Inspection Day: The Guest Room

Renovation By The Numbers

A few House page viewers asked me to walk them through a typical room renovation. This room already had a lightweight renovation when I moved in and needed to set up my office quickly. Now it will undergo a complete refab for a guest room.

Generally speaking, I have a few fixed strategies for renovation, at least in this house:

  • Preserve the plaster whenever possible. Some people do drywall rehabs, then spend a bundle paying someone to skim coat blue board so it looks like plaster. Plaster is superior to drywall for sound and durability so it makes sense to save it.
  • Replace old electrical with new BX and boxes. Plastic sheathed cable (NMS)is legal here but I don’t like pulling it through nail-strewn walls. NMS also means another wire hookup inside the box.
  • New floors.
  • New woodwork. 

Inspection day. Evidentally, the chapel.

After a week of rudimentary renovation, it became my office.

Let's get to work...

Like those walls? This is what happens to five year-old white primer. It’s also the answer to the question, “why can’t I use primer for finish paint?”

The old radiator was removed and relocated to a cast iron baseboard unit under the windows. I completed demolition and spent the next week patching cracks and loose plaster. The ceiling was a mess due to a roof leak, thanks to a botched satellite dish installation.

The next job was routing the electrical. The wall outlets are being fed by a new circuit, which I pulled upstairs a couple of years ago. The old aluminum BX in the ceiling fixture was disabled, which required knocking a fair-sized hole in the plaster. A new medallion covered up that mess.

The walls were too damaged to repair conventionally so I taped and skimcoated them.

Installation of the “window seat”. This was built in my shop as three cabinets and screwed together. The tops, which slide off to give access to the radiator, were a bitch to get right.

Constructing the crown moulding for the window pediments. You know, I’ve done so much of this style of trim over the past five years that I’ve got it down to a formula now. That has its good and bad points.

I ran into an issue with the wiring, or rather how to hide it. I had BX for electrical, phone and CAT5 wiring for the office, the main feed for my satellite dish, the second floor security alarm wiring and two coax cables for the room itself which I had to somehow disguise along this wall. But the wall is plaster over brick. What to do? I decided to build a bump-out with 2x3s and drywall and cap it with an oak shelf.

Trim work completed. The room is starting to get a bit crowded. Here’s a construction tip: keep your work space clean. My productivity seems to drop at the inverse square to the number of trip hazards in the room.

The ceiling fan was installed. The floor was roughed up for the cement leveler in preparation for the new floor.

Fifteen pound builders felt is stapled to the floor to reduce squeaks.

A Mannington engineered oak floor is laid down using a Spotnails stapler and 1-3/8″ staples.

The floor and shoe moulding is done and the wallpaper is up. The wallpaper was problematic, or rather the original stuff was. I picked up the latter at a seedy wallpaper store in Boro Park, hung it that night and three hours later it was peeling off the walls. The pool of rain water inside the store should have been a free clue to the quality of what I was buying. The stuff in the photo is Home Depot standard issue and it went up, and stayed up, without a hitch.

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Welcome to Brooklyn Row House

This blog is about the challenges of renovating an old (1903) Brooklyn, New York row house.

My last major renovation project was the master bedroom, most of which is about finish carpentry. You’ll find other completed home improvement projects in the Projects submenu at the top of this page.

I’m not a professional builder and don’t pretend to be. I’m just an experienced amateur raised in a family of committed DIYers. I try to closely follow local and national building codes but don’t mistake anything on this site to be professional or even accurate advice! Your mileage may and definitely will vary.

This is the third iteration of, from scratch-built to Drupal and now Wordpress. I hope you enjoy your time here.