Renovation Update 10-2022 Please Forgive My Sins!

Hi Everyone,

Well, this post wasn’t the one I was planning for today. I was going to do an update on the panoramic murals since we looked at the Chinoiserie murals.

Alas, not today.


Instead, we’re going to have a renovation update. I can’t believe it, but the last one was at the end of July.


Here’s what’s going on with my apartment renovation plans. The other day, I emailed my contractor that I had the kitchen cabinetry all lined up. 

I lied.


Why did you lie, Laurel?


That’s a great question, and I’ll be happy to tell y’all the truthful answer.

My contractor won’t put me on his calendar until the cabinets are lined up. However, as it stands, the contractor won’t be able to begin until June, and he won’t need the cabinets until maybe a year from now.

Yes, you read that right; a year from now. I will be fortunate if this place is finished by January 2024.


That’s why I lied.


If I keep holding off, it’ll all be pushed back another six months. Anyway, the cabinets are almost wrapped up. However, I can’t tell you who is making them yet because it isn’t set in stone.

Well, let’s put it this way. I have chosen who I want, but I haven’t gotten the quote yet. That has been promised to me by sometime this coming week. I can’t wait to tell you who it is and why I chose them.

No, it is not DeVOL.

So, upon telling my contractor that I had the cabinets wrapped up and could have them by this summer or later if needed, we scheduled a meeting.


See? Sometimes lying is the only way out.


Our last meeting was in April, I believe. Oh, instead of saying my contractor repeatedly, I’ll call him by his first name. His name is Rick.

We talked at length about the various issues. Things like venting the kitchen fan.

Can we do a ventless fan? I asked.

“Oh, yes, you definitely can,” Rick said.


The kitchen range is at least 30 feet from the nearest exterior wall.


There is no freakin way on this good earth that I’m going to muck with my beautiful living room to vent my Trader Joe’s samosas baking in the oven.

Plus, I’m getting an induction range. And, I don’t cook much these days. That is unless you count boiling water for pasta as cooking. It’ll be fine. And, yes, it will satisfy the manufacturer’s recommendations. That is all that’s required.

I also asked Rick if moving the sink to the back wall was possible. He said, “no problem.” I kind of wish he said that it would be a problem. Here’s why. You need to know that my favorite hobby is redesigning my kitchen. I think I’ve probably come up with about 20 viable options. However, in the end, I always come back to this kitchen design for my slightly off-kilter galley kitchen.


Did I ever post a rendering that I made of the view from the living room into the proposed kitchen?


Hang on while I go into my image library to check. I’ll be back in a jiffy.


Okay, I’m back.

Yes, the rendering is in my image library, but I checked every post from when it was made on August 20th for an entire month, and it’s not on any post I could find. I think I had intended to share it but then forgot.


kitchen mock-up with furniture - Late August, 2022 soapstone counter.


Yes, that’s my yellow lamp, and yes, that’s a George Smith chair. haha! I put it there in an attempt to mask the not-so-great virtual floor patching as I tried to hide the hideous spiral staircase. Of course, there will not be a chair in that location.

Wait, Laurel. How did you make it, so the lamp looks like it’s on? Did you plug it in and put it on top of something else? 

Well, that would’ve been a great idea, but no, I did it all on Picmonkey.

Okay, because it’s me, and I love playing with stuff on Picmonkey, I did another version with a white floor.


(Ala Albert Hadley)

simply white ode to albert hadley living room - best shades of white paint

Above one of the 40 mood boards from the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection. After at least four years, there is going to be a price increase in January for all my lovely interior design guides.


So, do you want to see my virtual white floor?


Yes, Laurel, of course, we want to see it!


Okay, hang on a sec, please, and I’ll fetch it.



I realize that this is quite controversial. Although I love it, I probably won’t do it for many reasons I don’t need to go into right now. What do you think?

Okay, this is probably the final kitchen renovation plan, after all. Please go to this post from last July if you’d like to see my kitchen plans and another rendering.


Of course, Rick and I discussed the killer spiral staircase (I wrote that post two years ago!), and I told him about making a straight-run stairs.

Rick liked that idea. However, when I told him I was moving the existing bedroom wall over four feet, (making the bedroom four feet smaller), he said, “Really?” I said there would be 9.5′ at the head of the bed, and then it widens about a foot. Then, he was okay.


At the end of our meeting, he said he needs to see my FINAL plans ASAP.


The reason is he’s going next week to speak to a building inspector. You know, those guys who will make you rip out an entire staircase if it’s 35″ wide instead of 36″ wide. That is– if it’s new and feasible to make the staircase to code. But, once you change the opening, it must be made to code.

It matters not that a public space has stairs with a seven-inch tread and a ten-inch riser. Please see this post about the gorgeous Boston Athenaeum and you will see these treacherous staircases on the 6th floor–and the balconies with huge gaping holes! 


MY staircase must be 36″ wide with a ten-inch tread and a max 8.25″ riser.


I will put an extra step in, so my risers will be 7.75 inches high. I hear many of you breathing a sigh of relief. It’s okay. Now, I don’t have to take the steps two at a time. hehehe


narrow Beacon Hill Books Staircase - renovation update October 2022

The exquisite brand new Beacon Hill Books & Cafe on Charles Street and designed by the fantastically talented Cathy Kincaid. These stairs are a great example of what I’m talking about. Commercial space. Super busy. Old building. These steps are max 30″ wide. That’s okay because they did not change the existing plan;  nor, is it possible to do so.


Sorry, got off on a tangent.


Rick wants to show my plan to the building inspector to find out if the plans from the structural engineer will be sufficient to satisfy the town.

If not, I’ll need an architect’s approval, as well.

I asked Rick if he would like more than one option for the lower level. He said, quite emphatically, “Oh no! Please send me one plan– the one you want.”

“But… the closer you can make it to what it currently is, the better. I need to see the original plans and what you have proposed.”


That last statement took two days to sink in. haha Oh, I heard him say it, and then denial took over.


Okay, so I went down to quadruple-check my measurements. I measured very carefully and, without looking at the drawing, came up with a total measurement of 317″ from the little flat wall by the door to the back cabinet, and yes, I came up with 317″. And, yes, the measurements on the drawing add up to 317 inches! Hooray!

However, when I superimpose the drawing over the one I’ve been using, which is supposedly 317″, I come up about 4″ short.


I realize I probably just lost 75% of you. Hell, I’ve lost myself.


One of my “original” drawings was off by at least a foot. I don’t know what happened, but anyway, my measurements are accurate and reflect what was written.

Still, there are a few places where the placement of items in the room is off by three or so inches on the original drawing, that is. Therefore, y’all probably know this but never work off of someone else’s plans or measurements.

Architects, when renovating, sometimes guestimate the placement of things that are not changing.

It’s not measure twice and cut once. It’s measure 20 times and cut once.


So, did you change the plan, Laurel?


Of course, I did. ;]

If you’re interested in seeing earlier iterations, please go here.

That post then links to even earlier designs.


Straight run stairs Garden Level July 30, 2022 - flex space very open

Above is where I left off; I cleaned it up and put another piece instead of the breakfront. It could be anything.


Straight run stairs Garden Level October 13, 2022 - flex space very open armoire

Above is the last version, cleaned up. Yes, I took the door off the toilet partition.

I ADORE the bathroom.


Okay, it’s getting late, so here’s what I have for today.


While I prefer bedrooms on the smaller side. Maybe it is a tad too small.

So, I went back and rethought an earlier idea. Yes, very similar to what happened with the kitchen.


My new plan. I love it!!! Where you see the twin case pieces flanking the bedroom entrance, there could also be two closets. But–

A. I need to save money wherever I can, and building two closets is going to be expensive.

In my dream, I would have two chests or wardrobes from Chelsea Textiles. 


The question is– Is this keeping things as much the same as possible?


Ummm, no.

Below are the walls as they are now.


114 Comm Ave #2 Garden Level existing plan
Now, let me put that over the new floor plan.

I didn’t put all of the walls in. Only the BEAM on top of the load bearing wall. The bright green heavy line.

The good news is that my living room floor is the only load it’s holding up. It’s not holding up the building. That burden goes to the large load-bearing walls on both sides of the house. They’ve been doing a superb job of that for nearly 143 years.

However, the problem with keeping that beam intact is that it cuts through the hole where my stairs will be. I don’t think the building inspector would approve. ;]

To be clear, the beam is in the 15″ vertical area underneath the upstairs floor and above the downstairs ceiling. It’s not an issue except for the stairwell.


This is why we definitely must have a structural engineer on board.


Did I consider any other designs to work with the wall as is?

Yes, but none I like nearly as much as the one above.

Beacon Hill Books - Charles Street Boston - staircase balustrade

Above, also from my recent visit to the new Beacon Hill Books. This is just how I’d love my staircase to end.

The only thing I’m not wild about is how close my new stairs are to the door out of the aparmtent. However, when I mentioned it to Rick, he said, “It’s not an issue, happens all the time.”


***Also, please remember this is NOT the main doorway.


That is upstairs. This is a doorway to satisfy the legal need for egress out of the apartment downstairs. The garden doesn’t count. So, 95% of the time, I’ll be up and down the stairs, and that back door isn’t going to come into play.

That is– unless I’ve left my keys upstairs. But then, I’ll go up, grab them and use the main door.

Okay, I better sign off. I hope you enjoyed this renovation update for October.

Please check out the terrific HOT SALES for this weekend!



41 Responses

  1. Summer start and 2024 final reveal, ok!!!

    That gives you the whole winter to dream up and button down that adorable garden space, just saying 😉

  2. Wow, I liked the downstairs design before and now I like it even more!
    I recently switched to induction and love it. The only downside to mine is that my cats like to sit on it for some reason and then it makes a beeping sound. It’s quite comical. (There’s an option for locking the controls, which is another nice safety feature)

  3. I’m glad to see that things seem to be getting off square one with your re-do. Making the most of a small space is always a challenge, especially given the code upgrades that you are trying to make. Although the minimum width for a stair according to the building code is 36″, you have a different situation that might give you an exception if you & your contractor set up a meeting with the local building inspector. The exception is that you appear to have doors out of your apartment on each floor of your unit & I would assume each leads to a fire rated hallway to the exterior(I have not seen a floor plan of your entire building), therefore the stair would not be used in an emergency egress situation—you would simply exit out your unit door into an exit corridor—no stair needed for exit!

    Certainly the awful spiral stair does not meet code & the inspector might understand that you are greatly improving the situation & just might work with you, It’s worth a try.

    Good luck!

    1. Oh Wayne, Stop making sense!!! But, here’s the thing. It’s a two-bedroom duplex. One bedroom upstairs and one downstairs. So, theoretically, a couple with four children could live here. Not my children, mind you, but anyway, The parents have created their small, but private sanctuary upstairs and have put up a dividing wall between the window and door, downstairs to separate the two boys from the two girls.

      One horrible night, the parents are woken up as they hear the smoke alarm go off and a raging fire has engulfed the unit above and the ceiling… You know, I can’t come up with a viable scenario. Of course, the parents would run downstairs and throw the kids out in the snow, along with their blankets.

      Is making the stairwell four inches smaller going to impact anyone’s safety?

      No, of course not. Is the current deathtrap going to impact anyone’s safety?


      In addition, there’s ANOTHER staircase going downstairs right outside my front door. I mean, it’s exactly six feet away.

      Rick is pretty easy-going, but he said there is absolutely no way they’ll agree to a more narrow stairwell and I got the
      impression that he’d rather I not bring it up again. However, maybe I can find out for certain, without having to go through him.

  4. Hi Laurel,
    You are fortunate to have had the opportunity to live in your home for a bit before any changes take place. Last year I bought a house & had renovations start right away. I didn’t want to live in the house in it’s current condition. It was gross. But I had to make quite a few decisions without knowing what my living situation in the home would be. And I had to make some compromises with some things due to budget. As you can guess, mistakes were made. Now I’m living with some regrets.
    I think all the changes you’re making with your plans is going to reward you in the end. And your home will be beautiful!

  5. Hi Laurel, How exciting to be even a little bit closer to actual renovation! First suggestion….a post on stair coverings–wood, carpet, engineered wood, Luxury vinyl tile (!), jute/sisal?

    Second suggestion: To avoid changing the existing beam and the expense, could you move the upstairs opening to the left, but do a right angle turn of the stairs so that the beam could stay, but now at the outside of the turn. So an L-shaped stairway, opposite to the way you had before, but turning before the beam would impact the height. Maybe impractical, just wondering!

    And two other comments: You might consider taking out the little wall in the bathroom by the toilet to make it as easy as possible to get in and out of the toilet enclosure. Also, maybe bifold doors or a sliding door into wall at the closet opening, then you might be able to put a chest of drawers in there on the wall that is not hanging clothes.

    Thanks for letting us see your design process!

    1. GGG,

      While that would be possible, it would mean taking the staircase even further into the room than it already is. And one would have to walk around the staircase coming in from the entry into the living room. The spiral already overlaps the entrance by almost two feet.

      And it would also be in the path from the kitchen to the living room. It’s already periously close.

      The only other solution would be to put in a more attractive spiral staircase. However, in the long run, this solution is so much better. It gives back a strip 21″ wide by 63″ and another strip, 15″ wide by 63″

      It’s a PITA for Rick. Life would be so much easier not to make that change. However, he too, thinks it’s for the best.

      1. Hi Laurel, I did not explain well! Probably still wouldn’t work but I meant to have the opening for L-stair not on kitchen side but on the other side, where you have now. I think I misinterpreted earlier drawing. Good luck with city!

  6. Laurel, the rendering of your kitchen/living room with the dark wood floor is beyond gorgeous. There is so much depth and interest in that view compared to the rather flat appearance with the white floor, and there is also much more of a feeling of warmth and comfort with the dark wood. My style is English country house which probably explains my bias, but I think most of us respond to warmth and comfort in our homes, and never more than during the “interesting” times we now live in.

  7. Hi Laurel! I love the view from the LR into the kitchen and hallway, so airy, elegant and beautiful! I’d also leave the dark floors as is, it makes the gorgeous mural, wainscoting panels and white kitchen pop, whereas with the white floors the spaces kind of blend together. It may not be a bad thing, of course, I just like the hallway and kitchen a distinct, separate area. No matter what you do, it will be stunning!! It’s a long and hard way to get all of this done, one really suffers a long and slow agony, but the end result will be well worth the pain.

  8. Hi Laurel
    I love your apt. reno. I can hardly wait to see the after photos.

    I ordered 3 bathrooms, Laundry room and mudroom cabinets in January. They told me it would be 6 months, but it ended up being 8 1/2 months. This is so different from when I did my Kitchen 5 years ago.

    Good luck with everything, I know it will be lovely.

    1. Hi Michelle,

      It definitely would be wonderful. I do love them. It would have to be completely custom and might be an expense I’ll need to forego on. That’s why I pulled out the closets in the bedroom in favor of furniture. Anything built-in is crazy expensive. I could easily spend 10k for two new closets.

  9. Thanks for the renovation update. I love everything you have planned! The little changes you have made make everything even better! How is that possible? You are a genius! I hope you can find a way to make your stairwell work with the support beam issue. Will your stairs be set back a few more inches from the entry door because of the error you found? That might be an unexpected benefit. 🙂 Is it possible to move your entry door a few inches to the left, to gain a few more, too, between the bottom of the stairs and the door? I think your bath is delightful. The little tweaks you have made to the design, like making the bathroom wall longer and centering the bedroom door are great ideas. I like the shape of your vanity and the fact that’s what you see when you walk into the bathroom. The downstairs is more symmetrically pleasing. I love the photo of the curved stairway end that you shared. It’s a good choice in a location where you’ll always be going around it to get to your bath and bedroom. I’m always looking for ways to use all available space. Have you considered putting a closet under the stairs in your bedroom, with the door next to your bed. It wouldn’t cost much more than a bi-fold door to make the space into a closet. In our basement, the area under the top of our stairs is nearly full height and it makes a great storage area. If you didn’t use it for clothes, you could have your mini-frig and a microwave right in your bedroom. No one would know the closet was there.

    1. Hi Susan,

      Yes, there’s a door near the bed to go under the stairs. I tried to indicate that on the floor plan, but maybe it’s difficult to see. That will be a great place for decorations, luggage, etc. I’ve also put in another door further down that is opposite the big closet door. I’d like to use a normal door, even though, by then, half of what’s behind the door will be sheet rock. haha.

  10. Hi Laural, I do prefer this more simplified design. I love the stained wood floor, losing the toilet door (which was unnecessary for such a small bathroom) and bigger closet with better flow and less turns. One suggestion. Your bed backs up to the common hallway. It might be good to double the wall behind the bed to add soundproofing. You can afford to loose the depth in the room as long as your bed doesn’t visually protrude past the bedroom entry doors.

    1. Hi Sandi,

      Oh yes! Absolutely. We are going to soundproof the crap out of that wall. I can HEAR everything. I cannot wait to lose that door and can’t believe that nobody did anything about it before. Even without the stairs, the door could’ve easily been moved.

  11. Hi Laurel!
    I have been following you for several years, and it’s so entertaining and I have learned so much. Thank you for sharing your expertise with all of us! Your new apartment is just lovely. On to the floor. I like the wood unpainted, since I am a contrast girl.

  12. Thanks, Laurel, for the reno update! It’s nice to know that even interior designers struggle with some of the same things as us ordinary mortals 🤣

    I hope your plans continue moving forward…movement is good…stalled out is frustrating. Praying your frustrations are minimal, and your plans succeed!

  13. Regarding your scale issue: sometimes scale can be skewed during printing, scanning, etc., making it difficult to match overlays.

    I’m a geologist and prefer induction cooktops over gas. Induction is safer, cleaner, energy efficient, and you have as much temperature control as with gas. It has been commonly used in Europe for a great while now. Change is hard and it takes people a while to adapt to new ideas.

    Can’t wait to watch your plans become reality! Enjoy the process and good luck.

    1. Hi Lisa,

      That’s true. It’s also possible I did something by accident. But, I remeasured the upstairs which isn’t easy to do. And, no, I don’t have a laser tape measure which would help. But, anyway, I put blue tape down which made measuring the space easier. It all works out, very well.

  14. So interesting you are getting an induction cooktop. I so wish I had gotten one for our new build. I am so over gas stoves/cooktops with their heavy grates and having to take everything apart after using it to just get crumbs or even clean spots after boiling water. Never again! I guess I don’t understand the hype over these big, bulky stoves . . .but I am not a chef. Your kitchen is going to be so elegant and I really like your new lower level plan. I hope it all works out for you.

    1. Great point. There’s also the reality that we need to move away from fossil fuels. Yet in current design trends electric stoves are considered passé or a downgrade from gas. I have a gas stove in the home I just sold. My next home will be all electric with solar panels.

    2. Hi Penny. Yes, the cleaning issue alone is enough to drive me crazy. But, I have read that gas is not so healthy for us. And yes, there are folks with six or more burners who rarely use more than two or three. I guess they just like the way it looks.

  15. Hi Laurel. Clearly designing for ourselves is the hardest thing in the world. I think it’s impossible for a designer to look at plans for their own space and NOT make any changes. I’m sure what you end up with in the end will be beautiful!

  16. Thanks for the update. The rendering looks fabulous, and I can’t wait to see it all happen. I do like the latest lower floor rendition -it seem more open. My personal preferance is for the darker brown floor-I feel it grounds the room-and it will not show every speck of dust. I know that because I just changed my kitchen counter and cabinets to white and I can’t believe how every things shows (I guess it was all there before but I couldn’t see it 🙂 )

  17. Love your post and how your plan is coming together! Look fantastic!

    Just curious which application/program you are using for your layout drawings/floor plans?


  18. Ooooo….my absolute favorite posts are about your renovation! I could read one every day. Anyway, two comments: Firstly, I love how the stained wood floor relates to the browns in the mural. That “dialogue” really ties the two spaces together. Secondly, your home is going to be more mind-bogglingly beautiful than can be envisioned from a floor plan or an elevation. All the work and anxiety will be worth it when you can actually enter that classic foyer, put away groceries in the stunning kitchen, walk down the staircase, and end up in a lower level that’s transformed aesthetically and functionally. You’re an inspiration, and I can’t wait for the next update!

  19. Laurel, so I am up early, cannot sleep – was happy to see you had posted. Funny I had been wondering about how your renovation was proceeding – and there it was, a new post on same subject. Thumbs up on your latest (final?) plan. Love it. My personal taste is for a big walk in closet which it looks like you now have. I noticed the curtain wall is gone – yes? I have to admit I never liked that addition despite the obvious privacy benefit. However, you raise a really interesting problem with that structural beam and your proposed new staircase. Wow! That is a very big deal. Have you thought of an alternative staircase plan just in case the structural engineer and the town veto this piece of your renovation? Anyway, I love following your renovation, so please keep sharing your progress.

    1. Hi Marlene,

      I couldn’t even FALL asleep last night. I am a night owl, a habit I’m not fond of, in any case, but couldn’t fall asleep until 7:00 AM. That’s not normal.

      Oh yes, I have thought of alternatives. There aren’t any that won’t create an even worse situation. Many have tried, but what they don’t realize is that the foot print of upstairs is not the same as the downstairs. Everything under the den, upstairs bathroom, the last foot or so of the entry closet and half of the kitchen are not mine, below it.

      I’ve had numerous discussions with the contractor who’s highly experienced with Back Bay brownstones and he has assured me it’s not a problem to move the staircase where I want it to be. The only issue is doing what’s necessary to ensure the integrity of the structure.

      One thing I didn’t mention is that the beam has already been rerouted as it normally would’ve fallen within the current opening, not where it’s positioned. I don’t actually know that it goes straight across. It most likely doesn’t.

      The entire stair well excluding the wall side will have a steal support. The opening will be closed up, about a foot on the far end, with a sloping soffit to accommodate the minimum headroom of 80″ after step number 11. It’s going to be a huge improvement!

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Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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