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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.

Garage Conversion: Week 2

Less than a week into demolition, we’ve already uncovered our first big “surprise” – the plumbing. We’re not completely blindsighted though. When we bought the house, we knew that the plumbing and electrical were extremely outdated. On top of that, the lack of maintenance over the years has led to overgrown tree roots infesting the pipelines. In simplest terms, we’ll need to introduce a new sewage line for the kitchen, laundry room, and garage conversion/ADU.

Like I said above, the root of the problem originated from the enormous ficus tree that used to be in the front yard. This was also the very first thing we removed as soon as we closed escrow on the house.

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However, the root infestation damage had already been done. Years of neglect meant that the roots were growing uncontrollably underground. When they dug to expose the sewer pipelines, they also realized that the pipes were old and even had a small crack where water was pooling. This meant that the roots had a constant source of water to continue growing into spider web-like tendrils.

Our contractor and his plumber were also able to make informed judgments about the work that’s been done on the house over the years. In short, there are two sewage lines that connect to the main sewage line: one that connects the kitchen and the other that connects the bathrooms. We hired a plumber last year to clear the bathroom lines, and the plumber yesterday was able to run his scope clearly through it (no root infestation there, yay!).

We’re actually pretty happy that we’re discovering all of this now (instead of after re-doing the landscaping or driveway and then needing to go back and rip it out ). The new plumbing work is expected to set us back by one week during which we are advised not to use the kitchen sinks or dishwasher. Ah, the joys of home ownership.

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Garage Conversion: Week 1

Phase 2 of our house renovations began on Thursday. That means we have a dumpster in our driveway (again) for the next two weeks while they demolish parts of the garage and dig a 2 ft. trench around it.

We’ve made a lot of memories in our garage, namely spending countless hours in it last year painting the kitchen cabinets. We’ve learned so much and feel much more prepared to take on this “smaller” project. We also decided to hire a different contractor for a few reasons, including better communication and more organized project management. Marcus at Custom Home Craft has been providing really clear blueprints and daily updates to move everything forward smoothly. It’s only been 3 days, but we’ve seen so much progress and improvement already.

His crew cleared out the old drywall inside the garage and immediately started jack-hammering the concrete pavement between the house and the garage. We’ll be turning this into a laundry room hallway that connects the house to the garage, and they need to dig a 2 ft. trench to create a crawl space where they’ll run the electrical and plumbing.

They’re also clearing and digging the excess brush around the garage and in the front yard. On the first day alone, they filled the entire dumpster. It’s crazy to see parts of the house and garage we’ve never seen before because they were hidden under old vines.

They’ll be removing this stone wall and replacing it with stucco. We’ll also be adding the front door here. Initially, we wanted the door in the back to avoid have 2 entrances in the front of the house. However, the fire department made us change that so we’re rethinking of ways to landscape the front paths. A couple ideas include adding steps that lead to a small gate or landing in front of the ADU.

Also as of this morning, the decorative stone wall on the side of our house was removed. Although it had character, it was extremely bulky and limited our access to the side of the house. Now that it’s removed, we’re able to patch it with stucco to match the rest of the house and open up the walkway which we’d like to eventually level with concrete. This also means we can easily roll the yard bins to and from the backyard much easier.

Slowly but surely, we’re making much-needed progress to bring more curb appeal to the house. Our contractor even told us that while his crew was working, a couple stopped in front of our house and applauded their work. Our neighbors can’t wait to see our project unfold!

The King’s Roost: Advanced Sourdough Class

A few weeks ago, I took my very first bread class at The King’s Roost in Silverlake! It was Alex’s super thoughtful Valentine’s Day gift to me, and I was both excited and nervous because I wasn’t sure if my skills were “advanced” enough. Turns out, there was nothing to be worried about and I can’t wait to go back and learn something new.

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My class started at 1PM, and I arrived a couple minutes early to get situated. I brought my 12 qt. plastic bin that I’ve been mixing my dough in and a notebook with questions. The entrance to The King’s Roost is in the back, and there’s a small parking lot for easy access.

As soon as you walk in, there’s a small storefront full of breadmaking tools, flours, grains, mills, and other homemade goods. There’s also a long table where my classmates and I set our stuff down, and a kitchen and countertop where the class was hosted. My class was relatively small (5 women including myself) and we immediately started getting to know each other. Many of them were semi-familiar with breadmaking and grew up with a love for cooking, but not necessarily sourdough experts. One woman didn’t even realize she had signed up for an advanced class! But Roe was such a great teacher and so supportive as he answered our questions and walked us through the process.

My biggest takeaway was Roe’s deep knowledge of grains and flours and even deeper appreciation for all things handmade. As soon as the class started, he started telling us about his DIY tilapia pond, aquaponics setup, and his colorful experience with sheep herding, beekeeping, soapmaking, and of course breadmaking. As he told us more about his background, he toasted 2 loaves of pre-made bread for the class to munch on and served us coffee.

After about an hour, he started teaching the class and showed us his techniques for mixing a fresh batch of dough from start to finish. Then he brought us to the storefront and explained the uses for hard white flours vs. soft white flours, locally grown whole wheat grains, ancient sea salt, and more. Finally, we milled our own flour and started mixing our dough alongside him.

As we wrapped our dough to bring home and finish rising, Roe’s loaf was fresh from the oven and ready to enjoy. As he was slicing into it, he also whipped fresh butter on-the-spot with whipping cream and this really nifty Chef’n butter-making gadget. It was the most wholesome, fresh experience that made me love bread even more than I already do.

As class concluded, we took home some of Roe’s bread and sourdough starter. Each of us also purchased something from his store and exchanged contact info to coordinate taking classes in the future together. If you’re a maker or a baker, you must take one of Roe’s classes!

Auburn

I celebrated my very memorable 29th birthday at Eric Bost’s new restaurant, Auburn. It opened mid-March, directly across from Nancy SIlverton’s Mozza.

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Bost’s talents have graced iconic restaurants around the world including Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée and Les Ambassadeurs at the Hôtel de Crillon. Coincidentally, after Alex and I got engaged in Paris, we dined at Le Meurice de Alain Ducasse – decorated with two Michelin Stars and the most expensive meal of our lives. Bost has also been Chef de Cuisine of Guy Savoy in Las Vegas, receiving 2 Michelin Stars himself. Most recently, Bost was the Executive Chef at LA’s beloved République. Needless to say, our expectations for Auburn were high.

Alex took an Uber to meet me there while I drove directly from work. My route took me through Santa Monica, Century City, Beverly Hills, and along the eclectic storefronts of Melrose. I passed by hipster coffee shops, luxury boutiques, sketchy tattoo parlors, and even a cat cafe. It really felt like a little tour of Los Angeles. As the sun was setting, I put on a “California Dreamin’” Spotify playlist to soak it all in.

A few weeks before, I had unknowingly passed by Auburn and thought to myself, “That looks like a nice, fancy restaurant.” The exterior is clean, geometric, and intimate. A modern wooden door with a large glass panel welcomes you in. We had reservations for 7:30, and the hostess led us to our table in the semi-outdoor terrace with a direct view of the kitchen.

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I had been studying the menu every day and reading reviews on Eater LA and Yelp to figure out what we should order. We decided to each indulge in the 6-course so we could try the full menu. The waiter explains that the menu reads like a book. Items on the top left are lighter appetizers, courses in the middle are entrees, and dishes on the last row are desserts.

At the end of the meal, the host came out to ask us how our meal was. We gave our compliments and when he asked about how we had heard about Auburn, I I mentioned that we had dined at Le Meurice by Alain Ducasse. The name drop prompted the host to bring Chef Bost out. He talked to us and even signed our menu which is now hanging beautifully next to our Parisian menu from Le Meurice, signed by executive Chef Jocelyn Herland.

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Overall, Auburn is an exceptional French fine dining experience with California flair. It’s upscale yet still casual. Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” played in the background on the outdoor speakers. Every ingredient and design choice is intentional. The custom furniture is stunning yet functional. The tablecloths have magnets that snap into place under the tables to keep the fabric taut with crisp edges.

For anyone who enjoys and appreciates fine dining, Auburn is a must. I can’t wait to see how it continues to grow and evolve the LA food culture.