Seven Days of Dust and Determination

We’re in Chennai, India working on the India pied-à-terre. It’s one thing to sit on a soft sofa and surf for pictures of the look I’d like. This blog was launched in 2010 originally as a place to gather all the inspiration pictures to make a unique South Indian apartment. You can also visit a Pinterest board of decorating inspiration.

It’s obviously a totally different story to make it actually happen. Here’s some sneak peek snaps of what it’s been like for the past week …

Delivery of the glass for shower doors and walls:

Shower Door Glass Delivery in Chennai India

We thought the glass is a little thin, but if it can survive travel like this on Chennai roads, it can survive us opening and closing the doors during our occasional visits to India.

The carpenter explaining to my husband how our custom master bathroom sink vanity will be constructed:

Building a Bathroom Sink


The bathroom is tiny and it’s been a challenge to figure out how to build it so it can be wall-mounted. And today there was a bit of a disaster. The piece of old chippy paint door wood I bought — originally from India and I hauled it back to India — broke when the carpenter trimmed the edges to fit:

Master Bathroom Custom Sink Vanity Front

I had been so proud that I had figured out how to cut angles with my table saw. I was in our garage sawing the wood at 1:00 a.m. the night before catching a flight to India! My saw is much more powerful than the tools these guys are working with, and when they trimmed the wood, the cut shapes splintered and cracked. Bummer. And there’s a straight cut which was not obviously a wood splinter. I think a measuring mistake. You see the flowers aren’t centered? So far the carpenter has been so precise with the wood interior pieces no one will ever see. Why the mistake on the most important piece of wood? We’re insisting on using this piece of wood so the carpenter is fixing it.

Here’s a peek at the work environment! This is our living room!

Messy Dangerous Work Space

Someone said it’s like watching sausage being made. You don’t want to be there while they’re doing it. This is true.

Here’s a meeting with a carpenter to figure out how to make the guest bathroom sink so people can fit in the space:

Bathroom Sink

They painted the walls. And the floors too:

Paint Spattered Floor

It’s a mess! But it’s a fun mess!

English/Victorian Exposed Shower Plumbing

Exposed shower plumbing was a trendy choice here in the U.S. when we remodeled our master bathroom nine years ago. The look is industrial, it’s vintage, it’s a little bit country depending on the finish you choose. It’s often imported from England by brands like Rohl, Samuel Heath or Perrin & Rowe. It’s a design choice in the U.S., but in India it’s a necessity. Both our bathrooms in our Chennai apartment require exposed plumbing and pipes. Exposed shower plumbing looks like this:

Exposed Shower Plumbing

True to the name, the pipes are exposed on the outside of the wall.

It’s also called exposed thermostatic system.

The exposed shower plumbing choices we’ve seen so far in Chennai showrooms are very chunky looking and they’re nearly always shiny chrome. Contemporary shiny things are popular there. There’s limited design options available especially if you want an oil rubbed bronze, or a soft brushed brass look like this unlacquered brass from Waterworks:

Waterworks Unlacquered Brass

If you can get these finishes in Chennai, they will be special ordered and we will be there only 2.5 weeks and really want a shower while we’re there. Surely everyone around us will appreciate it if we shower too. So there’s no time for special orders. So I’m seeking shower plumbing in the U.S. to haul over in suitcases. !!! Yes. We fly Etihad and we get four large check-in suitcases between the two of us with 200 pounds of stuff for no charge. You can easily take bathroom sconce lighting, plumbing, sewing machine, drilling tools … yes that is our vacation packing list right now!

While we installed Rohl in our Chicago area home, the quality and cost were worth it in a master bath we use several times daily. But for only very occasional use in our place in India, the more upscale brands like Rohl, Perrin & Rowe and Waterworks are way too pricey. We also don’t want to risk getting docked for import taxes while bringing expensive plumbing into India. So I’m seeking other brands this weekend, and meanwhile finding the coolest showers with exposed plumbing …

Exposed Shower Plumbing

Shower Plumbing Exposed

You can also build an exposed shower system yourself with copper pipes. In the right setting, usually very simple and purposely understated, it can look charming versus just cheap DIY.



So wish me luck. I hope we’re hauling finished shower pipe systems on Etihad instead of rigging up copper pipes in a pinch!


About that Kitchen Semi-Reveal Photo

In last Tuesday’s post, the photo was about an owl. But I realize the owl filled maybe 2% of the photo and the rest was … a kitchen, a kitchen in the India apartment:

And I realized I’ve never shown much here after 1 1/2 years of blathering about the apartment, dining table and chair inspiration, Tuscan kitchens, farmhouse sinksfaucets and copper things, and blah blah blah. Not to mention buying a lot of stuff at HomeGoods. Meanwhile things have been happening for real in the apartment.

To come clean, keeping secrets about the state of things has been kind of intentional. Why?

I don’t have pretty photos to share. Don’t we all want our photos to be pretty?

While I was in Chennai, the kitchen progress didn’t reach a photo-worthy stage. The kitchen mostly looked like this:

I had arrived bright-eyed and hopeful that we’d cook dinners there within a few days. People had been working in the kitchen for six months so we’re in the final home stretch, right? Ha ha HA. After three weeks, my expectations shrank to hoping for a 2′ x 2′ section of countertop where I could do a staged close-up: yellow Tuscan cannisters from Sur La Table lined up on the granite, next to the copper farmhouse sink and the bronze faucet, beige and copper tile backsplash in the background, a few spice bottles and the edge of a colorful French jacquard dish towel for accents … all giving the illusion that the whole kitchen was nice beyond the confines of the photo. But we didn’t even get to 2′ x 2′ of completed and clean kitchen!

The last time I saw the kitchen, a few men were standing on counters, spraying noxious fumes to “finish” the cabinets, and other men were on the floor sanding a wood strip that we wound up scrapping.

So knowing that, here is what I have to share for now …

The hammered copper farmhouse sink is installed:

You can get many styles of copper farmhouse sinks from places like Copper Sinks Online, but ours was custom-made to size in Delhi by a company that manufactures copper sinks for U.S. retailers. We wanted to eliminate the expense of shipping from the U.S. to India. Our crew had never seen a farmhouse sink before! We had to play YouTube videos of farmhouse sink installations for them. We assured them the installation would be secure. But can you see that wood platform under the sink? Our carpenter did not agree that our instructions would hold the sink (this from the guy who had never seen a farmhouse sink before) so after my husband left India, the carpenter added that platform contraption underneath the sink. It’s too late to remove it now. Oh well. We could probably stand in that sink and it won’t move anywhere now.

Our carpenter built all the cabinets on-site. The granite and most tile was sourced in Chennai. We found backsplash accent tiles at Home Depot that we hauled over in a suitcase — tiles that we found for a penny when a lucky rainbow led to Home Depot, true story!

These are the tiles from Chennai and Home Depot, plus the faucet from Studio 41, when my husband and nephew shopped for granite. You can see a strip of “braided” accent tile from Home Depot that’s shiny copper to tie in with the copper farmhouse sink:

Here’s a shot of tiles installed in the kitchen. But, do you notice something:

That top row there. Lookin’ a little different. While we were in Chennai, we were on-site supervising every move. Then we left for three days to shop for furnishings in Cochin antique shops. During that time, they brought someone in to finish the tile, to lay out the top row which had been missing. And … ugh … no words needed. I think what happened is, terra cotta dust was everywhere from electricians drilling into the plaster and brick walls. Maybe the tile guy got his fingers covered with terra cotta dust, then used his fingers to smooth grout. Which he shouldn’t have used fingers for that, as the grout texture is obviously smushed like he did. Our architect was dismayed and agreed this would be ripped out and re-done. What was this tile guy thinking?!? No lucky rainbow for us the day he was working in the kitchen, huh?

So this is how it is, three steps forward, one step backward. Eventually we will get it done and there will be pretty pictures to share.