Greyhounds Healthcare Holiday Letter Home Remodeling

2021, The year of the snake

Year of the snake? Treatment of Dave’s bladder cancer has been the big news of the year. So far, it remains confined to the bladder lining where it is very treatable and is more a nuisance than an existential threat but its treatment has set the rhythm for the year.

Home Economics Home Remodeling Technology

Dismal Manor Goes Electric

Well, part way, we have a Wallbox EVSE. A VW ID.4 lead sled is on order and the black forest elves are tinkering away on it as I write. In Order Locked limbo awaiting on the boat state.

So, in this post, I want to write a bit above EVSE shopping, and evolving plans to de-carbon Dismal Manor which currently has gas hot air heat and gas hot water.

Home Remodeling

We’re finally there!

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Yes, at last. It was an 8 week project, just like my contractor promised. What he didn’t tell me was that it would be 8 weeks every other week. As usual, weather, other projects, and waits for the cabinet shop to fabricate the cabinets got in the way. One thing neither of us expected was the up turn in the Norfolk Building Department’s permits business. The review we expected to take a week took three and they wanted some changes requiring another trip through the review process.

The Project

The project intent was to make a laundry and utility space in conditioned space, a new family entry that served both the carport and the back garden, and a modern kitchen that was easy to work in and allowed the cook to interact with the rest of a family while cooking and cleaning up.

The project borrowed 4 feet of carport and the existing utility closet at the back of the carport to make a new utility alcove, new family entry, and pantry storage. This space also housed the refrigerator and oven opposite each other. A new peninsula housed the cooktop and provided proper workspace for cooking and cleanup. Prep can be divided between the sink countertops and the peninsula. The skink and cooking areas are arranged galley style with a good 5 feet of space between the two counters. It is possible to work at both counters without blocking access to the pantry and garden. And the hounds can move around without being under foot.



My Contractor

My contractor R. L. Blount Custom Homes did a first rate job . The things that stand out are the design. I had a small potatoes architect do the initial conceptual design. I played with that some on tracing paper and concluded that I wanted to move the door and change the porch design to a Charleston style porch with steps parallel to the wall.

The project was design-build. Given a statement of my goals and sketches, my contractor’s designer did a detailed design and prepared permitting and construction drawings. During this phase, my contractor did the structural design required to remove bearing walls, the structural design for two new walls, and the calculations for a beam that would carry the structure formerly resting on the 1955 kitchen’s interior partitions.

I did two things to help this phase of the project. First, I engaged a local architect to develop a conceptual design and some plan views that could be used as a starting point for proposals. The second thing I did was to write up a list of goals and preferences that each bidder could use during the proposal and estimating process.

Estimating is a bit tricky as the job must be estimated from scope of work sketches and task lists developed during the proposal phase. A detailed design comes after award but flat rate estimating guides are well refined and it is pretty easy to work up costs from the rough materials and task lists and to make an allowance for uncertainty in market conditions and approximate amounts of materials and trade time. And key suppliers like ProBuild assist with the estimates as part of their builder services.

My contractor’s designer Matt did the detailed design and construction drawings we needed for permitting starting with my sketches. Evan, my project manager, did the kitchen conceptual design that Matt started from, and  tweaked the laundry closet and cabinet layouts a little bit to give us more room for the fridge.

Matt deserves a shout out for getting the new hip roof and nice porch design right. I was biting my nails as it was all going up but it has worked out brilliantly.

Matt did forget to remove some new construction boiler plate from his drawings such as floor insulation instructions. In a small addition like my 9×9 utility space and the renovated kitchen, it is accepted practice to follow the existing crawl space insulating and venting practices. Fortunately, the building department did not insist on compliance with the drawings here. We did insulate all of the new side walls and seal all plate and subfloor penetrations. All the better to keep crawly things out.

My contractor does project management and subs all of the work out: design, demolition, masonry, framing, roofing, siding, exterior finish, electrical, plumbing, drywall and plaster, tile, cabinets, granite, interior finish and painging. Every time we changed trades, there was a wait for interviews, proposals, and start of the next project phase.

Normally, this works quite well. Where it gets complicated is when a small task needs just a bit of work from 2 or 3 trades. Installing the downdraft blower went like that. The HVAC duct technician could cut the cabinet, sub-floor, and foundation and run the duct work but was not an electrician. I ended up wiring the blower because my contractor would have to call back an electrician do make up a cable connector. And Bosch had an error in the wiring instructions. More about this below.

Appliance Supplier

Ferguson Inc supplied appliances and was first rate. Bosch forgot to pack fasteners, etc in the microwave oven trim kit shown in the featured image. Ferguson came through with a parts diagram having part numbers and found everything that should have been in the box that wasn’t. And they expressed it to me over night! Great service. They also restocked an unwise choice of light fixture (looked way different than its catalog photo colors). And they swapped downdraft blower units from wall mount to under house mount for a modest restocking fee.


The Mexican masons did the masonry demolition, cut the carport slab to receive the new footings, dug the footings and made forms, poured the footings using site ready-mix, and laid the foundation and brick veneer. All of this is tricky. It has to be right or the rest of the job is off. They did an excellent job with the layout and the finished brick work is plumb and flat. They don’t work retail.


My steampunk plumbers Chris and Jamie managed to run new plumbing for the water heater, laundry, and kitchen without interrupting services for more than an hour or two. They specialize in new construction and renovations and don’t do repairs but they did a great job on both the bath project and the kitchen project.

The Plastering Crew

The plastering crew, also Mexican, did a great job with the drywall and plaster. We ended up doing new skim coat over the existing lounge area ceiling because it would have been difficult to match the 1950’s scratch coat finish. Another trade that doesn’t do much retail work.

The Electricians

Anchor Electrical did a wizard job with the wiring. They had a bit of a surprise when they found ungrounded circuits for the old oven, and dryer. The cooktop circuit was new (2006) and could be extended to its new location. The other 240V circuits, lacking grounds, had to be replaced, something Evan missed when he was pricing the job My contractor picked up the cost of the 240V circuits that had to be replaced.

The thing I really like is that the crew thought about where the recessed lights should go and supplied Lutron dimmers for the recessed lighting. With Cree LED trims, the place is sunglasses bright when the lights are full up. I normally run the lighting half-bright, even for dinner prep and cooking.

Given a description of how I intended to place the dining room table, the lead electrician properly located the fixtures for the pendant lamps. These kept getting in the way during the tail end of the project but once the table was placed, they were exactly where they needed to be and at the proper height.

They also did a nice job with the yard light replacement. They supplied nice flood lamp fixtures that you won’t find on the shelf at Home Depot. These completely shield the lights from water and have a nice finish that will stay bright and looks good against the white trim.

The dryer circuit was repurposed to serve the Rinnai tankless water heater which is on its own circuit. The red (properly marked) became the ground. The lighting circuits in the old house had to be reworked. None were to code. Power went to the fixture with a switch in the return. We don’t do that any more. I ended up picking up those costs as repairs. Similarly, the outdoor lights which had been on the fritz since my return. The switch was in the work area but there were problems in old work outside the work boundary.

These guys are highly recommended for lighting updates and repair work. Good old work skills and diagnostic skills. They also relocated data, RF, and phone circuits that needed to be moved.


Adrian Hardwood Floors and Tile laid the ceramic tile floor and backsplash, the new wood flooring, and refinished the existing floors. The tile flooring took a week: 2 days of layout and cutting, a day to lay, a day to grout, and clean up. The floor refinishing took 2 days with 2 more that I had to be off the floor while it cured. Nick, Missy, and I spent 3 nights in the Norfolk Residence Inn enjoying downtown Norfolk. Adrian receives my recommendations for floor refinishing and floor replacement. The young crew was patient and meticulous in the layout of the floor and backsplash.

Local Cabinet Shop

Chuck’s Custom Cabinets and Construction deserves a shout out for the design of the cabinets. Evan and Chuck refined the kitchen layout, especially the stepping down of the cabinet depth in the pantry, the drawers in the peninsula, and the overhanging buffet or dining counter area. Chuck designed and built the cabinets working from Matt’s plan view and a walk down of the site to confirm measurements.

Chuck set the job up to use standard cabinet sizes with a bit of cleverness at the refrigerator where he took up the slack in the as-built ground truth. Chuck’s guys also installed the cabinets doing a wonderful job of coping with the departures from true in the old structure.

The galley kitchen design added 3 feet to the dining area depth that were formerly part of the 1955 kitchen allowing me to put the dining table parallel to the end wall where it had been parallel to the front wall while still having room to use the table ends or the counter.

Granite Fabricators

Panda Kitchen fabricated the granite and installed it. Everything fit. They cut the cooktop and downdraft opening in the field and dealt with the departure from square with a combination of planned off-square cuts and field trimming.

The granite finish turned out nicely and they cut the notch for the column in a most clever way. Using a water jet stone saw, they cut the two sides 2 degrees off vertical so that the plate cross section was keystone shaped. This made the piece self-supporting while the epoxy cured. The piece fits so well that you have to look closely to find the filled joint. This was another place I was biting my nails as the stone changes color during final polishing.

For those doing kitchen renovation as opposed to remodeling projects needing architectural and structural work, I’d recommend Panda in a heartbeat. They have built two kitchens for a friend, the first a planned remodel, the second, reconstruction following a fire.

More about delays

The project delays resulted from the weather delaying start of earlier jobs, a demanding client that caused lots of rework on a large job that was concurrent with mine, and the inevitable friction of as-you-go contracting of trades. We did have to back up and do a bit of rework on the roof to fix a goof that the gutter contractor caught, and several finish items that required multiple trades like the downdraft blower required trades to come back,

Missing parts and other chaos

My goof

Although everyone was careful to keep the jobsite neat, we did lose some of the bits for one of the deadbolts which were in my scope of supply. Kwikset retail packing is impossible to repack so stuff rattled around and eventually the screws went missing.

Kwikset supplied the parts we misplaced on the job at no cost. That delayed us a bit. I ended up finding my chisels and doing the mortise changes needed for the door plate and strike plate. We found that the parts had gone missing when the interior finish folks were doing their bit of the job. I had supplied the lock sets so the parts were my problem. They’re probably with the eyeglasses that went missing this summer. I suspect the red chaos unit named Missy.

Bosch Goofs

There were two. The downdraft installation instructions for the in-line blower managed to have you wire the cable from the cabinet mounted snorkel assembly to the crawl space mounted blower incorrectly. The contract tech writer who did the manuals looked at the instructions for wiring the blower end connector and had you do the same for the plug from the snorkel that was to mate with it. The end result was that the field wired connector was backward. This connected medium speed to ground popping the breaker.

Fortunately, both cables used the same color code so it was easy to take the hood off the factory wired connector and wire the field wired connector to match.

Bosch also forgot to pack the loose parts for the microwave trim kit. A call to Ferguson had the needed parts ordered and on their way in a day. Everything was stocked in the US so UPS was able to make the missing bits appear the day after they had been identified and itemized.

Bosch designed the trim kit mounting clips for frameless European cabinets. Evan, my project manager, came out and spent an hour fiddling with saws and screws to make temporary blocking only to determine that we could get the cabinet mounted bits mounted directly to the face frame. This is where experience comes in. Evan picked some screws that wouldn’t split the face frame, something I’d get wrong.

But We’re not 100 Percent!

Evan bought matching paint to paint the endgrain of the Trex steps. He forgot to turn that task over to the painters. It will take longer to clean the brush than to do the work so I’ve picked up that task. Probably Wednesday once it is warm again.

Home Remodeling

90 Percent and Holding

The kitchen project is nearly complete but we are at the 90 percent and stalled point. One big task and several small ones remain.

  • Install gutters
  • This requires fixing a goof in the roof deck
  • Install back door dead bolt
  • Install microwave trim kit
  • Install closet rod in laundry area
  • Stain the column
  • Locate or install a shut off valve for the water heater water supply

Dogs' dinner table
Dogs’ dinner table

The featured image is a view down the greyhound gallop. The pantry area includes two granite counters cut from the counter top remnant. One (shown at the above) is set at 18 inches and the second at 36 inches. The first is the dogs’ dinner table. The second is for stashing keys, purse, phones, etc needed on the way out the door. The granite is Saint Cecilia Light.

20150916-IMG_1517To the left facing the door is a laundry and utility alcove that houses the Rinnai tankless water heater and the laundry. The laundry equipment are Whirlpool high efficiency washer and dryer. The dryer is ventless with a heat pump heat source. Surprisingly, it works quite well in “Eco Mode” in which the heat pump supplies all of the drying heat. The dryer has a resistance heater that can be used to supplement the heat pump or by itself. When using the heat pump source, the drying times are longer but energy usage is 1/4 that when just the resistance heater is used. The heat pump cools the air leaving the drum and preheats the air entering the drum. The water condensed out of the air accumulates in a sump and is pumped down to the drain.

Compared to a conventional dryer, the air temperature rises more slowly so the drying times are longer. Because the cycle is closed, no air is taken from the home or discharged to it. The pump heat drives the cycle and the drying air gets normally toasty by cycle’s end.

I have only two gripes.

  • Button labels are low contrast white on gray and are hard to read above head level.
  • The drum rotates only one way so it tends to tangle sheets.

This image below shows the new peninsula and the wet wall cabinets that house the sink and dishwasher.

New open plan kitchen
New open plan kitchen

This image shows the new split bowl sink. This design is wizard simple. I’m surprised that it is a recent innovation. Only one manufacturer offers it so it must be under patent. This idea is so obvious, I’m surprised that it is new. One trick I just discovered is that a normal basket strainer allows the sink to drain into the disposer while keeping objects out.

Split basin sink
Split basin sink

This is the new dining area showing a temporary 4 foot folding table. The new space is about 3 to 4 feet larger than the original allowing a six foot table to be placed parallel to the back wall in the area under the pendant lights. There is still room to use the peninsula as a buffet, snack bar, or kids study area.

New dining area
New dining area

Home Remodeling

Kitchen is coming together

One box of Chemex filters later, the kitchen is almost finished. This is my contribution to the design, moving the carport door from the carport to the end wall and adding this Charleston style porch and step. My builder’s designer got the masses and sizes right.


My project manager Evan found a use for some of the granite remanent. The dogs have a dinner table and I have a similar shelf at 36 inches to stage groceries for storage, etc. Below is room for boots, etc. At top is a shelf for cook books, etc.20150818-IMG_1433

In the original kitchen, this counter was in a corner formed by the window wall and carport wall. The hob was to the right making dish washing and cooking miserable experiences. The sink was a 2 bowl sink, the same size as this one but with full depth bowls. Washing baking pans was a miserable chore.


By taking out that wall from the back to the right side of the carport door and building a new L-shaped wall, Evan created the laundry alcove, family entry, and pantry in the background. A new peninsula holds the hob, downdraft vent, storage, and a counter height breakfast bar and buffet.


The photo above shows the hob (British for cook top) cooking its first meal. Nothing ambitious, just spaghetti and sauce to learn how the beast works and get a feel for the new induction heating. A bit slow with 10 liters of  water to boil but about similar control to the old radiant hob for most tasks.

And cleaning up is much easier with the new sink. It now has proper workspace around it and the half-depth half-bowls make dish washing easy while we await the dish washer. Later today. Plumbers are wrapping that task up as I write this post. This idea is so obvious but this design is new to the market and only a couple of sink makers offer it (suggesting that it is still under patent).


And no kitchen is complete without a greyhound gallop. The photo below is a dog’s eye view of the project taken about a week ago before appliance installation began.


Home Remodeling

Remodeling Known Unknowns

Remodeling projects are always an adventure. In planning a project you and your contractor make assumptions about the existing condition of the building that may or may not be true. Missing an educated guess can have a big effect on a project’s profitability or throw some change orders. The classic example is the finding of hidden water damage in a bathroom remodel. The one we met this time around was in the condition of my home’s electrical wiring.

1955 Practice

My home was built for speculation by a Norfolk subdivision developer in 1955. Before me it had one owner who kept it up reasonably well and didn’t mess things up too badly. Back in the day when my home was built, 100 amp 10 circuit panels were the norm. Wiring was ROMEX 14 gage for 15 amp circuits. Center tapped 220V service to the home was common with the branch circuits divided between red and black buses with the white neutral grounded at the pole and again at the panel.

At that time it was not common to provide a ground, ground the boxes, or carry the ground to the sockets. Fortunately, the wiring has modern insulation which remains in good shape. It is possible to replace switches and sockets without cracking or loosing insulation, a common problem with rubber insulation found in the early days of home wiring.

At that time, it was not uncommon for an electrician to bring power to the fixture box, run a cable to the switch and then to the load. This results in a working switch but power remains in the box when the switch was open, and the black supply, white neutral, and the switch cable must be identified. It makes the fixture less safe and complicates the repair as the various black and white wires must be identified and reconnected correctly.

Modern Practice

Modern practice is to include a ground wire in the bundle, ground the box, and ground the chassis or body of electrical appliances using a third (or fourth) green wire connected through the plug or appliance pig tail (oven, cook top, etc). This has been code since shortly after my home was built.

The second modern practice that is significant to my project is to wire power to the switch and wire the fixture circuit from the switch. When the switch is off, the fixture box is deenergized. One or more fixture circuits violated this requirement.

Electrical Rough

The electrical contractor showed up to estimate the job, took one look at the old ungrounded wiring, and quickly realized that none of the existing circuits could be reused. This meant that the existing oven, cook top, and dryer circuits could not be reused because modern code requires four conductors: white neutral, red hot, black hot, and green ground. The cables had only three. This is a foreseeable contingency but one that could not be confirmed without some inspection.

The electrical contractor sorted everything out and realized that he could reuse one cable run by repurposing the red wire as a ground in a 120 V run for the Rennai tankless water heater. The other 220 volt circuits could not be extended to the new locations of the oven and original cooktop and the dryer would require a new circuit that included a ground. Code permits this practice provided that the wire is marked with tape or heat shrink of the proper color (green).

Electrical Safety Digression

When power is brought directly to the fixture and a switch circuit is run from the fixture to the switch location, power will be present in the fixture whether the switch is off or on. This means that the breaker must be opened to deenergize the fixture for maintenance.

Before disassembling any circuit, check the circuit with an electronic tester such as those made by Fluke. These non-contact sensors detect the electric field around the wire and will alert you to an energized circuit. The drill is

  1. Confirm that the tester works by checking a known energized cable.
  2. Test the cable to be worked on and the others in the box.
  3. Confirm that the tester still works by checking a known energized cable.

Modern testers are pretty reliable but they do have batteries that can run down mid-job. Always confirm that your tester is working reliably before and after making life safety tests of the circuits to be worked on and around.

If there is more than one circuit in a box, confirm that the others are also deenergized. It is possible for a box or device to have more than one source of power.

Mixing Legacy Work with New Work

Any new work must conform to the national electrical code in effect at the time the work is done. In a kitchen remodeling project, it is likely that old work switches will be present in the work area and may need to be moved. If the move is of some distance, for example, the wall containing the switch is removed, then a new switch will be required. Your electrician will wire this switch to current code (power to the switch then to the appliance) whether the original circuit was that way or not.

This means that the legacy fixture may need to be rewired. This is the other known unknown that is typically encountered. A properly wired legacy fixture circuit can be extended to the new switch location. An improperly wired fixture circuit must be replaced. This is the source of several change orders in my project. The other source was to add car port lights and a 220V circuit for the irrigation pump.

How things worked out

My contractor assumed the costs of replacing the unusable legacy circuits that lacked grounds.

I assumed the costs of correcting the substandard fixture circuits that were outside the work area.

I assumed the cost of moving the TV, voice, and data circuit in the wall that was removed.

I assumed the cost of adding the fixture circuits powered from the work area that were outside the work area (new carport lights).

Home Remodeling

The grand design emerges

The flooring crew is working Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Monday. They set the Schluter DITRA decoupling membrane and new wood flooring on Wednesday. On Thursday the tile crew is planning the layout and cutting tile as needed. On Friday, they’ll mix thin set mortar and actually lay the tile. On Monday, they’ll return to grout the tile.

Kitchen floor in orange
The shape of the new space emerges

The orange area is the DITRA membrane. The label at the utility closet corner and the label at the right door jamb fall pretty close to the cabinet lines allowing visualization of the kitchen work area.

Adrian Tile and Wood Flooring

Adrian Tile is doing the flooring work for this project. They have a good reputation in the community and are able to work in both wood and tile which made the planning of the wood to tile interface easy. The wood crew and the tile crew are young but know their craft. My project manager, Evan Kittrel, and the craftsmen reviewed the drawings and planned all of the boarders at the start of work. The crew fit the Schluter DITRA membrane, and worked the new wood in with the old in a very professional manner.

No job is simple!

Although it appears easy, this job threw a curve or two at the installers. The plan is to put T-molding at the joints between tile and wood and this required some thought. Where should the visible tile-wood joints be? The idea is to have a butt joint between the T-moding and cabinet trim. This means wood under the cabinets just a bit at the lounge end of the kitchen.

The second tricky bit was to locate the peninsula wood to tile joint under the cabinet but at a point where the down draft hood vent could be cut through the wood.This worked out to the location you see in the photol

And no old house is ever on the level. There is a bit of a low spot at the outside corner to the right. The plan is to use a bit extra thin set there to level the floor but it is something we can’t calculate so Evan scored an additional bag of thin set mix to allow for the unpredictable extra.

Tile laid without mortar
Trial Dry Lay

Extending the wood into the kitchen requires following the original staggering of planks.

Weaving the new wood into the old. This technique makes the floor strong and attractive by staggering the plank to plank end joints in a stepped fashion.

Life during the job

The crew has also been a hit with the dogs and have been good at briefing me on the things I needed to know to keep their work pristine while the job is in progress. We’ll be without the tile area Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. On Thursday, the tile will be dry placed on the slightly warped floor. In this condition, it is not completely supported and subject to bending loads from walking. The dogs and I have to stay off during this period of storage in place. On Friday, the tile will be set but the mortar remains squishy for 12 hours of so. The crew recommends that we stay off until Sunday morning to ensure that the mortar has cured without shifting a tile out of plane or disturbing the grout joints by catching a nail and dragging a tile. On Monday, we’ll need to stay off again to allow the grout to cure without nail marks.

Home Remodeling

Upstaged by a Houndy

Sam’s BellaBob has been putting me to shame with her regular posts. I’ve been slacking off but not for want of things to write about. In early July I took a road trip to visit the Watson Cousins Reunion and the remodel project has been gathering momentum. Since I last wrote, plaster has happened, painting has begun with the new plaster, walls, and ceiling painted, there is a stack of flooring out of the frame and tile in the garage.


Picking Materials

One of the challenges of remodeling is all of the decorating choices you must make without much in the way of a frame of reference. These choices, once made, can last the life of the structure and changing one’s mind is costly. This includes granite and tile for my project. I’ve written about visiting the stone yard and visiting the tile shops. Well, I finally made up my mind.


The winner is Saint Cecilia Light. Specifically, the stone below and the one behind it from Marva which has the best display of sensibly priced granite in Tidewater.



The winning floor tile is Roca Versailles Noce 12×24 (actually modular metric equivalent). This tile harmonizes with the cabinets and countertop. The base color is beige with brown, green, grey, and other colors in a faux travertine pattern. This is a HD printed pattern so it is likely that there won’t be two tiles alike in the floor. I’ve told the dogs that this tile is pre-tracked so they won’t be able to mess it up.


The winning backsplash tile is Crossfield White Plains 3×6 loose tile shown on the left. The granite below is an example of St Cecelia Light that is much lighter than my material. Same tones, just more white feldspar in the stone. This tile is porcelain HD printed with a light pattern that should echo the colors in the granite.


Home Remodeling

Visiting Tile Shops

In a large metropolitan area, such as the Virginia Tidewater, there are a number of tile stores, some manufacturer specific and some representing several manufacturers. You’d think tile shopping would be simple but it is not.

Home Depot and Loews

They have about everything including tile. The thing to watch about the big box stores is that they may have tile from multiple manufacturing batches on the shelf. Colors can vary from batch to batch so if you buy from them, buy only unopened boxes and check that each box is from the same production lot.

The Local Stores

Florida Tile and Dal Tile (a Mohawk company) have local brand stores in the 757. The Florida store is the nicer of the two with attractive displays and attention to light color quality in the store. Both are frustrating because they organize the tiles by marketing series rather than in some useful way.

We also have Morris Tile, Mosaic Tile, and Triton Stone, two independent tile distributors and a stone yard that sell to the trade and to DIY. These shops carry tiles from multiple manufacturers but are very different in their approach to curating what they offer. Mosaic Tile is the shop that gets it right. What Mosaic does that the others don’t is to curate the tiles by look and color. For example, all the beige faux stone tiles are together. And the beige wood look and beige solid color, and beige granite, marble, and travertine stone tiles are together. It’s genius. So obvious but, in the 757, only Mosaic does it.

And for my project the winner is Mosaic

Mosaic where I made my selections. That said, my contractor hires the tile installer and the installer or contractor actually buys material. Both my builder and a retired kitchen designer friend suggested Mosaic and I’m glad I made the trip. Their shop is newly moved to former Hanger 9 flight simulator arcade near Lynnhaven Blvd in Virginia Beach. Mosaic remodeled this old warehouse building near Barrett Auctions to have a spacious layout that is greyhound friendly and allowed me to bring Missy and Nick in. The perimeter of the store has a number of example kitchen and bath installations that you can use for inspiration. The receptionist explained the store organization and turned us loose to browse.

It was easy to find the look i desired and the colors I was after. I was able to find a nice creamy faux travertine that would harmonize nicely with cherry finished maple cabinets and the likely granite contenders. Once I found what I was looking for, they made a record of my preferences, let me check out a sample, and sent me on my way with a data sheet that my installer could use to select the materials he needed to do the installation.

At the other shops it was hard to find the Goldie Locks tile, the one with enough color and pattern to be interesting but not boring and not shouty. What Mosaic did was to split each manufacturer series by dominant color so the gray one would be with the grays, the green one with the greens, and the brown one with the browns. The effect of this is to group a slice of the color wheel by look making it easy to find that Goldie Locks pattern.

Mosaic’s Sample Policy

One unusual thing Mosaic does is to take a $10 deposit for each sample that will be refunded when the sample is returned. They really want their samples back. But they make it easy by attaching a printed label to each sample identifying the specific material and listing the related sizes and colors. This label clearly identifies the sample as a Mosaic sample so you can take it back to the proper shop.

The samples are usually of one of the mosaic sheets from the pattern and color. Mosaic mounted these to Masonite to protect them from damage and attached the label to the underside of the backer. The mounted sheets are easy to handle and give a more representative idea of the colors and patterns than is seen in a field tile from modern HDP printed patterns. Modern patterns are designed to cover 10×20 feet without repeats. Because they are mosaic sheets made by cutting and mounting bits of field tiles, the samples are several times the cost of a field tile. It is one thing to give away a $1 field tile and another to give away a $10 mosaic sheet.

I’ve got a collection of several samples from the other shops and I can’t remember what came from where to return them. But I have no skin in the game so they probably won’t go back. And to find related items, I have to go back to the website or PDF catalog.

Again genius and so simple and so obvious a practice you’d think it would be common across the industry.

Home Remodeling

At the stone yard

On Tuesday, Nick, Missy, and I hopped in the GTI to test the new EZpass with a trip to Triton Stone in Portsmouth, Virginia. Triton Stone is our local stone supplier. Triton imports granite, marble, onyx, and quartzite from suppliers world wide. Being a natural product, each piece of stone is unique. The primary constituents of granite are quartz, feldspar, and mica. It is common for garnet to be present also. Impurities influence the color of the garnet, feldspar, quartz, and mica. The relative amounts and arrangement of the different constituents give the stone its look.

What’s in a Name

The producer names each granite. The name suggests a pattern and color and means something to those in the trade but are opaque to those not in the trade. Often the name reflects the primary colors and pattern complexity of the stone and perhaps some of the secondary colors in the stone. Pricing of stone is like pricing of diamonds. If it can be made to appear exotic, rare, or somewhat unique, it costs more. If it is in fashion, it costs more. If the yard is full of it, it costs less. The common stones are

  • Saint Cecelia, and Saint Cecelia Extra A
  • Venetian Ice, Gold, etc
  • Giallo Fioritto (pictured)
  • Giallo Ornamental
  • Kashmir White

These stones have a medium pattern, warm coloring except for the Kashmir White which is a bit icy to my eyes, and a peppering of garnet. These inexpensive stones do not have strong veining.

The Giallo Fioritto stone pictured is a low tier stone. Finely patterned stone, uniformly colored white, ivory, cream, or grey stone, and granite with pronounced feldspar (solid color) or quartz (crystal white or gray) bands are mid-tier or upper tier stones. These stones ofter have red, green or blue accent color mixed with ivory or white.The really unusual colors and patterns of quartzite and onyx are exotic stones.  Strongly colored stones with dramatic structural elements to the pattern are exotic stones.

Remembering what you saw

I can’t remember what a stone looks like so I took photos. On a second trip with overcast sky (high color temperature indirect light), I took photos of stones that were my taste including the end label in the photograph. When I returned home, I spooled the photos off, cropped, straightened, and corrected for illumination to make images like the feature image above. These are proving a big help in remembering what i’ve seen. Unlike Internet images, these are the stones actually available for purchase and the images have not had the snot compressed out of them for quick loading. They are high resolution low compression JPEGS shot using an iPhone 6+. This technique works nicely for the low and mid tier stones. For upper tier and exotic stones, it will be less useful as important feature elements are located away from the label, the fancy stones are in the warehouse, and room is limited to compose photographs that include the stone’s dramatic features that you would be paying for. But you can capture the primary color and character of the stone.

One Name, Many Sources

Stones sharing a name may be from different parts of a single quarry or from one of several quarries that have similar color and pattern. Because stone color and pattern varies from one quarry to another and as a deposit is quarried, color and pattern match is best when the slabs are cut from a single part of the mountain and are used in order sliced. When looking at slabs, you will see that each has been numbered in slice order so they can be sold and used together. When you are choosing stone, you will not know how many will be needed but a small kitchen will require 1 to 2 slabs. A large high end project may require several. The number of slabs needed may rule out some lots of a given stone pattern.

When to use upper tier stone

Use of exotic stones makes sense when the finished stone will express the features that make the stone exotic. If you are cutting the stone for 24 inch counter tops, or cutting openings for sinks and cook tops, you should choose low and mid-tier stones because the final installation may require cutting out the large scale features that give a high tier stone its interest and drama. Tables and large island tops not having sink or cooktop cutouts are an appropriate use for upper tier stone.

Pricing Stone

Stone yards don’t talk prices to clients. The price of a slab at the port is relatively low. The handling of that slab from the port to your home raises the cost. Some factors influencing cost.

  • Freight cost from the port to the fabricator
  • Color and pattern rarity and complexity
  • The amount of cutting (time and abrasive use)
  • The amount of polishing
  • The sealing techniques used
  • The edge treatment used (fancy is more)
  • The cutting of openings
  • The amount of salable remnant left
  • The amount of waste

Different stone yards have different schema for classifying stones by price. Triton talks low, medium, high, and exotic. Other yards have more bands within the readily available stones and several tiers of exotic prices, usually 3, and Trump/Romney stone. No yard associates a price with any of these price bands, just an ordering from low to high that can be determined from the price band name.

Finished Price and Job Price

My contractor priced my job using an allowance of $52 per square foot which covers the more common stones, finishes, edge treatments and cutting of cooktop and sink openings, and reasonable waste. If the finished cost of the stone is more or less, the job cost is adjusted at final settlement. Only the fabricator can get from a slab cost to a delivered cost. The yard can’t price the stone for the client because they don’t know how many slabs a job will require, the amount of salable remnant, or the cost to finish the stone for its intended use.

When to Pick Stone

You need to pick stone pretty early in the project process, first during conceptual design so the contractor can set an allowance rate and again before cabinet fabrication. Because price changes with availability, you need to do it using this two step method.

During bid solicitation pick a reference stone that reflects your taste in color and pattern so the contractor can set an appropriate allowance rate. Once the project is underway, select the specific stone and slabs from the price band used for the estimate. Your contractor will adjust the job price at settlement to reflect the as-built cost of the stone.

Keep in mind that all stone that can be seen together should come from a single slab or consecutive slabs. Stone from different queries or different faces on the mountain will have different color and pattern so all stone that you want matched must be bought together from consecutive slabs. This is why you make a second trip with your fabricator to get the correct number of consecutive slabs.

Stone Pick Drives Tile and Backsplash Picks

The stone hue and saturation drives the tile color and pattern. There is an art to picking tile that is compatible with the color and pattern of your stone. The tile should repeat the hues of the stone but have a simpler pattern so that it is not competing with it. Generally, the tile colors will be less saturated than those in the stone and the pattern will be larger than that of the stone, expressed as random areas of two or three harmonious hues with linear and point features in contrasting colors. My taste runs to a honed finish floor to have good wet slip resistance, hide the week’s dust and dog hair, and avoid glare from overhead lights.

The stone pick also drives the backsplash material pick. Again, the idea is to harmonize with the stone by echoing the field color form the stone with less saturation or by picking a complementary color at low saturation. Travertine or travertine with mosaic feature band are popular. I prefer a honed finish for easy cleaning and a low glare look with the stone variation providing some interest.