Garage Conversion Week 15

This week marked the beginning of the IKEA kitchen cabinets installation. As we expected, it hasn’t been the smoothest experience and likely the last time we use IKEA for custom cabinets.

Pros: 

The IKEA software is easy to use and quite advanced. It gives you a great 3D rendering of how the cabinets will look, including opening the doors to see how the drawers will pull out. Everything is modular and fits together neatly. We went to the store a few times to talk it out with an IKEA kitchen consultant before placing our order. Plus, they gave us a heads-up that the 10% off kitchen sale was happening in a week, so we were able to take advantage of getting a few hundred dollars back.

Cons:

When it came time to place our order, it was chaotic (like any big IKEA purchase tends to be). The kitchen consultant takes the mouse from you, clicks around to double check everything, and then escorts you to checkout. Meanwhile, an unsupervised child was running around us and printing out an excessive amount of pages (and we happened to be standing right next to the printer). It was really annoying and distracting, especially when we were in the middle of making a big purchase. A few of the pieces were out of stock too (like the drawer handles), so we had to pick them up from another IKEA location.

In the next few days, Alex received phone calls to schedule the installation and fabrication appointments. They were booked up more than we would have liked, so the earliest appointment we could snag was in 2 weeks. Luckily our contractor said it was ok, but it was still a little inconvenient.

The day before installation, we didn’t receive a phone call to confirm. So Alex had to call customer service himself and get redirected a few times before solidifying the installation time. On Monday morning, two installers arrived. But as they were placing everything in, they realized they were missing a couple pieces. So Alex had to go back to IKEA again and purchase the additional legs needed (a $7 purchase that took 2 hours of his day).

And like we expected, the drop-in cooktop caused a headache (and is still continuing to be an issue). At first, it didn’t fit and couldn’t drop in even though it was an IKEA brand cooktop. So the fabricators came back and cut more of the cabinets to drop it in smoothly. Then the downdraft hood needed special measurements so the fabricator had to come back twice to figure out how to get everything flush against the counter. As of today, we’re waiting to hear back on their recommendation for extending the cabinets.

While all the kitchen drama was happening, we got the side fences installed – which means we can finally let the dogs run freely around the backyard! To celebrate, we hosted a 4th of July barbecue for about 15 friends. Alex was so excited to grill burgers and bacon wrapped hotdogs, while I made a strawberry pie, sangria, and showed our friends around the ADU.

Our good friend Albert also stayed with us for the weekend and helped stain the wood fences and beams. In return, we grilled him a fat rack of Costco ribs. :) 

Garage Conversion Week 14

We started off the week by choosing grout colors for the bathroom subway tile, floor tile, and laundry room tile. It’s kind of like choosing paint colors where you end up comparing different shades of the same color. Like the last time we did this, the tile guy gave us row of plastic samples to choose from. However, this time he gave us the option of a sanded or unsanded finish. That’s because the laundry room tile can be spaced apart further which allows for the sanded finish. It’s one of those things you never think again, but once you see it, you’ll always notice it. 

In the end, we decided to do sanded grout in the laundry room to keep the lines cleaner. The grout is more of a brown tan to bring out the wood grain. In the bathroom, we’re doing pure white (unsanded) for the subway tile and a light gray for the floor (unsanded). 

In addition to the tile, our laminate floors went in throughout the living room, kitchen, and hallway. It’s the same laminate we got from Valley One Carpet so it matches the main house perfectly. And like the main house, we have the floors running parallel with the beams to make the room feel longer. Also, the front door is in!

The exterior got another layer of paint. On Saturday, Alex and our good friend Daniel came over to help sand the beams in the entryway. We could have simply painted over the beams, but there was so much grime and dead paint that it made more sense to start with a clean slate instead. Even though it was only 3 beams, it still took the entire day to strip the paint with a heat gun, scrape the paint off, and sand it clean. This weekend, we’ll stain the wood a golden oak color to give it a rich, warm accent.

Sunday was spent hardcore gardening. We did our usual Costco run, followed by Home Depot to return excess bathroom tile ($100 back, woohoo!) and take advantage of its 3 for $12 veggie plant sale. So we bought lavender, Japanese squash, a new tomato plant, another rose bush, and a strawberry plant that I’ve been wanting since spring. I transplanted it into a terra cotta pot that had been sitting around when we bought the house. It had been full of dead leaves so I cleaned it and can’t wait to see the little strawberries that sprout.

While Alex continued to sand the beams, I cleaned up the backyard with much-needed maintenance to get it all in a good place before our 4th of July barbecue. I turned the compost, planted all our new plants, and rearranged our containers. 

Alex also tested stain colors for the interior/exterior beams and wooden fence planks. He tried 5 stains, ranging from natural to mocha. We chose our favorite before revealing it to each other at the very end – and to our surprise, we both chose the exact same one! To get a better sense of it, Alex stained the veggie bed so we can see how many coats of stain we’ll need and how it might change in the sunlight.

And while we were doing all this, the electrician came to work on the ADU. In this way, he could get more done without the construction crew in his way. 

We were literally working in every corner of the house. My shoulders are still sore as I type this. But there’s no other way we would want to spend our weekends. Alex and I love having a project to work on (especially Alex), and it’s so satisfying to watch the house continue its transformation.

Garage Conversion Week 13

We started the weekend STRONG by running around Home Depot, Anderson Moulding, IKEA, and Lowe’s – all before noon on Saturday morning. We were on a mission to complete a lot of little errands and gather more house items, including the bathroom tile. 

One thing we started to consider was whether we wanted the subway tile to be arrange in a brick format or stacked symmetrically. The first way is standard, but the second way is a little more modern and polished, though it requires a very blocky space. In the end, we decided to move forward with the standard brick arrangement because our tub will have some odd angles that would potentially break the precise stacked pattern. This blog post is an amazing overview of all the layout choices we had to consider.

[sources: Design Sponge, My Paradissi]

On Sunday, we spent our entire day at home and tackled more projects, cleaning, and planning. Alex spend half the day removing paint from the exterior beams and sanding it down. The paint was severely chipped so in order to work with it at all, we needed to remove the damage. We love having the exposed wood grain as our accent (initially we thought about painting it black, but it’s too pretty to cover up!). This weekend, I’ll apply the clear coat paint to seal it, just like we did for the door while Alex cleans up the 2 other beams behind it.

But the highlight of our weekend was definitely grilling! Alex is a grill master, and he was so excited to finally purchase this Cuisinart grill and get it set up after the gardeners cleared the backyard on Wednesday and Thursday. Now we have wood chips around our raised garden bed and fruit trees, which should help with controlling the excess dust and weeds that have been popping up.

The gardeners also re-piped our hose hookups and added a new nozzle, so we have fully functioning water sources both in the front and back of our large wall. It’s nice to have so much space on our lot but also a bit overwhelming to maintain and design. We’re still considering what to do in terms of landscaping, but the grill fits in nicely with Alex’s old outdoor furniture on the (cracked) concrete for now. We were also extra motivated to get this all set up for our upcoming 4th of July BBQ.

Our first meal was a nice slab of Costco salmon, and for dinner, Alex truly outdid himself with smoked brisket, marinated in cumin, cayenne, and sugar. It turned out super moist with a delightfully roasted crust.

We also picked fresh rosemary and fresh green beans from our garden to make roasted garlic mashed potatoes and stir-fried green beans to accompany the amazing main dish. I’m salivating just thinking about it again. 

And finally, one of the bigger updates – we have front steps! At the beginning of the week, they dug the ground and framed the steps. Then on Thursday and Friday, they poured the concrete and spent all of Friday smoothing it over in 30 min. intervals. It’s the perfect height and won’t need a handrail to pass inspection because they’ll use soil to create a 12 in. slope that matches its height.

Garage Conversion Week 12

At the end of last week, the crew started installing drywall – which means the ADU will be transforming even more quickly.

On Saturday morning, I made a batch of crispy waffles from scratch to fuel us for the day. I even whipped egg whites by hand and folded them into the waffle mix to make them extra fluffy.

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Then Alex started by sanding down the beam to clear up the random paint splotches. Our contractor will be removing the weird metal and creating a custom fitting. Meanwhile, I clear-coated the door with 5 layers of polyurethane (which took the entire weekend in between letting each layer dry). We followed the same technique as last year. Can you believe that we clear-coated our front door in the garage?

As our arms and backs got tired, we took breaks by cleaning the backyard. We’re hosting a 4th of July barbecue so we want to make sure there’s room for our firepit and new grill. We’re also hiring a gardener to come this week to clear all the weeds and lay down wood chips. This should help with controlling the excess dust and priming the area for irrigation. I also turned my compost and even found a lizard hiding in the weeds.

In the late afternoon, we stopped by Sears Outlet and browsed aisles of heavily discounted appliances. Luckily, we were able to find a downdraft hood island (pictured here) which will complement our IKEA cooktop perfectly and saved us almost $1,000 because combo cooktops + downdraft hoods are super expensive. And if you’re wondering what a downdraft hood is, we’ve only just learned recently about them too. Basically, instead of cutting a hole in the ceiling for a typical hood vent, our contractor recommended a downdraft hood which will suck air down into the island and pump it out through a vent at the bottom. The vent will electronically rise out of the island, and with the push of a button, it’ll lower back inside the island when not in use.

We also bought a $600 fridge from Pacific Sales Kitchen & Home at Best Buy. It’s nothing fancy and pretty similar to the fridge I had for 5 years as I moved around apartments.

This time around, it’s been much easier to arrange deliveries since Alex is working from home, but inevitably there are still some hiccups. Our Lowe’s delivery was trickier than expected because they didn’t communicate the status clearly to us. But finally on Sunday afternoon, we received our packages which included the tub and interior fireproof door. In order to pass inspections, we’ve temporarily boarded up the door that connects the kitchen to the laundry room, but ultimately this will be replaced by an interior fire-rated door.

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And finally on late Sunday afternoon, we stopped by Dunn Edwards to to choose exterior and interior paint colors. We’ll be keeping the garage walls a matte white called Swiss Coffee. We’re still choosing the exterior colors… something gray and neutral. There are multiple areas we need to account for, including the exterior wall, beams, and underside of the roof which I just learned are called “eaves.” It’s pretty cool to see where the new sections of the house are becoming attached to the existing main house. Here are some rough Photoshop mock-ups to get a better idea of the final result.

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Garage Conversion Week 11

We passed another inspection on Monday and are moving full steam ahead on tiles, floors, and bathroom fixtures. Last week, I found the tile and aesthetic that I wanted to achieve. So this weekend, we needed to gather all the materials and supply them to our contractor. Then his crew will install everything over the next few weeks.

In this weekend alone, we went to Home Depot three times, two Lowe’s locations, Target, and IKEA. It was exhausting, but necessary.

After doing the main house, we’ve learned to make decisions quickly, confidently, and within budget. Some of the hardest decisions come down to creating cohesion. For example, we were drawn to this gold faucet, but decided to buy the matte black finish instead to avoid clashing with the satin chrome showerhead and tub spout that we already purchased months ago.

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Pinterest is my best friend and helps keep us from wasting time looking for inspiration or expensive, hard-to-find fixtures. We know what’s within our means and from there, it becomes a matter of calculating how much square footage we’ll need. And when it comes to tiles, each location has a set number of units available in their inventory (similar to furniture). So we have to drive around to different Home Depot and Lowe’s locations to gather the necessary amount of units. And we always save the receipts so we can return any excess.


At Home Depot, we purchased the bathroom tile – a charcoal, concrete-like ash tile. We still need to purchase the white subway tile once we take more measurements.

At Lowe’s, we ordered the 72 in. bathtub (a special order because 60 in. is the standard), Toto toilet, matte black bathroom faucet, light wood-grain laundry room tile, herringbone backsplash, and interior fire-proof door that connects the laundry room with the main house. They’ll be delivering it all to the house this week. My favorite part about the backsplash is that it falls within the same family of our current kitchen backsplash – same brand, same colors, different tile shape.

We also placed the order for our kitchen at IKEA. We used their software to design the space over a month ago. It even includes a 3D view where you can digitally open and close all the cabinets. Within the next couple of days, they’ll give us a call to set up time to take in-person measurements and install the cabinetry. It’s moments like these that make us really grateful that Alex is working from home.

We still need to choose interior and exterior paint colors, door handles, side yard fences, install a glass shower door, and a few other things. As of this morning, they were cleaning the roof and hammering it together to the main house. And now that the walls are insulated and soundproofed, it actually feels like a cozy, studio apartment.

Garage Conversion Week 9 & 10

While Alex and I were traveling in NYC, the crew made lots of progress on the ADU including window installation!

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All the electrical and plumbing are pretty much set up, so I spent the weekend perusing tile and tubs at Lowe’s and Home Depot. We’re going to use charcoal tile in the bathroom and light gray wood-grain tile in the laundry room.

I’ve also decided that I want to style the room in the same aesthetic as Auburn – calm, inviting, and similar to what we have in the main house, but still unique in its own way.

The only downside is that when I came home, there was no hot water. But I’ve gotten really good at boiling water in the electric kettle. And in the grand scheme of things, it’s a minor inconvenience that all be worth it later.

Garage Conversion: Week 8

The walls are up and the windows have arrived. The crew built a makeshift front door so we can actually walk inside and get an idea of how the ADU will feel when it’s complete. From what we can see, it’s going to get plenty of light and there’s ample room for a bed and living area. Albert was in town and accompanied us on an IKEA trip so we could further plan the kitchen and get ideas for how to divide the studio space.

This week, they’re continuing with framing. The ADU is officially connected to the kitchen doorway via our work-in-progress laundry room. Next, we need to choose a bathtub and tile!

Garage Conversion: Week 7

One of my favorite parts of the process: door buying! We went back to Urban Doors to pick a walnut door in the same family of styles as our front door. We wanted one that was similar but different to our front door and most of all, used minimal glass for added privacy and security.

We’re prepping and planning for the ADU kitchen and bathroom fixtures, so naturally we went back to IKEA. To get an early quote, we designed the kitchen using the in-store software which is surprisingly advanced. In addition to a blueprint layout, it even gives you a 3D-rendered model of your setup so you can open the digital drawers and cabinets before you place your order. We didn’t order anything yet, but now we have a very solid idea of what it will be shortly.

We also got a good look inside the garage. They’ve made lots of progress on the ceiling which will eventually house cans of recessed lighting. We’ll still have some of the beams exposed to match the ceiling in the main house.

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Then the weekend was spent with family as my parents were in town. We took them around Century City mall, ate lunch at Din Tai Fung, took a scenic route to Manhattan Beach, and had the whole family over for dinner. Mother’s Day was spent at Huntington Library gardens (something we’ve been wanting to do together for years), followed by lunch at EMC Seafood, and a quick trip to Costco to pick up steaks for dinner. It was the perfect home-cooked meal to wrap up the lovely weekend.

Garage Conversion: Week 6

On our usual Saturday morning Costco run, we got first dibs on a new selection of fruit trees and plants. We picked out a blooming hydrangea to plant next to our roses, and Alex was able to find a hybrid Asian pear tree – 4 types of pears on 4 different branches, all attached to one tree! Costco shoppers were very curious and kept stopping to ask us about it.

We moved the olive tree to give the new Asian pear tree enough support to grow against the concrete fence. We also checked up on all the budding fruits and veggies in the raised bed, and cut the roses to bring some bouquets inside.

Afterwards, we went to the Ferguson showroom in Santa Monica (recommended by our contractor) to get a quote for bathroom hardware (faucets, shower head) and toilets. We’re sticking to similar fixtures that are in the guest bathroom for consistency and to fit our budget. The only main difference is that we’re choosing satin nickel finish instead of chrome. We’ve learned that satin nickel is easier to clean and won’t hold hard water stains (our kitchen faucets are satin nickel, everything else is chome). Since we anticipate the ADU will need routine cleanings, we want to make it as low maintenance as possible.

Monday morning was a big day – the large cement truck arrived bright and early and the crew began pouring concrete. They started with the perimeter, using a hose to get into the nooks and crannies. Throughout the week, they continued laying the foundation and removed the wooden supports by Friday.

Garage Conversion: Week 5 (Goodbye, stone wall)

Now that framing is complete, we’re gearing up to pour concrete. This week, the crew put incisions in the stone wall that faces the street and knocked it down on Wednesday. Well, not quite knocked. More like attached it to a truck and pulled it down (it wasn’t fully attached to the roof of the garage, which made the job easier but also explains why we had mold and water damage inside that wall). Alex was home when they did it and was able to record this video… and felt over 1,000 lbs. of stone thud to the ground. This stone wall was the same material used inside the house to cover the fireplace. The previous owners really, really liked stone.

We also continued cleaning up the backyard dirty and dust by buying 9 more bags of gravel. This was in addition to the 6 bags we started with last week. The dogs can now use this area to potty without making their paws dirty and tracking it into the house. We also purchased a Bissell Crosswave Wet/Dry Vacuum to deep clean the laminate floors and living room rug. For a year, we were scrubbing the floors on our hands and knees, manually wringing towels in the guest bathtub. We decided it was time to upgrade and invest in something that would get the job done more efficiently.

While Alex was taking care of all of this, I tackled the bamboo forest in the backyard. The previous owners planted these to provide coverage from the freeway that’s literally behind our backyard. However, the rainy winter has caused them to grow out of control like weeds. Alex took a saw to chop them down. Then I peeled off the leaves and used shears to cut them into uniform lengths. I tied some together with twine to create trellises for the green beans in our raised bed and other plants that needed extra vertical support. I love being able to re-use the natural resources in our backyard. These bamboo stakes cost $2-$6 at Home Depot, and now we pretty much have an endless supply! Anyone want some?

I cleaned up the raised bed, keeping a watchful eye on all the budding tomatoes that should ripen once the temperatures get a tad bit warmer. Our snap peas are especially flourishing and we harvested enough for dinner.

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The next day, Alex removed the tree and bush outside of our living room window to make room for new rose bushes. We picked up three from Costco: red, white and orange/pink. We’ll be adding wood chips to top off the soil, but for now, the roses are loving their little cozy corner and we can admire them from the comfort of our sofa.

Garage Conversion: Week 4

Spring is blooming like crazy in our backyard. We’ve noticed ants, mosquitos, and various other critters making themselves at home in the overgrown weeds and grass. So before it could grow any more out of control, we decided to head to Home Depot (per usual) and purchase some tools and gravel to clean things up.

While it’s nice to see the new blooms and green sprouts, it’s also important to remember that all of these will eventually fade and contribute to our original problem of overgrown brush and piles of dead leaves. This year, the overwhelming size of our backyard is really setting in and we want to be sure that all our hard work doesn’t go to waste.

We started by picking up two new fruit trees at Costco – plum and peach! (which barely fit inside my car) Next we tidied up the garden and planted more seeds including radish and white corn. Then I went to town pulling up the weeds while Alex excavated around the existing rusty pipes and tried to figure out where they were coming from and how they connected (if at all).

On Sunday, we bought new gardening shears and a weed remover. I had way too much fun trimming the trees and overgrown bushes (which are slightly overtaking the windows now). It’s like giving them a haircut! And the de-weeder has a long pole so we don’t have to hunch over and strain our backs.

On Tuesday, the city approved our blueprints and issued all the ADU permits! They had minor tweaks and feedback over the past couple of weeks so we’re happy to finally get their approval and move forward. Later throughout the week, our contractor and crew removed the old cracked pipes that were infested with roots (proof below) and framed out the crawl space, doors, and windows.

Garage Conversion: Week 3

While the plumbing situation is still in progress and our contractor is dealing with the city for final approval on our blueprints, we spent the weekend cleaning up the backyard.

Saturday morning was spent at the beach before we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. Alex tackled the leftover tree stumps on the side of the house while I tended to our raised veggie bed and fruit trees. The previous owners had leftover landscaping blocks which I used to section off the peas and pumpkins. Then I plucked up all the weeds and grass surrounding the raised bed because they were warping the wood and relocated the trimmings to cover the plants and trees. It’s basically free mulch and will help our plants’ roots retain moisture.

Alex’s task was much more difficult so on Sunday, he hired two day laborers (including Freddy, the same person who helped him assemble the shed a few weeks ago). Freddy brought one of his dudes who came with his own tools including a huge axe. Alex also rented a tree stump grinder from Home Depot which Freddy helped transport in his truck. After about 4 hours, they removed the two large stumps on the side, two stumps in the back near the fruit trees, one stump near the veggie bed, another stump near the living room window, and one by the backyard stairs that was buried under ivy and old brush – 7 stumps total! It was a ton of work but much cheaper than if we had hired a tree removal company.

After the garage conversion is complete, we’ll work on building a DIY irrigation system. There are rusty hose hook-ups in the backyard which we’re hoping to get up and running with a little rejiggering.

Towards the end of the week, our contractor and his crew got the pipes in place, removed the garage door, and framed out the windows. It’s starting to take shape, and now all we need is the city’s permit approval so we can start bringing these blueprints to life.