Finding Beauty in the Dust

Seven of the twelve days I have available in Chennai have flown by, and I haven’t been able to paint anything in the apartment yet. Things got very delayed. Civil work, as they call it in India, is still being done: carpenters are sawing, wall smoothers are plastering, electricians are drilling.

In fact, we discover at the end of the days that walls once made perfect by the smoothers have become marred with concrete and terra cotta brick dust. Because the electricians had to drill holes to move fan outlets so the blades of ceiling fans don’t collide (um, yeah someone didn’t accommodate this), then light outlets needed to move because the fans needed to move. And holes for air conditioning unit drainage pipes needed to be drilled because I insisted on installing A/C centered above windows instead of on blank walls. Somehow every one of my desired changes results in lots of dust and destruction.

Final details produce more mess. When the washer/dryer hookup guys arrived, they discovered there isn’t room for the electrical plug between the washer/dryer unit and the outlet in the wall. The carpenter built the cabinet too tight. So the outlet needed to move to behind the washer/dryer. Thus, more drilling into concrete and the terra cotta brick behind the concrete.

As a result, dust n’ crumble and splatters n’ tatters:

As my dad duly noted, I have a graduate degree in public health with specialty in behavior change and my career has been in injury prevention. But how to successfully change this situation is formidable. We have a safe ladder for this worker. He won’t use it. Even if he used the ladder this week in our apartment, he won’t be using it on the next job or the job after that. They bring these drums to stand on. Maybe like the traffic here, people know how to deal in ways that we wouldn’t.

It’s customary to leave your shoes at the door. And the workers do. But I do not dare walk barefoot in here yet.

Somewhere under all the dust and crumbled bits, there is a kitchen granite counter and tile backsplash:

I feel like I’m airing dirty laundry here. :) But this is the current reality. It’s hard to pretend that it’s anything but this.

I told my husband I needed to see something beautiful after this, so we left to go shopping at Good Earth. What a way to deal, huh?

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

Video: First Steps into the India pied-à-terre


Here is my first peek into the Chennai apartment which my husband has visited several times during construction, but this is my first visit. I’ve been working on it from afar, from Chicago. You can learn about the antique door here.

Inside it’s still a construction zone. More to come about finishing it!

Meanwhile I’m sharing non-design travel-related stories on a new page here: India Travel Memoirs. Check that page once in awhile for updates on what it’s like to be here.

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

Penny Tiles … and a Rainbow

The Chennai apartment’s kitchen is being completed over the upcoming weeks. Yay! Finally! Now that we see the imagined pieces coming together in reality, we’re getting excited. Should be nice when it’s done.

For the kitchen backsplash tiles, the Chennai tile shop delivered pink accent tiles instead of rusty orange and the tiles we ordered aren’t stocked anymore. So we visited Chicago’s northwest suburban tile shops to find accent tiles for the suitcase haul to India. If the tiles didn’t work out, we knew we could bring tiles back and return them. Unlike our “no returns for any reason” experience in India. I try to stay positive and pretty here, thus will spare you the rant.

At The Tile Shop in Lake Zurich, we visited after a traffic crash had knocked power out! Exclamation point is deserved because while this is common in India, it’s not here. Tiles we thought we liked looked very different in sunlight than in the shady back recesses of the store so we got lots of exercise there. We are devoted customers of The Tile Shop — we made a beautiful master bathroom with their travertine tiles. But for the Chennai apartment, the cost for accent tiles was higher than we wanted to pay for a second home we visit occasionally. Particularly, the cost of pencil pieces necessary to set off listellos made us think twice.

See here the pencil pieces above and below the border in this display at The Tile Shop. Imagine this without them. You really do need them:

But we struck a pot o’ gold at Home Depot! Apparently when merchandise is to be removed from the shelf, it’s marked to sell for a penny. But you as a customer don’t know this. And it’s not supposed to be on the shelf. Well, the accent tiles we found were a penny each! We got our accent tiles for less than a pack of chewing gum! We had to visit a few Home Depots to get enough tiles, so gas pushed the cost to three packs of chewing gum, but still …

There was a rainbow leading to our pot o’ gold tiles at Home Depot! No joke! No Photoshop! This is for real:

The most ironic thing about this story:  We very mistakenly thought at the beginning of this process that India would offer bargains galore when building an apartment there. Thus far India has not at all been a bargain (save for the total kitchen cost versus cost of a total new kitchen in our U.S. neighborhood). Our choices aren’t at heart-attack-sticker-shock level, but they’re not bargains, and truly the biggest tangible and intangible costs are hidden — they appear during the process. The big bargains we’ve found have been in the U.S. and they go to India in a suitcase. How about that.

Here are tiles in a mockup our nephew created while he and my husband were choosing a granite slab this week:

We’re going for subtle accent with the backsplash. “Wow” things can come from elements that aren’t permanently installed. The accent tiles remind us of carvings we photographed at Angkor Wat:

The last kitchen “unknown” now is, we’re anxiously awaiting the hammered copper farmhouse sink to arrive on Saturday …

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?

India Master Bath Vanity-Mirror-Faucet Vision

A vision for the master bath:

The tile shown is the actual tile that will be along the vanity wall, purchased at Vaigai Sanitation in Chennai. Here’s a pic my husband shot at the Vaigai display a year ago:

The tile should have been installed exactly like this. The bathroom even has an indented wall where the toilet goes just like the display. So the slate 4x4s were supposed to go in that area, and there would be a matching slate tile area in the shower on the opposite end. The light porcelain tiles would cover the remainder of the walls. However there was a major miscommunication somewhere along the way this past year, unknown to us until my husband visited the Chennai apartment in July. The entire bathroom was tiled with the slate 4x4s!! Ugh!!! What a SHOCK to the eyes. We were asked whether we could live with it. No. It was overwhelming. The tile has since been ripped off and is, perhaps even as I write, being reinstalled correctly.

The mirror is now mine! Found today at One King’s Lane. I also found the guest bathroom’s mirror in the U.S. and we’ll have to figure how to get them to Chennai cost-effectively. This mirror inspired me to open Photoshop and envision how the vanity area would look with this mirror.

The sconces shown are from Rejuvenation which is my favorite source for lighting for our Chicago home. I love how you can customize the pieces online. My husband’s cousin said there’s a 2-mile strip in Chennai full of lighting and electrical supply, and she’ll drop us off at one end and pick us up on the other. We may find sconces there on our next trip.

Right now I’m envisioning a trough faucet (especially with this mirror!). We may get it in the U.S. and take it to India.

And for the vanity, I’ll be seeking something similar to the chest shown above, and convert it into a vanity. Finding the right piece for a vanity will be a fun adventure in the Cochin warehouses when I visit in December. We’ll fit it with either a porcelain or copper sink (you can see the lip of a copper sink I pasted in the mockup above) and a granite countertop.

Finally, stylists in home decor photo shoots must move the daily necessities like trash cans out of view. But there are (nice) trash cans next to the vanities of all of our bathrooms, thus there’s a trash can here!

This bathroom is small — the vanity can only take the space that a pedestal sink would. Not much room for storage. We may install storage for towels and toiletries on a wall. I likely will not store clean towels out in the open due to the dust in India. There’s an ongoing debate about dust — my husband insists because he got the best Fenesta windows, and they’re installed very tight, and because even the exhaust fans in the bathrooms automatically recede airtight into the wall after use (very cool!), he says we will not have huge dust issues. Everyone else disagrees, that it’s pervasive and unavoidable. And when we’re gone from the apartment for many months, we should walk through the main door armed with shovels to remove the dust! We shall see …

Did you like this post? Don't miss out on more:

What topics interest you?