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Making A Room

June 10, 2016

One of the first decisions in preparing for our recent Big Ass Dinner, as Sue wrote about, was exactly WHERE to have the dinner. Last’s year’s Big Dinner was held in our apartment, and we realized that it max’d out the space. So we chose the newly dry southern-most section of the second floor, and picked a date that would likely have suitable ambient temperature, as there was no heating or cooling up there. Once the date was confirmed with our guests, all systems were go to make it happen.

We also felt like this event would be a precursor to the kinds of special dinners we would be able to host when we remodel the second floor.

The space was quite a mess; years of buckets and tarp rigging hit a crescendo last Fall when the old roof was peeled off, and we had to add a dozen more tarps when rain hit us between the old roof removal and new roof installation:


Tarps galore just before new roof.

Once the new roof went down, I removed all of the tarps & buckets.

The first step in getting this space ready for Big Ass Dinner was clearing out all the crap, then looking around for other “in place” items to remove to make the space more presentable.

There were several locations where old radiator pipes poked through the concrete floor from below.

Old radiator parts - to be removed.

Old radiator supply & return pipes – to be removed.

These were long abandoned – and I’d cut them off in the basement over 5 years ago when we were clearing that area out for our apartment construction.

I prefer not to permanently abandon steel in wall cavities if I don’t have to, so I broke these pipes loose from the concrete and then tried to pull up as much as I could before cutting them free.

However – because the first floor has higher ceilings than the second floor – several pipes were actually TOO LONG for me to pull up, and they would hit the ceiling before sliding free from the hole. THAT sucked.

One of the pipes that was too long to pull out.

One of the pipes that was too long to pull out. (No, I did not intend to make a cross.)

So I had to pull up some, make a half-cut in the pipe to bend it, then keep pulling up to get more pipe out of the hole.

Once the pipes were removed, the voids in the concrete floor were quite large. These were the original openings made in the concrete made for the radiator pipes about a hundred years ago – the infill around the pipes was pretty loose now so I removed all of that.

Which then needed to be filled back in.

I’ve written many blog posts about filling in concrete holes, so I’ll skip the details this time. Rest assured I did the usual prep, bonding agent, etc.

A hole in the floor partially filled.

A hole in the floor partially filled.

Then the fun began. My biggest concern with this space being used for a dinner was that plaster or paint would fall into guest’s food (or ON them). So I scraped, poked and chipped every square inch of the ceiling, and any hollow-sounding areas got jack-hammered off. (Well, actually “bulldogged” off…)

Scraping the ceiling from the scaffold - a great upper body workout!

Scraping the ceiling from the scaffold – a great upper body workout!

It wasn’t long before the floor was filled with ceiling plaster. There were so many piles of plaster chunks that it was getting hard to roll the scaffolding around.

The floor quickly became trashed.

The floor quickly became trashed.

When demolition moved to the area over the stairs, I pulled out a giant heavy duty tarp and covered most of the stairwell, to keep debris from going down the stairs, as it would just track into the apartment and the dock.

Big tarp catching debris over the stairs.

Big tarp catching debris over the stairs.


After many days of this, I realized that a very fine cloud of plaster/sand dust was traveling everywhere. It was very fine and light and could get into the tiniest cracks & crevices. This was also quite noticeable when the sunbeams came through the windows. (Mom – I always wore a respirator.)

Sunbeams showing the dusty clouds.

Sunbeams highlighting the dusty clouds.


This prep work took place a few months ago, before daylight savings time changed and when the sun was setting at 5:00, and since weekends weren’t enough to get it all done, I was often working evenings in the dark and needed additional lighting. I found some cool LED worklights at Costco that are really bright and never get hot.

Often had to work at night...

Often had to work at night…

After the ceiling & scaffolding work was done, I scraped/chipped all of the walls, and compared to the ceiling work, it was practically a vacation. I finished the walls in 1/10th time and it felt great to have all that scraping finished!

But  now there was the problem of all the scraped-off stuff left on the floor. We shoveled it into our 5-gallon bucket collection (we have LOTS of buckets) and put about 30 of them into the truck one Saturday morning and carted them off to our city dump. The rest, about another 30, I poured into the alley dumpster about 8 at a time over the course of several weekends.

Plaster is essentially sand and cement – so if you can imagine a bucket full of sand – these bitches were HEAVY!

What was up had to come down, then into buckets.

What was once up, had to come down, then into buckets.

The “room” was starting to feel pretty good, transforming from a watery tarpy mess to a plaster bomb, and now a bare and just very dusty raw space.

Time to start vacuuming and pick up the gritty bits.

(Tip: If you have a shop vac (any brand) and hate having to replace or clean out that pleated paper filter, go get disposable “filter bags” – they are great for super-fine debris and save you from having to unblock (or replace) that cartridge filter. But if you suck up something sharp or jagged like rocks or glass, they can punch a hole in the paper bag and then you’re screwed.)

You can see the dusty film where I haven't vacuumed yet.

You can see the dusty film where I haven’t vacuumed yet.

And for the final step in making this space worthy of eating, I brought up the good ‘ol mop machine and scrubbed the floor for several hours.

Our mini-zamboni pays off again...

Our mini-zamboni pays off again…






With the space demolished, vacuumed and now mopped cleaned, the next task was to figure out the dining table.

But – before putting the table in place – I wanted to add a sound system at the ceiling, and the table would be in the way of the scaffolding. I actually bought some wireless paired/stereo mini speakers at Costco, but then remembered an old computer speaker setup that still sounds great and it has a nice subwoofer. If I could figure out how to attach the tiny satellite speakers and extend the wires, I could use those and just return the fancy wireless models.

I used heavy duty velcro to attach the speakers to the concrete beam – worked great as long as I cleaned the surface to get rid of the fine dust. For holding the wires up, I really didn’t want to mess with drilling holes and fastening them with clips or brackets. I recalled seeing sometime somewhere this sticky tacky wads of… goo? plastic? I wasn’t sure what they were made of or called. But we headed off to Michaels in hopes we could find it – and we did! It’s a tacky solid adhesive that you mold in your fingers; it gets tackier as you stretch it, so I made quarter-sized blobs, made it all sticky by stretching it, wrapped it around the speaker wires and then squished it into the ceiling/beam junction. Sticking it every few feet worked out just right.

From the floor, the speakers were barely noticeable.

Speakers are almost invisible.

Speakers are almost invisible.

Back to the table…

Our friends Lynn & Jay Giardino gave us an 11′ long tabletop last Fall (yeah, we’ll take any weird random stuff from people). Our B.A.D. seemed like the perfect event to make its maiden voyage.

We placed it on upside-down large trash cans just to test location in the space to see if it would work. Also brought out some chairs we hand on hand to sit at the mocked-up table and feel what it would be like sitting for dinner.

Checking to see if the table will work.

Checking to see if the table will work.



The free tabletop had no support or legs (that’s not a complaint) so we needed to solve that problem. Originally I’d thought about making some simple legs, but then had sudden inspiration, remembering a table that I had in my apartment 20+ years ago that had a trestle-like base – and best part – I had TWO of these bases. (One refinished, the other not.) I bought these on two separate trips to a resale shop over two decades ago.

I went and grabbed one of the legs, and tested it for height while the top was sitting on the trash cans – it was the perfect height. I just had to bolt the trestle pieces together and we were golden.

Vintage trestle base pieces that I had in storage.

Vintage trestle base pieces that I had in storage.

The only downside to using these old bases was that they were intended for much smaller tabletops – and with our 48″ wide table, and the narrow feet, there was high potential for the table tipping sideways. While I contemplated somehow bolting the legs to the concrete floor, I eventually settled on a simpler solution of attaching a flat steel plate to the feet (which I had on hand – leftovers from the pantry panel project) creating a wider stance and making them more stable. While there were four legs, two plates were enough.

Some final leveling with shims and the table is ready!

Some final leveling with shims and the table is ready!

What good is a big table without chairs?

We had to get some chairs. We didn’t necessarily need matching chairs, we just needed a lot of them. So back in February we started checking out resale shops and thrift stores.

Sturdy chair at a resale shop

Sturdy chair at a resale shop

I thought it would be cool to have a whole bunch of different chairs and unify them by painting them the same color, all black or all white, perhaps a bright color. But the chairs would need some detail, I think, if we’re to paint them.

Fancy french style at another resale store.

Fancy french style at another resale store.

I was hoping to find chairs really cheap – I run into them often at thrift stores for twenty bucks or so, but the resale shops were $100+ each. Maybe because they had matching sets. Bummer.

But in a stroke of luck, my favorite auction house (BCL) was liquidating a local restaurant & club that I’d never heard of, and they had hundreds of matching dining chairs. Sue & I checked them out at the walk-through before bidding – they seemed pretty heavy duty; we both liked them and if the price was right, these would be perfect.

Just one of many lots of chairs up for auction.

Just one of many lots of chairs up for auction.

I couldn’t possibly inspect every single chair to figure out the best lots to bid on, so I just checked a random sampling from a handful of lots. They all seemed in really good shape so I wouldn’t need to pick any particular auction lot.

By 10:30 that evening I had highest bid on two lots of eight chairs, so we had our chairs! Of course there were a few “bonus” auction wins that I bid on – a couple dozen stainless steel plate covers, 25 matching water goblets (with dishwasher rack/container), a couple commercial clothes racks… if I keep going you’ll call me a hoarder.

Sue got some touch-up sticks and a bottle of Murphy’s Soap, and cleaned them all up nice. She also inventoried them for any missing parts – absent screw plugs was the most common flaw – easy enough to remedy.

Sue made all the chairs look new.

Sue made all the chairs look new.


Sue also shopped around for seat cushions, found a nice linen version which fit perfectly. Only problem is they didn’t have 16 of them. But she found them online, got free shipping, and we had to cross our fingers that they’d arrive before the Big Ass Dinner.

Happily the cushions arrived on Wednesday before the dinner, and I had planned to take off work half of Friday to attach them (along with a bunch of other to-do’s). On the “test model” Sue brought home initially, I didn’t like the ties dangling at the back of the chairs. So I tied them x-style so the ends were on the inside, then attached a screw eye on the underside of the chair seat, and tied up the loose ends so that they were out of sight.

It’s the details that matter!

The cushions added the perfect touch.

The cushions added the perfect touch.

And this next mini-project isn’t quite about the “room” but rather general B.A.D. preparation.

Sue asked me to come up with some kind of “cart”, for transporting each course from the kitchen in our apartment, up the lift and to the dining table. We tossed around several ideas for several weeks. I didn’t want to BUILD anything from scratch – that seemed unnecessary. I kept my eye on BCL auctions. I saw a cool stainless steel professional “island” with several shelves at a BCL auction, but it went for several hundred dollars and I passed.

About three years ago I got a great deal at an auction (of course BCL) on some unused random casters – they seemed really heavy duty and I got them for a few bucks each.

These casters have been waiting for a purpose...

These casters have been waiting for a purpose…




We also had some Metro wire shelving that was disassembled, without a current assignment. So one day I took a caster and checked if I could replace the post’s standard adjustable foot – and sure enough, it was a perfect fit. It seemed like a no-brainer now to spend zero dollars and just combine some pieces already on-hand to make a serving cart.

The casters pounded into posts.

The casters pounded into posts.


The casters had to be hammered in – with a lot of force. Great for this cart purpose, but I have a feeling that it will be a bear to remove them in the future. Oh well – that’s a problem NOT on my current to-do list.

I really love these casters – they are made of a rubbery-plasticy material and they roll SOOOO smoothly.

The serving cart - ready to roll...

The serving cart – ready to roll…

Now as a final touch – I wanted something to visually block the table as our guests came up from the stairs, really just to add drama as a “reveal” at the end of their ascent. We have a few full-size stained glass drawings and they would fit perfectly. Some drilling into the concrete ceiling, angle clips and so forth were in order but I’ll skip those details.

The stained glass drawings were a nice touch.

The stained glass drawings were a special touch.

Soooo, there you go… I’m not sure if I covered everything that went into creating our space for the Big Ass Dinner but I’m sure I’ve gotten the main points.

Just to repeat – here’s what it looked like before:





And here’s how it looked the night of:

A lovely space for a special dinner.

A lovely space for a special dinner.

Next B.A.D. post: lighting it up.


9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 14, 2016 7:17 pm

    I can’t believe I did either. I was going to write BIG A** BISTRO! Don’t know what happened. I never even say that word. You are a bad influence. Sorry. Will never do it again. I’ll have to go to confession…😇 xx

  2. June 13, 2016 8:23 pm

    Thanks for the “respirator” Tom. Smart!
    What an undertaking with beautiful results. You both worked so hard. Your talents and creativity are mind boggling. So proud of you. You can rename it the BIG ASS BISTRO. Thanks Love, 😘 Mom xx

    • Tom permalink
      June 13, 2016 11:50 pm

      Thanks Mom. Though I can’t believe you wrote “Ass”. 🙂

  3. Eric Schactman permalink
    June 13, 2016 12:47 pm

    Brings a whole new meaning to “cleaning up for company”

  4. Rick Peterson permalink
    June 10, 2016 8:08 pm

    What do you mean……you might be a hoarder ???
    Looks great, you guys did an awesome job !!!!!

  5. Jim Peterson permalink
    June 10, 2016 9:41 am

    Such a transformation! Darcy and I were honored that we had the opportunity to partake of the dinner. It was an incredible night and will always be a cherished memory of family, friends, conversation and of course good food.


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