Our Beloved Yellow House

Some two years and nine months ago, Mario and I went to see our house for the first time.  It was the second house we ever saw.  We were extremely cautious then about buying real estate and were specifically looking for properties with the ‘hidden gem’ quality.  From the information we gathered on-line, this house was ideal: very desirable neighborhood, 2 miles from the beach, 10 minutes drive from work, and a large backyard in an area where most properties have no backyard at all.  The down side?  Broken down and needed major overhaul.

Our house when we first saw it

Our house when we first saw it

It was a sunny day.  We drove in admiring all the other houses on the block.  Then we saw it, an unkempt old house in a somber grey hue, shrinking in contrast to the vivid colors of its neighbors.  Its doors opened to reveal an uninviting interior.  Off the bat, we were baffled by this house’s reversed living layout, with living room and kitchen on the second floor and bedrooms on the first floor.  We walked in and looked hard at the bedrooms, which were not liveable in their existing condition.  The bathrooms needed to be gutted, and a thousand other things needed to be fixed.  Then we took the stairs up to the living area and the magic happened.   We were literally blinded by the light.  The sun light flooded in from all directions, huge windows hung in every direction with sky lights above us, framed with a stunning wooden cathedral ceiling in the beauty of its natural color.  We began to see the benefit of this reverse living layout.  To one side there is a large window enclosed balcony, to another side there is a large 400 sqft deck through four large panel glass doors.  The whole place felt so airy and inviting, and for several minutes we paused to enjoy the feel of lightness.  Of course the living area was far from perfect.  The kitchen need to be gutted, and the bathroom had a spooky layout.

At this moment, our feelings about this house were mixed.  Though still expensive in our book, it sure was a good value for its location and time frame.  But the task of renovating it was daunting, especially as I was already four months pregnant.  Mario and I took a moment to think it over by stepping out onto the balcony, and there we were, overlooking a large grassed backyard, big enough to build another house of the same size.  It was such a refreshing oasis of green in a desert of concrete and bricks.  We knew then that we had a rare gem in our hands.  The decision was made on that spot to make an offer right away for the asking price, and the rest was history.

It took five months to renovate this house.  We teared the interior walls down all the way to the bone and build it back up to the way we wanted.  The renovation was still going on when I gave birth to Maxie.  During my hospital stay, someone in the family (Mario, mom, dad, or sister?) had made the decision to paint the exterior of the house a bright yellow.  I was shocked by the color first, but it has grown on me.  And that’s how our beloved home is now being referred to as “our yellow house,” and it is flooded with bright sunlight and heart-felt love.


Balcony Door Make Over

I know it is unbelievable, but we are still under renovation.  It started on January 3rd of this year and we kept adding scope as more and more issues were found.  Remember the movie Money Pit from back in the eighties?  I feel like I am a permanent cast member of that movie looped for eternal re-run.  As I am typing away right now, I hear the roofers hard at work above me.  With every bang of loud noise they make, a few more dollars disappears from my bank account.

Complains aside, the house is looking better and better.  One thing I put my final personal touch on recently was the balcony door.  Here’s a little bit of history.  When we first saw this house, there were these four panel glass doors leading out to a 500 square feet balcony.  It looked absolutely gorgeous, allowing light to flash into the living room, which made the place looked airy and upbeat.  However, a closer look suggested heavy termite and rain damage.  So just like everything else in the house, it needed to be replaced.


Balcony Door, Original Condition


During renovation, both the doors and wooden frame were replaced by one continuous double sided sliding doors.  This made the space look larger and more modern.


Balcony Door, After Renovation


From day one, I’ve always envisioned a long, flowing, and thick curtain going over this space to make the window look even more dramatic.  I’ve searched high and low on the web to find the right curtains and rod that’s long and tall enough for this space with just the right color to match the rest of the space.  Eventually I’ve found some double wide curtains that will fit this space.  Better yet, I was able to score them at 15% off their already discounted price!  It is a pair of blackout curtains at 96 inches x 96 inches in desert velvet color.  Imaging my happiness when they finally arrived!  I also ordered some curtain rings from Amazon.com to go with the black extra long curtain rods.


Curtain Rings in Black


Attaching the rings to the curtains was so simple, even for a DYI idiot like me.  I only had to make sure the rings were clipped onto the curtains with 6 inches between them, and the silver clips that came with the curtains were removed.


Attaching Curtain Rings to the Curtain


Curtain Rings Are All Attached


It took my contractor only fifteen minutes to put on the brackets and hang the curtains on the rod.  The finally product looked every bit as beautiful as I imagined!  I got to say, the desert velvet color matches so well with the wooden ceiling and the cabinets int he kitchen, and the black curtain rod and curtain rings matches really well with the black sconces around the living room.  The height of the curtain is just perfect too, with the bottom barely touching the floor.


Curtains Finally Got Hung Up, 1

Curtains Finally Got Hung Up, 2


Overall, I love how everything came together.  I was worried about the cost at one point when someone came in to give me a quote.  I am so glad I was able to do the project mostly by myself at less than half of that amount.  I can’t wait to move onto the next project!



We’ve Finally Moved!

After we rescheduled the movers three times, we’ve finally moved into our new home this Monday.

I got to say it was a really tough day for me.  Even though we did hire movers and even paid for an extra guy (three movers), my physical condition wasn’t what it used to be.  For one thing, I was suffering from a really bad cold and was unable to breath through my nose or sleep at night for days before and after the move.  I also got up at 6:30AM and didn’t get to rest till 10PM.  I also ate at random that day (sorry gestational diabetes meal plan), a bite of bread here and there, and McDonald’s for lunch.  To top it all off, I am beginning to feel the strain of being eight months pregnant.  Bending and pushing all those boxes was very difficult for me.  Of course Mario had to face his own set of challenges, like being in the middle of school finals and getting over the cold from the week before.

Despite all the challenges, we were well prepared for this move.  Since we thought we were going to move in much earlier, Mario and I started packing way ahead of schedule and committed to fill at least three boxes a day on the days we both are home.  So by the night before the move, we were about 95% packed.  I thought I would be able to pack up the rest when the movers are loading.  Monday was the moving day.  In the morning I sent Mario to take Ravi to his new day care and run a few errands, while I busied myself with packing any left over items I could find.  The movers arrived at our place by 9AM and finally loaded up all our belongings by 12PM and we headed out to our new home.  I thought it wouldn’t take nearly as long to unload, but the move didn’t complete till 4PM that afternoon.  I was surprised that our little two bedroom apartment took eight hours to move, but at least it was done.  We spent the next hour unwrapping all our beds and bedding so we had a place to sleep at night.  Then without much rest, we headed out to pick up Ravi from his new day care.

We have hoped that when we move in the interior of the house would be completed.  But we weren’t so lucky.  Our contractor, Mr. Li, was still working on many areas of the house, so unpacking was not a good option at this point.  However, in the last few days, Mr. Li was able to finish the closets, the stairs, and installation of appliances and kitchen cabinets.  The place is looking better and better each night we come home.  We are slowly unpacking, but we still have to wear shoes around the house since there are lots of dust and tools on the ground due to the renovation work.  I am hoping all the interior work can reach an end by the end of this week so we can finally start making this place our home.

After the move, Mario and I talked about this experience and he was surprised that I thought it was difficult.  To him, this was the easiest move we ever had since we had the help of movers.  During all previous moves, we did everything ourselves, including lifting heavy items up and down the stairs.  I had to explain to him the importance of being in good health and fit.  I didn’t have either this Monday but still had to work as if I had both.  I definitely wouldn’t want to move again anytime soon.



Last Tuesday, our contractor, Mr. Li, showed me some questionable droppings he found on the floor.

He suspected this was termite droppings.  I was shocked!  Even though we bought this house from the bank (as is), we did pay for a termite inspection out of our own pockets and found no live termites.  Here we are two months later with potential evidence of live termites.

There were two things going through my mind: extra expense that I didn’t anticipate and further delay in schedule.

I spun into action immediately.  I called several people I trusted and got their referrals on termite extermination companies.  Eventually I down selected to the one my parents used when they renovated.  I was able to schedule for an inspector to come out the very next day and determined that we do need to be tented.  It took a day to complete paper work and obtain permits.  The tent went up last Friday and came down Monday morning, after two and a half days of fumigation.

So six days and $1500 later, we are now free of termites.  For sure, this time.  This fun exercise also pushed our move-in day to next week with an added bonus of a potential roof change.  Good times of being a home owner.

Next stop, roof inspection.  Anyone wants to bet I’ll be spending my retirement fund on a new roof?



Granite… Decision Point!

I have considered the possibility that I will never find the granite of my dreams.  Simply, perfection just doesn’t exist.  This story is not a fairy tale with a happy ending, but a page out of mundane life of Flo.  Flat, boring, lack luster… But I am now determined to face realty.  Instead of looking for Mr. Right, I am looking for Mr. Right-Now.  Gone are the days of dreams.

Decision on granite has been the hardest through out this renovation process.  I thought choosing paint color was tough, this one trumps them all.  I have visited countless number of granite stores, looked through all sorts of varieties on the web, but given my constraints on budget and cabinetry color, I always find myself back to square zero.  That’s right, a step before square one.  Couple of weekends ago, I’ve decided I would embark on my final granite shopping trip.  I would visit only two stores and at the end of this trip I would make a final decision and not allow to change my mind later.  Honestly speaking, I am so sick and tired of looking at granite, I just want to pick anything and be done with it.

The first store we visited is called Color Marble located in Diamond Bar.  They have a fantastic show room with wide variety of selections.  Of course their price is a little bit on the high side.  We browsed the show room and found an interesting combination of coffee color cabinets with white and gray color combination granite counter top.  I got to say I have never considered this combination before.  All these time I have been looking for some sort of brown or yellow to match my coffee color cabinets, and this is definitely an interesting alternative.


Coffee Color Cabinets wth White/Grey Granite Counter Top

I followed this idea and looked into white and gray granites.

Bianco Antico Granite

White Spring Granite

Out of the two, I definitely like Bianco Antico better, since it is more dramatic with darker grays for contrast.  Though I do think White Spring would work better in my new kitchen since it is less dominating.  Here’s a side by side comparison of the two.

Comparing Bianco Antico (left) with White Spring granite

As it turned out, Color Marble doesn’t have any more White Spring in pre-fab’ed 3’x8′ which I will need for the island, so my dad suggested that we use Bianco Antico for the island and White Spring for the rest.  They are really similar, most people probably won’t even notice the difference.

With a backup choice in mind, we happily left and visited an other granite store, Fullerton Granite.  This one is definitely a mid to low end store in terms of decoration.  It is pretty much just a big warehouse facility with slabs of granites placed against the walls and other accessories in the middle.  Instantly I know we were going to find some interesting pieces in this place.

Right when we walked in, there were some intriguing pieces.  This is the first time I’ve seen a Marinache Red.  My dad loved it, but of course it wasn’t approved by my mom and I.

Marinache Red

If we were to pursuit he same path as the white/gray combination, Ice Sea would look great.  I love the little speckle of cream color crystals in it.


Ice Sea Granite

An alternative for a softer contrast is White Galaxy.

White Galaxy Granite


I personally really liked the Yellow Persa.  I love the dramatic colors of bright orange/brown with the black vines, all sprawled over a light cream colored background.  It has that “painting” quality that I have been looking for.  You can see it goes really well with my coffee color cabinet sample.  Is the granite god giving me a second chance in love?  I am not counting on it.

Yellow Persa turned out to be on the finalists list for all three of us.  After careful examination of all our finalist pieces, my mom and dad both agreed it trumped all other choices, including the white/gray granites we saw in Color Marbles.  It also turned out to be the most expensive piece.  The owner of the store refused to negotiate for pricing, citing already low profit margin.  Though at the end we were able to have her knock out $20 for each piece we need.

So it was decided, we are going with Yellow Persa!  It was paid for and picked up yesterday by our contractor, Mr. Li.  As for me, I am still licking my wounds and rather reserve my opinion till it is finally put into my kitchen.  I will definitely post pictures when it is done.



Waiting to Move In

Yesterday was the last day of February.  Our contractor, Mr. Li, had promised that we would be able to move in at the end of February.  The closer we got to that target date, the more doubtful we felt.  But Mr. Li kept telling us he would be able to make it, he even worked on weekends with extra help.  So I booked the movers on March 3rd, thinking I’ll give him a few extra days.  Last Friday when I went to see Mr. Li again, he finally faced reality and requested another week extension.  So our new target move in date (as of now) is March 10th.  Will we make it?  Only time will tell.

Honestly speaking, we all knew there are lots of work still to be done.  The plan was to finish the interior first and work on exterior after we move in.  Last Monday we saw our kitchen looking like this (see picture below) and we knew it was impossible to move in on March 3rd.


Unfinished Kitchen on February 21st

In the mean time, Mario and I have been packing our stuff at a furious pace.  Our goal is to pack at least 3 boxes each day.  Now that we are delayed by a week, I think we might be able to finish packing without taking time off work.  So there’s definitely a positive side to this situation.  While we do our packing, Ravi tries to help as well, by placing color stickers onto the boxes.  It is definitely a family event!


Ravi placing color stickers onto our moving boxes.


We are so looking forward to move into our new home and hopefully that day will come soon.



Renovation Blues

When my parents were doing their renovation, I kept thinking to myself that I could do a better job.  I could pick a better contractor, find better materials, save more money, have a better grip on the project, and ultimately have a better looking house at the end of the process.  Now that I am at the seventh week of our home renovation, I am beginning to think that maybe I am wrong.  I may not be able to do a better job, that my parents are indeed wiser and more capable than myself, and that despite spending insane amount of money the house just won’t look as good as I expected it be.

I am having renovation blues.

If I was to look at this renovation process as a destruction of the old, followed by long extended period of repair, and finally reconstruction of the new, my blues coincides with the last step of the process.  After spending the first five weeks looking at incomplete sub-floors and bare wires and tubes all over the place, the final pieces have finally been put into place signaling the end of renovation is near.  In the last week or so, wooden floor has been installed on the first floor, tiles are are beginning to appear in the bathrooms, crown molding and base boards installed and painted.  All of these things seemed to be done with lightning speed.  All my hopes and dreams of what this place would be will become reality soon.  The moment of the truth is near, where perfection in my imagination will have to face imperfection of reality.  How can I possibly win?!  What if I am won’t be happy with the result?  Would I be forced to accept mediocrity as an end result?

I am afraid of the end but can’t wait to put it behind me.  I guess I need to keep in mind that this will be our home filled with happiness and laughter, and that should be all that matters.



During this renovation process, another thing that gave me tons of headaches was the decisions on interior paint colors.  It certainly didn’t help when we have decided earlier that we want different colors for each of our bedrooms and living areas.  That’s at least five different colors we have to decide on.

The thing about the paint color that bothered me is that there’s just too many options.  Unlike any scientific problem that we encounter which generally requires logic and step by step process to leads to an answer, there’s no logic in choosing paint colors, nor is there right or wrong answers associated to each decision.  For any particular general color, there are thousands of slight variations.  To me this is more complex than anything I have encountered.  Though out this process, we must have considered hundred of potential colors and gone through a dozen of paint samples.  What we thought were good color choices didn’t turn out as well once painted on the wall.  Sometimes I think we just don’t have that much creativity juice going on up there.

It was easy to pick the kids’ bedroom colors.  Two boys, two shades of blue.  That was like a scientific problem, logic solved that one.  The bedroom, hallway, and living area colors were little harder to pick.  Initially we decided to go with lighter shades or color since we want our home to look and feel peaceful and not overwhelming.  We chose a nice light yellow for our hallway, but it turned out to be so light that we had a hard time distinguish it from white.  So for the second time around, we’ve decided to go bold and seek out darker shades and other color families we didn’t dare to try before.  The next day I went back to Home Depot and got myself another seven paint samples.

These five were potential colors for our master bedroom.  The three on the left were some sort of green/blue combination that Mario wanted to try.  I got to say green is not my favorite bedroom colors, but since each sample was $3, why not try it on the wall to see its effect?!  Eventually we eliminated the greens and went with bottom right for our master bedroom and middle right for the den.

We’ve also picked two darker shades of yellow for the hall way.  The one on the left is slightly darker than the one on the right.  I painted both colors in two different locations, a darker area and a bright area.  I was surprised at how different they looked.

Darker yellow on the left. In the hallway.

Darker yellow on the right. In the living room.

Mario and I decided on the darker yellow.  Initially I thought it may be too dark, but turned out very well once the whole place was painted.  The color soften up in the bright sun light, and worked very well with the wooden ceiling.

The same color on the other side of the room look even lighter when the living room is flooded with sun light.  I got to say it was a good choice.  Passed those double doors is our den, which was painted with the color shown earlier.  It turned out to be very light and smooth, not too shabby.

From this experience, my lessons learned are:

1. Definitely take advantage of $3 paint samples.  What looked good on the small swatch may not turn out well on much larger scale.

2.  Paint the samples into large enough square footage.  Compare similar color choices side by side.

3.  Paint the same set of samples on different sides of the room and look at it at different time of the day.  Sometimes we don’t notice the amount of light hitting on each wall at different time of the day, and that can make a big difference in what the colors can look like.

4.  If you don’t like the end result on the wall, don’t be afraid to choose a different color and start over again.

I am glad I am done picking colors.  There are more color issues to solve, but thank god not in paint anymore.



I caved!  I caved for a more expensive vanity!

One of the biggest spending in the bathroom is the vanity.  As the renovation process continues, I watched my estimated total cost going up more and more each week.  I tried desperately to get a handle on costs, but lowering the purchase prices of most items didn’t help as more and more work (and labor cost) is being added onto the list.  I had anticipated extra expenses, but deep down I didn’t really want to ever have to deal with it.

The choice of vanity in the bathroom closest to the living room has been a big headache for me, mostly because I know what I needed to do but didn’t want to fork out the money for it.  This bathroom used to be a half bath with a large closet, and we are converting it to a full bath with a shower/tub.  I was willing to pay for this conversion because I hated the idea of having an extra room in that bathroom for an extremely inefficient storage.  It felt creepy to me.  Every time I go to the bathroom, I would wonder if anything is hiding in the closet and ready to pop out to scare the living day light out of me.  That spooky spot has to go!  Once that decision was made, we proceeded to decide on the layout.  As it turned out, the best option (also the cheapest labor cost) is to place the vanity on the side of the room that measures 66 inches in length.  That created a problem for me.  The standard single vanity has length between 30 to 40 inches, which will leave a dead space of about 20 to 30 inches on that side of the wall.  I am not completely comfortable with that idea, but the alternative is to pay a higher price than what I have budgeted.  So I struggle with this for several weeks.

Here are some of my choices:

This one looks good and extremely different from what I’ve seen before, but Mario is not a fan of this vanity and I agree it is a bit much for the style we are going for in this room.  Also it doesn’t look like it has much storage, which can be a big issue for us.

This one looks very straight forward and functional.  It doesn’t have a wow factor for me.  But the price is right and at 36 inches of length, it is one of the wider one we could find in this price range.

After some serious thoughts and discussion with Mario, we decided to do what’s right — get a vanity that match the length of the room.  The extra length allows us to add a little bit of storage back into the room.  Even though the vanity we decided to buy is about $450 more than what we budgeted for, it does look tremendously better.  It has a strong presence and still keeps to that classic look we are going for.  Check out all the detail wood work on this thing.

Just the right size at 65 inches. $1237

The good news is I was able to get 5% off on this baby with no additional shipping and tax since I bought it online.  So the total price we paid is $1175.  For the quality of it, I think it is well worth the price.

To finish off this bathroom, I’ve decided to buy all the accessories in oil rubbed bronze color.  That includes the lights, faucet, and shower tub fixtures.  I’d like to say all of them fit well with one another. This color scheme is not what I would normally pick, but it is certainly growing on me.

Vanity with Accessories

I am so very happy with our choices.  I can’t wait to see it installed into our new bathroom.  In the meantime, I am going back to revisit my budget and see where I can trim some costs to make up for this extra spending here.


How I spent $10k in Three Hours

I used to be a super saver, now I am a home debtor owner.  The concept of spending large sums of money is foreign to me.  Before Ravi was born, I was so thrifty that I used to even scrutinize purchases over $30 by enforcing a “consideration period” of at least a week to determine if I really needed what I wanted to buy.  This method had cut down a lot of my spending.  Now that I have a home, suddenly spending large sums of money seem to be the norm.  There’s of course the mortgage, property tax, renovation, utility bills, upkeep…etc.  Sometimes I question if we made the right choice to purchase a home.  Surely, living in an apartment allowed us to save so much more, but to have a nice environment is essential in raising a family though it comes with a hefty price tag.  $10k is a large sum of money, but for home renovation, it is only a drop in the bucket.   This is the the story of how I spent $10k in just three hours.

Last weekend marked the end of the third week of our home renovation.  Our contractor, Mr. Li, and his crew completed demolition with lightning speed.  The entire house interior was down to its sub floors within the first week.  The next two weeks went much slower to an outsider’s eye, routing pipes, building up frames, putting up dry walls, setting up hook ups for lights and plugs, take down walls…etc.  Mario and I were itching to see when he would start actually building things.  Finally last week, Mr. Li told me he is ready to move onto the next step.  It is now time to do some serious shopping.

So we met up on Saturday, with my dad as my second pair of eyes (he has sharp eyes for materials and I trust his judgment more than I trust Mario’s), and Ravi tagging along for the fun.  During our last trip to the hardwood flooring vendor, we really liked the engineered Santos Mahogany.  However when we got there Saturday morning, we were told it was all sold out and new stock won’t come in till end of February.  Suddenly I felt lost and left without a backup plan.  Since Mr. Li’s favorite hardwood flooring distributor is in the neighborhood, we decided to give it a try even though it was very likely they would be closed on the weekend.  When we arrived, we found the office door open and one car parked out front.  What luck!  We cautiously approach and found the person inside is actually Mr. Li’s contact!  Double luck!  We quickly scanned through all their offerings and the one that we liked the best was still Santos Mahogany.  When we inquired about it, there’s enough inventory that day.  Triple luck!  Mr. Li’s contact was kind enough to pull out a couple of boxes of the material for us to take a look at.  The quality of material is definitely superior and probably better than the other vendor since the color variation is not nearly as large.  When we inquired about the cost, it was about ten cents higher than our last vendor.  After half an hour of hard core negotiation, the distributor finally agreed to drop the price to ten cents below his competition!  Scored!  We made the purchase right on the spot to lock in the price.  Total time spent shopping, two hours; total for this bill, ~$8,000.

Our next stop was the tile store.  I got to admit, picking tiles was the hardest thing I’ve done during this project.  Finding different tiles and liners combination I like for three bathrooms at a really good price is not a easy thing to do.  It is so easy to cave in and end up with much higher priced tiles, which would have double or triple our budget.  But with my parents’ help, we held firm to our ultra low budget and found the best priced and quality tiles at Discount Flooring Outlet.  After much consideration, we finalized on the tiles.  I as also able to negotiate a 10% off on total price too.  Scored again!  Total time spent shopping, one hour; total for this bill, $2,000.

During this whole time, my dad and I took turns to hold/babysit Ravi while the other work on various aspect of buying materials.  I got to say it was a really tough trip for both of us.  Even though we had the ambition of going to other stores, we were so tired after three hours of shopping that we decided to head home.

So this is the story of how I spent $10k in three hours.  What an adventure!  What I learned through this trip is how to negotiate and push the boundary.  I was able to save over $500, that’s more than 5%!  But the bigger bills are yet to come, so stick around for more adventures.