing where to put the screws and parts. Once I assembled a few, working through the rest were easier to assemble, if you laid everything out the same way each time. I constructed about 10 in the first weekend. ikea-boxes-kitchen


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Eichler Kitchen Renovation - Ikea Cabinets

A few days later, our much-anticipated new 6-burner BlueStar range arrived. Thank you to our friends Stevie and Debra for waiting for the delivery for us in the middle of a work day!

Eichler Kitchen Ikea Cabinets

We placed all the base cabinets where the island will be, and the additional wall of cabinets along the far wall. John mounted 2 x 4 platform bases to underneath the cabinets for extra support. Those Ikea plastic legs are supposed to hold up, but we wanted to ensure maximum support for what will be our concrete countertops.

Another few weeks pass as we assemble all the upper cabinets, mount them, and then secure all the cabinets in place. Also thrown in there at some point (it's all a blur), John installed the plywood counter base, which will support the concrete, and so that we would have a working sink and dishwasher again, installed the sink and faucet (which we will have to re-install when we put the counters in).

We also started to hang our coveted Semihandmade cabinet doors, made from Flatsawn Walnut veneer.


Eichler Kitchen Renovation - Demolition


We are finally nearing the end phases of our very own Eichler Renovation, which started officially in May.

Months of planning, budgeting, and weekend warrior DIY have been very exhausting (did I say exhausting?!), but in that DIY mentality (slightly crazy), has been incredibly rewarding and satisfying.

We'll start to post backwards a bit to get up to speed on all the phases of the project, and soon, be able to show off the Final Reveal!

Removal of all the old cabinetry:

Eichler Kitchen Renovation

Here's John post Hulk Smash Tile and granite Demo:

EIchler Kitchen Renovation DIY

There were definitely better ways to demo the tile, but keeping our costs low, we decided to use the simple sledgehammer instead of what we should've used: The Bosch demolition chisel



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Eichler Kitchen Renovation

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Eichler Kitchen Remodel



But the place looked like this:

EIchler Kitchen Remodel 

Tip: Use ZipWalls or simply get some Husky thin plastic sheeting in a roll and tape it up to seal off the roof. We rented the buffer at 8pm for a 4 hour slot, but definitely worked about 7 hours 'til 3am, then returned it at 8am to meet the 4 hour window.

Eichler Restoration

I've been working on a fun side project for the last few weeks and finally have a moment to share some of the progress. There's a house in the neighborhood undergoing a restoration, which I have been given the fantastic opportunity to provide consultation on, and, even more exciting (to me at least) the house layout and design happens to be our exact model. So it's like going back in time, seeing many original features of the original house, but also like seeing our house's future, since we have long term plans to bring back some of these exact same Eichler fundamentals that are long gone in our home.

Here's a few "befores":

Original sliding doors, from atrium into living space:

Eichler Restoration

Beautiful unpainted, stained/washed ceiling:

20140308-2014-03-08 15.03.42


Full glass windows and doors to the backyard:


20140308-Copy of IMG_0070

Outside view:

20140308-Copy of IMG_0061

Original paneling flowing from atrium into house: 20140308-Copy of 2014-03-08 14.20.40

Side/Bedroom Side of the house (with door to bathroom):

20140308-Copy of IMG_0060

Dining/Living Room View - All original luan paneling:

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Atrium sliding door entrance - see the hint of original dark charcoal paint in the scratch mark:

20140308-Copy of IMG_0052

Original Eichler Kitchen Layout, but not the original cabinets (or globes!):

20140308-2014-03-08 14.14.51

View into atrium:


Ikea Kitchen Planner

Kitchen Planning The kitchen planning project has had (and will continue to have) several stages, of which we are just in the early phases. I have a feeling this renovation will become The "massive project we will always remember, but be so happy it's done."

First, is the dreamy stage, and mass accumulation of Pinteresting ideas and Houzz-worthy photos, saving brochures (the Miele and LBL ones are just so pretty to look at), and tearing, saving, and posting beautiful kitchen remodels articles from the likes of Dwell, AD, Interior Design (Eichler cover feature!) and Atomic Ranch.

Next phase included feeling overwhelmed by all the aforementioned pretty photos, ideas, and possibilities. How big should the island be? What if it is too big? What type of floor? We know nothing about appliances! Wood or white cabinets?

And then realization steps in: How much is this going to cost?!

So this past weekend, we decided to bite the bullet and make the trip to Ikea to really get the planning underway. Big win; we decided to go on a Friday night after work when Ikea was relatively empty and the Kitchen planning Sales people were just sitting around chatting. This trip was just to get confirmation of what cabinets we wanted to go with and how the sizing works. We survived the trip (with two kids in tow - we should have fed them first not last, but I was so ready to get to the kitchens that I made the poor choice to feed later). We will soon go back to make the final purchases and take advantage of their big Kitchen Sale. Next time, I'll stick with Friday night, sans kiddos.

So with the help of our lovely architect BFF Gabs, we spent the following night sketching out where each cabinet would go, defining the work spaces, measuring out and marking with painters tape all the major elements (stove goes here, sink goes there) and detailing out dimensions and cabinet purchasing list with Ikea's [great, but quirky/buggy] Kitchen Planner Tool.

So here's a rough idea of the new design:

Kitchen Plans

And inspired by the famous Faith's Kitchen Remodel on the Kitchn (which I consider a bookmark/must-read for any kitchen renovation, detailing the entire process, including pricing) we are inspired to see what some custom doors from Semihandmadedoors will cost us. I am utterly wowed by their beautifully crafted wood veneer doors, designed specifically for Ikea cabinetry.

Here's how Faith's beautiful kitchen turned out:

The Kitchn - Faith's Kitchen Remodel

And another kitchen renovation inspiration is Stacey's masterpiece at another favorite blog, The Goode House:

The Goode House

Lastly, here is my new love, A Bluestar Range in orange! (Ballard Residence from Houzz):

Bluestar 36" Range - Orange

So next steps include:

  • Await quote on doors and panels (fingers crossed)
  • Order some VCT/Linoleum samples (in cool white)
  • Practice some concrete projects (John, that's for you)
  • Place IKEA order before sale ends (4/27)
  • Order appliances (Range, Sink, Faucet, and Wine Fridge)
  • Order doors (if we can afford them)
  • Plan demo/build phases (aka How Long Can We Live Without a Kitchen)