The India pied-à-terre: Video Tour of Big Construction Mess & Confusing Electrical Outlets

First, I am so so so SO sorry! I’m so sorry I’m one of those people who hold their phones vertical when filming video. Yeah I’m one of them. After uploading a bunch of vertical videos, I will never do it again! But you’d think with everything technology can do now, couldn’t phones give us a warning when we hold our phones vertical: “Ummm, hey vertical lady, how about considering filming video horizontal? Really, it’s highly suggested. You might like the result better.”

There was no warning. So here’s some vertical videos for you. These are from our apartment in Chennai, India, filmed last September. I shared them on my personal Facebook, but not here yet. Video is the best way to get a feel for the place and see all my confusion with the electrical outlets. :)

These first two videos give a glimpse of all the workers in the apartment at once, and all the frenzied progress. Hit the “Full Screen” button to see these videos big enough to actually see them:

Sorry if you got seasick watching that. I learned fast and filmed this one slower:

I’m still surprised at how much we accomplished in 3 weeks last September. We finished two bathrooms, painted all the walls and ceilings of the whole entire place plus the outside stairwell, repaired the balcony railings, lined all the walls with baseboard molding. We also installed A/C, clothes washing machine, hot water booster, oven, range, fridge and kitchen sink. And we installed a lot of electrical lights indoors and outdoors. Whew!!! AND we attended my niece’s 3-day wedding.

After the first morning’s work, we popped into the apartment around lunch time and found it was nap time! And I also found a big mess:

Everyone worked on the floor. Some built tools on-site, like a miter box.

Also to explain my shoes … it’s customary to remove your shoes at the door in India. Even in all this construction mess, the workers removed their shoes. I wasn’t going to walk barefoot for safety reasons. I work for a safety organization and there were so many hazards here (note how they were using the electrical outlets to power their tools). My shoes didn’t go out on the streets so I hopefully wasn’t tracking much stuff into the apartment.

Here, I could NEVER figure out all these light switch panels! I still haven’t figured them out! (also please excuse my voice, I already am not thrilled with listening to it and it’s bouncing around all the hard surfaces of this place):

This was filmed on our last day in India last September. The apartment as we left it, after all the workers were done. You’ll see confusing light switches again:

I can hear here, the cough I always pick up from exposure to the road pollution. I get out there in the roads, walking to the paint store and other shops, walking to restaurants, and riding in rickshaws.

Finally, here’s the place cleaned up before we locked the door … until next time …

I showed super cool detail on the farmhouse table imported from Indonesia. Love it! And the three ceiling pendants I stenciled and had our electrician install. Love those too.

And you see that the electrical switches that I know very well are those that control the ceiling fans and the air conditioning. Very important electrical switches in the heat and humidity of Chennai, India.

I have some videos showing bathroom details, which I’ll share later! This is enough annoying vertical videos for now.

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Creating a Guest Bathroom in the India pied-à-terre

So, we carried bathrooms to India in suitcases! Our suitcases were packed with hammered  copper and unlacquered brass sink basins, faucets, exposed shower pipes, shower heads, various knobs and handles, mirrors, and lighting. Not your usual tourist vacation suitcases! What did we do with it all? Well, yesterday I shared our almost-done master bathroom and its copper and oil rubbed bronze. Today I’ll show the guest bath and its golden brass touches.

First, so you can get your bearings, here’s the floor plan and location of the guest bathroom:

Chennai Apartment Floor Plan

Here’s the bathroom when we arrived. It had sat empty for four years. You can’t see in the photos but it was full of dirt and crud after having an open window for all those years! Here’s the view when peeking in the door:

Guest Bath

The tile was installed four or five years ago, I forget now. So long ago. Now, finally in 2015, it was time for everything else! Here’s the sink/vanity/sconce area:

Guest Bath Sink Vanity Area

The repeat pattern in the tile on the wall is  bugging my eyes here, but it will soon be covered up with lighting and a mirror.

Toilet Troubles

One day, we made a trip to a toilet warehouse. We had toilet troubles. The plumber installed provisions for pipes on the right and left sides of the toilets. We wanted plumbing on the right where it would be hidden from view. But the toilet tanks were set up for plumbing on the left, where you’d see a tangle of chrome pipes from every spot in the bathroom. Ugh. So off to the toilet warehouse we went, where I took an Anthropologie-esque photo in an appropriately shabby Anthro-style place:

Anthro Knockoff

That’s me trying to make an Indian toilet warehouse as pretty as possible! My mother-in-law saw that photo and said, “why do you show people ugly places of India? Why not show them pretty places?” But you know what, people like this shabby chic stuff! At least I’m not showing you the mountain of porcelain thrones that were piled up just next to me! The blue grates matched my outfit, good enough.

Back at the apartment, the Burmese teak wood for the bathroom counter was delivered, and we had a meeting to discuss placement of the brass sink basin:

Sink Basin Placement

Faucet and Basin Placement

Creating the countertop was a challenge. A space that seems spacious fills up fast once you start putting things in it. If we weren’t careful with the counter shape, there wouldn’t be much room to squeeze past the shower to get into the bathroom. This is not a “wet bathroom” as is common in India, where there aren’t any barriers between the shower faucet and the rest of the bathroom, and everything can get wet. We would be installing glass shower walls and door. So we had to pretend the glass was already there, taking up space.

You can see here, below, how tight the space really is. I’m standing by the toilet. My husband is to the left by the basin, and the carpenter is between the shower and the door. We had to shave that bulky block of teakwood down into a slim shape that would let us get in the room:

Bathroom Space Planning

Because the bathroom has so many sharp angles, squares and rectangles, we decided on curves for the counter. We cut a round shape around the basin, then a long elegant slim counter that rounds off by the door. We also needed room for the brackets to attach the counter to the wall. Here’s a drawing of the first curvy design:

Counter Mockup

But this was still too bulky to allow enough elbow room in the bathroom.

So we shaved the counter shape down even more. This is the final shape the carpenters created:

Counter Top Shape

Here it is, going up on the bathroom wall:

Counter Installation

You can see at the bottom of the photo here, the edge of the shower in the left corner. This is why the sink counter is so slim. It gives us enough space to set things like shampoo, and still allow about two feet of clearance to walk past it comfortably.

Bathroom Sink Counter

Yay! Installed!

I can’t tell you how much head-scratching and forehead-wrinkling there was, trying to figure out how to squeeze a counter into this spot. The brackets are a little long and obvious. But we don’t have a ton of choices in this little corner of Chennai, India. We went to the biggest bathroom hardware store in the area — Thakir — and these brackets were the only choice there. Plus, the brass sink basin is substantial and very heavy — we don’t want to risk something falling down here.

After a visit from the electrician, the sconces (bought at Home Depot and hauled to India) were installed. Still covered in plastic here. They’re fabric and it gets so dirty here, maybe I won’t take the plastic off, just like my grandma left the plastic on her chairs, LOL!

Bathroom Sconces

This space needs a unique mirror, right? My eyes are on the look-out!

Here we’re showing the plumbers a photo of the shower plumbing. They ran into a snafu and needed to see a photo of the final result:

Shower Installation

They got it, and here’s the shower, it’s a brushed gold color:

Brushed Brass Shower

Here’s how the brass basin and the faucet look, once dropped into the counter:

Brass Basin and Facuet

It’s off-center, but there just isn’t enough room for the basin to be centered here.

On our next trip, I’ll fix the plastic pipes underneath to look like brass. No one thought it a good idea to use wood for the countertop. But as I shared above, it was so difficult to find a shape that would fit in this space, that wood gave us the most flexibility to create a shape. You can seal wood, and I’m sure it won’t be a problem. If it ever is, we can always replace it.

I’m loving this combo of faucet and sink. If I remember right, I think I got both at Signature Hardware.

Unlacquered Brass Basin

Once we finished the bathroom, we had only one day to use it before it was time to catch a flight back to the U.S. But it’s ready from the time we unlock the door on the next trip!

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The “Almost There” Master Bathroom in the India pied-à-terre

I warn, this post will go on quite a journey. Some parts aren’t pretty. And the journey isn’t over yet! As you’ll see at the end …

Today I’ll show how the master bathroom of the India pied-à-terre came together during our trip to Chennai, India in September. If you’ve followed along for awhile, these inspiration photos for the master bathroom may look familiar:

Master Bathroom Inspiration

I wanted to create a one-of-a-kind carved wood vanity. While surfing Etsy a few years ago, I found the perfect piece of Indian chippy paint wood at Hammer & Hand in St. Louis:

Carved Chippy Paint Wood

It hung around our house for a few years, waiting for the day we’d be ready to do the master bathroom. That day came, and the piece of wood was too long to fit the airline’s checked baggage rules. So I cut it on the table saw in our garage at 1 a.m. the night before boarding the flight. And I was pretty dang proud of myself!! Because I did some nice mitered corners! First time ever.

Mitered Corners

Master Bath Vanity Wood

These gorgeous corners got wrecked later by the carpenter, and all I can say is … invest in a table saw, dear contractors! It’s time to upgrade from sawtooth blades and under-powered power tools that rip and chew wood like jaggedy Great White Shark teeth. I spare you the full wrath and rant. My husband, the economist, had an epiphany about this situation which happened numerous times – men showed up to work without good tools for the job. He realized labor is so cheap, that it’s far cheaper to send more people with rudimentary tools, than to buy the proper equipment that would get the job done better and faster. It does not make any economic sense to have the right tools. So projects lingered for days, made great messes, and we did get tired of it in the end. A few things didn’t get finished because we had enough. “Next time,” we’d say.

The beginning was exciting though. We shared our vision with the contractors — carpenters, plumbers, electricians. Many meetings occurred on the floor. What we wanted was different, but they got it!

Designing Master Bathroom Vanity

Master Bathroom Sink Assembly

Sink Assembly

We had problems to figure out, and there was good teamwork to find solutions. For example both bathrooms are smaller so we needed to ensure there was enough room to navigate around glass shower walls and very importantly, also use the toilet. As you see here, space is pretty tight. The edge of the toilet is on the left, and that raised edge on the floor to the right is where the shower glass will be.

Installing Sink Vanity

This is why my carved wood got chopped and wrecked. I cut the front piece to 25″ long. But the master bath is so tight that every inch counts. If we left the vanity at 25″ wide, someone would soon get a nasty bruise on the sink edge while using the toilet. But the challenge was, we needed room for the sink basin, the faucet, and a bit more than a ridiculously slim countertop edge. At minimum, enough space to set a toothbrush, toothpaste and bottled water (because we can’t use the tap water for teeth brushing). We shaved the width down to 23″ and those extra 2″ buy space that matters by the toilet.



So the carpenter cut new mitered corners and this is when the wood crumbled. The carpenter filled spots with some crumbly-gluey wood shavings. I’ll have to sand and paint the broken crumbled parts on a future trip — the Florence color of Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan will match, I’m sure!

Paint Fixes All Problems


We also got a piece of teakwood to use as the vanity counter. Not a single person we talked to in India thought this was a good idea. No contractors, no family, no friends. “Wood and water?” they said. Bad idea! We insisted it’s okay. Like, boats are made of wood! Right? If the wood is treated properly, it should be fine, and you shouldn’t be leaving huge puddles of water on the counters, anyway.

Thing is, I’m not sure about the quality of the stain and sealer they used on the teak countertop. It rubbed off when the plumber installed the faucet, and the stain continued to rub off and streak when I cleaned. We’ll likely bring stain and sealer from the U.S., and sand and fix it ourselves on the next trip.

Master Bathroom India pied-a-terre

The assembly of this counter took quite awhile and made a big mess every day. There are screws and nails in visible places where they really don’t need to be. I can fill them later, but they bug me. I think the carpenter did a great job constructing a vanity that is securely attached to the wall, so the hidden guts are a genius plan, but the lack of attention to the visible parts were making me nervous. The final finishing quality was lacking. Nails were sticking out, and a mistake was made while cutting the front piece and the carpenter glued it together, but with glue that stayed shiny! He smeared the shiny glue around the front of the carved wood! I sanded all that glue off in an exhausted, heartbroken moment one hot, humid night, sweat dripping off my face and plopping on the tile. I had brought wood glue, but they didn’t use it, and I don’t know why glue was smeared all over the front where it doesn’t accomplish anything. I just kept thinking, “it’s okay, this blue-green paint looks just like Florence Chalk Paint! We’ll paint it and fix it later!”

So we called a “time out.” So the ends are not finished. On the next trip, we’ll cut wood pieces to size, paint them to blend in, and attach them.

Things to Fix

I thought the plumbers had a chrome piece for under the sink, which I could live with, but this plastic pipe is not good looking.

So on the next trip, I’ll probably paint the pipe copper or oil rubbed bronze.

The carpenter’s marks on the tile wall are also difficult to clean off. I couldn’t get them off, but I’m not panicking yet. I’m sure they’ll come off with the right cleaner. I sure hope that gloppy stuff around the pipe on the wall comes off too. We ran out of time to clean it off before we had to catch a flight home. Why do the contractors leave things like this?

We watched over our copper sink like helicopter parents. Here it is when it arrived in Chicago, and Chaai maybe thought it is a humongous food bowl (oh yay!!):

Hammered Copper Sink Basin

I know I had a lot of complaints in this post. This was not an easy project. The really good thing is, the pieces all fit together pretty well. We were meticulous about measurements. Especially because we bought a bunch of stuff in the U.S. and carried it to India in suitcases, we had to order things that fit. Here’s sources of things from the U.S.:

  • Home Depot bathroom lighting, which our electrician converted to the Indian electrical system
  • Mirror found years ago at Kirkland’s
  • Waterfall faucet from Home Depot
  • Hammered copper sink from Signature Hardware
  • Oil rubbed bronze exposed shower system from Signature Hardware

The glass shower wall and door were delivered like this:

Chennai Glass Shower Walls

The shower glass hardware is shiny chrome because it seems 98% of bathroom hardware and plumbing in India is shiny chrome, so we didn’t even bother asking about any other finish. Though we did find there’s a powder coating company nearby. If hardware is removable, you can take pieces there and get a different finish. The glass installers wound up cracking some tiles at the edge of the shower. They said the tiles are hollow, there isn’t mortar completely under them. ?!? So we’ll have to fill in and fix the cracked tiles later.

So … my vision for the master bathroom is almost there, if you compose the picture carefully! :)

Master Bath Vanity Carefully Composed

India Oil Rubbed Bronze Shower System

It’s 90% there. It’s that last 10% that’s always kind of tricky. To be continued … on the next trip!


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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!

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