So with Al on board, and Leo taking the reins, we were ready to begin. If memory serves, we began demo in mid January.
For those who are not familiar with renovation, here's the breakdown of your team. You will have a head contractor, who owns the business and holds the insurance and organizes everything, whom you rarely ever see. He is not actually wielding tools on a regular basis. He is out drumming up business and focusing on the office side of things. That was Al. He used to be a foreman, one can assume, but has moved up in the world. He earned his chops.
Then you have the foreman, who is on-site every day, and will be both managing the workers and doing a lot of the work himself. He has lots of experience, has come up through the ranks via years of work, and (hopefully) has been chosen to manage because he shows skill in problem solving. This man should be able to look at a light switch that needs installing, and - without detailed schematics and nautical coordinates, etc. - be able to choose a location for it that a human might conceivably find in the dark. Should. You'd be surprised. Luckily, Leo was just such a foreman, and his light switches were all in logical locations. He was great at problem solving in general, actually.
The trades people are subcontractors, meaning that the head contractor hires them and pays them, but they technically have their own businesses. This is the plumber and the electrician, and sometimes the painters or wallpaper guys. They come very few times to the site. Your foreman will save up lots and lots of tiny stupid little jobs that look like they're being ignored for no reason, so that the trades people can just show up once and do all the work at the same time. They are absurdly grumpy if they have to come back. I don't get this, but it is true on every jobsite I've ever seen.
Lastly, you have the work crew, who answer to the foreman and are there most days. They will speak the foreman's first language, but maybe not yours. My guys spoke Spanish, and I never revealed to them that I understood a fair amount of it, hoping I would have some kind of hilarious interaction where they thought they were making jokes I couldn't understand and then BAM! I responded wittily in Spanish and everyone was amazed. That never happened. Mostly when I was around they were either asking one another for tools or discussing lunch. They were nice dudes.
So! Demo is the first stage. This is where all the ugly comes out, in giant piles and mountains. It is very satisfying, in the manner of huge mounds of snow or a really big puddle to splash in. For us, this consisted of the platform, portions of the walls, old tile, and the biggie: the flooring.
The floors were one thing I had thought about salvaging from the old place. I thought it would be cost-effective to just refinish the existing wood. Luckily, Leo talked me out of it. The wood was cheap, very thin oak slats in lousy shape. There were a lot of places where the platform was nailed into, which wouldn't finish nicely. And the cost of stripping and restaining the wood was so close to the cost of new wood, it seemed nuts. Leo's advice: if you do everything nice around it, it will make the old floor look that much worse. Truth teller.
For the new flooring, I chose a 5" wide maple (slightly wider and richer-looking than the average 3"-4" slats, but not as expensive as those gorgeous 7" super wide planks you see in magazines) that had a hand-scraped look. This is a finish that has a slightly uneven surface, which looks like a Shaker personally planed it for you in his rustic barn in Pennsylvania, plank by plank. It's actually from a machine, but whatevs. I loved the look of super dark glossy wood, but I own two sheddy cats and hate dusting. Mid-tone stain it was.
I also went with a pre-engineered wood, which is a true hard wood plank (able to be sanded, refinished, etc) that has been pre-bonded to a substrate, and has 4 benefits: it is easier to install (less expensive for labor); it comes with the stain already done, so as soon as it's down you can walk on it (instead of waiting for a week for many layers of stain and poly); the substrate is a built-in pad and slight sound-proofer; and the substrate is less prone to warping due to temperature, as most wood usually does.
But I digress. Demo. So much demo.
The team worked for about a week and a half, creating impossibly high garbage mountains, bagging them up, and hand-carrying them down three flights to vans, where they hauled them to a dump. Our building or the city or someone would not allow Al to park a dumpster outside the building for any amount of time, so imagine what a pain in the ass that was. Renovations in NYC, man. The worst.
Layout-wise, the main changes were:
- Removing the closet, wall, and arch from the entry way. Light abounded. The apartment suddenly looked huge.
- Removing the big platform entirely. We rebuilt a platform for the dining area, but the old one was structurally crap. This left us a lovely large living area that felt like it was part of the entry and kitchen, but left the windows at a normal height in the new dining area.
- Removing about half the loft area. With only 5' tall ceilings, I couldn't use it for anything decent, anyway. We took it out over the kitchen, and extended the wall above the intercom up to the ceiling so it provided some hidden storage area up in the remaining loft. End goal achieved: the kitchen ceilings were now the full 13' tall!
- Removing about 3' of wall between the kitchen and the entry, to make the counter there into a breakfast bar. The base cabinets there are extra-narrow, so we could get a stool on both sides. MAJOR benefit in keeping the tiny kitchen (7'x10') from feeling closed in. We sit at that breakfast bar every single day.
- Remove the weirdo-tub in the bathroom, and using the drain there for a full-size washer and dryer. This, in NYC, is like owning a unicorn and casually leaving it around for your friends to find.
Upstairs, it was simpler: remove weird crap. Just remove it. Platform, round wall, John Hughes villain coffee area, etc. Gone. Leaving a nice, normal, flat room. I don't have photos of the upstairs, but trust: it was glorious. I heart demo.