Saturday, December 15, 2012

And, we're back!

Well, it's hard to believe it's been one week since we moved back to our restored Brady Bunch house that was decimated in September after a roofing error.

The great folks at Zinz have restored our house to even greater glory. When this drama began three months ago, many people tried to console us by explaining that the house would be better than ever, which is precisely the last thing you want to hear when your house has been destroyed and you are forced to flee. In the cooler light of dawn, everyone who said that was right.

We still have two bedrooms and the Orbit Room lounge to put back together, but here's a quick tour of the main floor

Here's the new entrance featuring the Herman Miller bubble lamp, which is our way of maintaining the mid-century vibe amid all of the updates.

In the old, walled configuration, this was a TV area. In the open concept, it's a sitting area which better highlights the fireplace as a feature. We also had the fireplace better insulated and even framed in wood to match the contemporary wood features of the new design.

The highlight of the main floor is the new kitchen, featuring the new island/bar. The backsplash actually accentuates the fireplace with its browns and grays. The cabinets are a warm maple. The bar chairs are from the old pub table we used to use in the family room.

Here's the Kenmore kitchen dripping in stainless steel. The tile flooring now wraps around the bar and continues all the way to the back door to the garage.

Off of the kitchen is the dining room, pretty much in the same place as before. We have turned the table  so it is now horizontal to the back wall. The seriously cool Danish modern lamp that hangs above it (not pictured) is the last remnant of the old ceiling.

The living room area is behind the bar. The wood floor is new and was stained and sanded in place to match the floor on the second floor. The beams above were stained to match the maple cabinets.

One of our new additions was a 47-inch Vizio smart TV on a new stand that swivels so we can watch the TV from the living room or the bar. That was one of the innovations we sought for the new open concept. I love this freakin' TV, FYI ...

The new living features much of our old stuff, including the couch we bought after last Christmas. We did add two new chairs and a new painting.

The chairs were bought at and we like how they add to our cool contemporary, mid-century vibe. These two pictures are from the Overstock website, FYI.

The painting is a canvas reproduction of artist Jeff Kolker's "Chicago River at Michigan Avenue." We will, eventually, surround this painting with the framed pictures of bridges my Dad took at Mill Creek Park. It's a way to get a little Chicago into our cool new digs. And the oranges, grays and browns work with our new decor.

Our house continues to be a work in progress. Given the work we need to do, yet, we have opted to NOT do a Christmas tree this year, as we don't need one more thing to move or put together or take down in a week or so ... And we just finally today found the Christmas gifts that need to be mailed!

Much to do...

More later,


Friday, December 07, 2012

We hurt and are very tired...

No new pictures – yet!

Just reporting in to note we have just about survived our madcap day.

It was kind of like moving into a new home. You just didn't know where everything was going to go or how it would fit! Mostly, things are a mess right now. But after 12 hours, we are getting closer!

We should have something to show Saturday. Thanks for all of the emails and calls and comments!

More later,


Thursday, December 06, 2012


When we last checked in on the Sweetwoods, the shock had set in, our home's main floor was gutted and we were displaced. 

And as surreal as all of this still feels, there really is no time to dwell when you find yourself swept up in this kind of event. You have no idea what to do, but everyone you deal with does. For them, there is an order and a familiarity. ServPro knows State Farm's folks. State Farm knows all of the contractors. Everyone knows everybody.

State Farm sent an adjuster, but he quickly called in the major claims adjuster. I heard "major claims" and asked what that meant. "You are probably looking at a $70,000, $80,000 claim once this is done," I was told.

That amount wasn't just to restore the house and repair damage on three floors. It was ServPro's work for two weeks just to dry the place out. It was the cleaners who took all of the clothes, rugs and drapes out of the house to be cleaned. It was the expense of putting us up in a hotel for almost three months. 

From Kelly, our hero from State Farm, we got one of those giant red major claims binders that you see the hurricane victims in Florida carrying around on the news. And we started filling it with business cards from the folks suddenly thrust onto Team Sweetwood.

At this point, we had to interview contractors and we met some talented people who had some great ideas for the renaissance of our broken Brady Bunch house. In the end, we settled with a big area company, Zinz Construction and Renovation. Nate the estimator, Bobbie the designer and Jim the project manager really demonstrated the importance of dealing with a smart, reputable company. 

After the maddeningly long construction of the in-law suite last year and the nightmare of the roofing project, we were understandably gun shy about another contractor working on the house. The folks at Zinz were simply amazing. Our faith in construction companies has been restored.

First came the design. We decided to tear down the walls that once formed the kitchen to go with a complete open concept. Our restoration budget was dictated by the replacement of our loss. So, since we started with laminate counters, insurance would cover laminate replacements. We had wood cabinets, so we would get wood replacements.

Varying from this master plan would mean more money from our pockets. But we were allowed certain tradeoffs. What we needed was an expert.

Bobbie designed a galley-style kitchen that would be big enough to contain some upper-end appliances we've (read "Mary has…") always dreamed of, including a double oven and a french-door refrigerator monstrosity now nicknamed Godzilla. The appliances – except for Godzilla – would come out of our pockets, of course. 

We started by picking colors of the cabinets, backsplash, countertops and ceramic tile. Mary and I turned out to be a pretty good design team. 

We obviously wanted our hardwood floors back, but we also decided to have the tile expanded to wrap around the fireplace to the door leading to the garage. 

No longer would we be worried about tracking in snow from the garage onto a hardwood floor. We decided, however, against a new wood-paneled ceiling. First, they just don't make wood panels the same way they made them 40 years ago and we didn't want a cheap look. Also, with the open concept, we decided to go with a lighter overall scheme.

Then we chose the paint and went with three colors: Snowbound, a white tone for the ceiling; Silver Strand, a light gray for the walls; and Attitude Gray, a darker slate color as an accent color.

We wanted beams again, and decided to have them match the kitchen cabinets. Along with our lighter ceiling, we added recessed lights on dimmers.

Work officially began with the destruction of the remaining kitchen walls and lasted just about eight weeks. We stayed at the same Residence Inn that I first lived in when we moved to Ohio in 2008. The staff there was friendly and accommodating, once again. We spent the first month together in a one-bedroom suite. After considerable begging, we were moved to a two-bedroom suite which gave us two bathrooms – a necessity for mornings – and a little more space for Sammy and Pal Joey to move around.

The poor cats did not exactly enjoy going from about 3,000 square feet of roaming room to about 700 square feet.

By last weekend, it began to really sink in: We were going home soon! The floors were stained and sealed. The lights were installed. The second coat of paint was added. Our house started to look like a home again. The kitchen is going to be incredible.

I really stalked Sears – and poor Sue who had to endure my purchase of Mary's mom's kitchen last year. I really shopped sales and used  every coupon/shopping/bargaining trick in my arsenal to beat the costs down so we could go with the Kenmore Elite line without going broke. That included the dishwasher and even the microwave oven.

The Westinghouse cooktop was a compromise and actually arrived broken, leading to a series of insane exchanges with Sears. You may buy it in Boardman, but if there is a problem, you end up talking to someone in India. The store quickly remedied the problem, but I was still getting calls from India two weeks later as they tried to deliver a new cooktop. 

The sink is actually built into an island with a breakfast bar that faces the living room area. 

The living room right now is much the same, though it looks better with a floor and ceiling. All it needs is furniture, drapes, pictures – and us!

Which leads to the biggest news of all: I have been joking for a few weeks that with our karma, we would likely move back in on Pearl Harbor Day. Well, we met with the State Farm/Zinz/ServPro team this week and we are moving back into our house on Friday!

We are excited beyond words. We are packing up the hotel room and meeting the team to empty the pod in our driveway; become reunited with our clothes, drapes and rugs from the cleaners; and hopefully sleep in our own bed in our own bedroom for the first time in 78 days.

More later,


Sunday, November 25, 2012


As this is the 10-week anniversary of the beginning of the crisis, I can just now write about this with a dispassionate perspective. Mary is contributing as well to make this a true team effort.

Mary and I – along with Sammy and Pal Joey – were put out of our house after a roofing error left three of our four floors damaged by water from a rainstorm back in September.

Worst hit was the first floor: It had to be completely gutted. Gone were the iconic wood-paneled ceilings, the wood beams, the hardwood flooring, even the kitchen. 

Downstairs, the Orbit Room Lounge’s unique fabric ceiling panels and glossy flooring was damaged by rain flowing from the hardwood floors into lounge below. On the second floor, rain damaged the ceiling – from the master bedroom to the Bears bedroom.

Now, the purpose of this blog is not to discuss legalities. Suffice to say we have been well served by our State Farm team and the roofer had significant insurance, as well. This will get legal between those two companies in a thing they like to call “subrogation.” But the house was so damaged and the remediation work was so extensive that within 48 hours of the storm, we were put into a long-term housing hotel.
We never thought we would be out of our home for 10-12 weeks. They told us, but we just refused to listen.

As I tell this story, I will try to coordinate some of the pictures I took. I have to confess: My journalism skills at documenting this while it was going on suffered. I was a panicked homeowner, first. I regret not having had the presence of mind to run some video early on. And the pictures of our towels and buckets were taken well after the first towels were replaced and the first pails emptied. I got better as we went along, though.

This started on Sept. 18 when a roofer we hired – after State Farm approved the insurance claim – tore off our large roof to replace it. We had sustained a lot of hail damage and the roofer checked out via the neighborhood and the Better Business Bureau. The work continued through the evening and at about 8 p.m., it had gotten too dark to continue. With about two-thirds of the roof done, the crew stopped work, telling me they had covered the remaining exposed roof with roofing paper to protect from moisture. I have since come to learn that tarping is the industry standard.

I went to bed at about midnight and thought nothing of some sprinkles. When the alarm woke us at 7 a.m. we did not notice the bed was already wet on the covers near Mary's feet. I went to the bathroom and I heard what sounded like the coffee pot, which also starts at 7 a.m., making a crackling sound. I thought: “Great. We broke another coffee pot.” We seem to go through those a lot …

When I stepped into the hallway, my feet hit water. I looked up and saw the ceiling leaking behind the fan. I looked down the stairs toward the dining room and froze: Water was cascading down from the ceiling. 

That “crackling” sound was water hitting the hardwood floor. In several areas.
It was coming down the far wall and in-between the glass panels in the large picture window. 

It was coming down the back wall behind the buffet.

 It was pouring into the dining room.

 It was going behind the kitchen along the back wall. It was going down a wall in the family room hitting the TV on one side and the fridge on the other. It was hitting the wood floor in the family room. 

I screamed. Mary got her mom. We used towels – discovering we can muster 36 if we need to – to try to protect the wood floors, not knowing how long they had been exposed to water. We used buckets and pans and pots on three floors. The basement ones began to take on water quickly. 

We had to dry towels to replace wet ones in what seemed like an endless cycle. I called – screaming – at the roofer and he called ServPro and it took them both what seemed like an agonizing 90 minutes to get there.

Mary's mom's apartment, the Elvis bedroom and an upstairs bathroom were unaffected as was the Rat Pack Tiki room. Water was everywhere else.

In between emptying pots, pans and towels, we grabbed everything we could and took them up to the areas of the house not leaking. We were able to save the framed pictures that Dad had taken of Mill Creek Park bridges, paintings, our wedding album and our wedding portrait.

Essentially, in the hard rain, water hit the top pitch of our roof and then flowed down over the unroofed area, underneath the part that was completed. Once it hit that area, it did what water does as it followed the lines of least resistance and spread in a haphazard way across the width of the roof – the width of our entire first floor. 

Ceiling. Walls. Floor. All water damaged.

ServPro: God help you if you ever need them, but thank God they are there. They sat me down (I was a hysterical dervish) and took over. In the end, almost two dozen commercial dehumidifiers and fans ran for two weeks, 24/7 to save the house. The dehumidifiers were often connected to plastic tubes to concentrate efforts on the most affected areas.

We stuck it out two nights living in what sounded like a beehive-from-Hell before being forced to grab the cats and flee. Our leaving looked a lot like that scene from “Poltergeist.”

Our Brady Bunch-styled house has no attic. That is why we were so concerned about hail damage. So, in the first floor great room, the ceiling is only separated from the roof by insulation. Almost immediately, the ceiling began to bow.

 The ServPro team popped off the sides of the ceiling to find the water damaged was extensive. 

The entire ceiling was removed exposing the underside of the roof, which needed to dry out. This broke our hearts because the ceiling's mid-century modern vibe was one of the charms that made us fall in love with the house. The destruction as the ceiling came down was staggering, frankly.

The kitchen – especially the wall behind it – took on far more water than they first knew and the only way to dry the walls was to remove the kitchen: Ceiling, hand-made cabinets, counters and all. Holes had to be punched into the kitchen walls and the garage ceiling to help dry that part of the mess.

Most crushing of all: Those hardwood floors we had tried so hard to protect began buckling within days, despite the dehumidifiers and the fans.

Everything had to go, including us.

An onslaught of insurance agents, estimators, etc. then took over. A pod containing our first floor possessions was parked in the driveway. (We really only lost the TV and the fridge in terms of possessions due to our quick work.) 

Dust from the work and the fans covered everything. Finally, ServPro certified that the house was moisture-free and that mold had been abated. By then, the house on the main floor had been gutted from the rafters to the sub-floor. It was eerie.

Then, we had to hire a contractor.

We’ll pick that up in part two…

More later,


P.S. Here are the cats safe and sound at the hotel:

Friday, January 06, 2012

The In-Law Suite Is Done!

In the grand scheme of things, the in-law suite for Mary's mom Grace is done and my sanity is – relatively – intact.

Don't look for me to be signing on to another big house project anytime soon, however.

The project got under way in July and the last official act was the carpeting which was installed last week. Really, I wanted the project left in 2011 so the New Year could start off on a more calm note. Many folks have observed that I am precisely the wrong personality type for this kind of project: The disruption, the delays, the typical contractor-owner-back-and-forth, etc. That's probably true.

And I learned a lot and am better prepared should I ever take on another one of these... I will be the next contractor's worst nightmare... Performance clauses and deadlines will be the rule.

But the addition is a beauty and we are very pleased with the results. Mary's mom gave a big thumbs up when she was here last month even before the project was completed.

So, here are some photos of the new digs:

Here is the kitchen shot from the living room. The table was placed there to give it some perspective. The kitchen is tiled and the carpet and hallway are carpeted.

Here is a closeup of the Kenmore appliances in the kitchen and the walnut cabinets and veneer counters.

Here s a view looking from the kitchen toward the living room. The hanging light gave me fits shooting that direction.

Right off of the living room is the laundry room featuring a new washer and dryer – and even a specially ordered washtub.

This is the hallway that leads to the bathroom and the bedroom.

The tiled bathroom is quite roomy and features a good-sized vanity and a walk-in shower with a seat.

Even the shower fixture is cool!

Across the hall from the bathroom is the bedroom which features two excellent windows and will easily house a queen bed, nightstands, dresser, etc.

And, of course a big closet!

Behind the bedroom is a mudroom that adjoins our basement and provides storage and even a freezer!

It's about 800 square feet in all and we'll be glad when this journey is complete and Mary's mom moves in later this year!

More later,