The view into the master bathroom with the counter in place.

Tool Girl Progress: bathroom counter

The view into the master bathroom with the counter in place. The view into the master bathroom with the new counter in place. It is supported by a “rail” screwed to the wall, and one sculptural steel support.

After seven years of living with an unfinished master bathroom including a temporary counter created from scraps and an old red sink that had been headed to the dump, I now have a beautiful free-standing bathroom counter with two sinks.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it represents one of the final steps in finishing the house that my love helped design and build, drawing on his extraordinary sculptural sensibility and terraphilia. The house is simple, inspired by earth it rises from and by the industrial heritage of the site.

Only, the interior was never finished. (Who needs trim, interior doors, baseboard, cabinet backs and master bathrooms, right? I didn’t —until I was ready to sell the place.)

Over the past six months, I’ve worked at completing the place, helped by friends who patiently taught me everything from how to use a table saw to how to hang an interior door (in sum: level the hinge side first), and from how to choose the right screws to how to see the steps involved in doing a project in the first place.

The counter after having a layer of 3/4-inch plywood glued on underneath to stiffen it, and the galvanized steel edge attached with adhesive and many clamps. The counter-in-progress after having a layer of 3/4-inch plywood glued on underneath to stiffen it, and the galvanized steel edge attached with adhesive and many clamps.

I can’t call myself an accomplished finish carpenter, but I can say I have fewer nights when I wake and worry about how in the heck I’m going to ever pull this project together. And how in the heck I can honor Richard’s artistic vision in the doing.

I didn’t set out to do the finish work myself. But it turns out that what I could afford was my own sweat equity. Hence my apprenticeship.

(Thank you, Tony and Maggie Niemann and Bob Spencer for teaching me. Richard’s talented nephew Andrew Cabe did the work in the guest cottage. Thanks also to Grant Pound and the volunteer crew for Colorado Art Ranch for installing the ceiling in Richard’s studio.)

I am absurdly pleased to have learned the basics of finish carpentry, and to be able to solve some design and construction problems myself. I’ve said before in this space that I didn’t grow up building, designing or even working with my hands (except in the garden). Nor did I ever aspire to be what my friend and fellow writer Susan Tomlinson calls “tool girl.”

Now that I’ve acquired a little competence in the Tool Girl area, especially in understanding what I need to know to complete a project I can vaguely see in my imagination, I am absurdly pleased when what I imagine turns as well or better than I envisioned it.

Guest bathroom counter with its new galvanized edging and the beautiful Richard-carved basin. Guest bathroom counter with its new galvanized edging and the beautiful Richard-carved basin.

That’s the case with the new bathroom counter, which I imagined as echoing the counter Richard designed and built to hold his gorgeous hand-carved stone sink in the guest bathroom. I envisioned the new master bath counter as free-standing and curved at one end like that counter, with an edge of galvanized steel like the one Tony, Maggie and I applied to complete Richard’s counter.

Only the master bath counter would have two basins, and they wouldn’t be hand-carved stone ones. (I haven’t any more.) Also, I wanted it to use the same laminate that Richard used around the tub in the master bath.

I didn’t build the new counter—a local cabinetmaker, Rob Bornehurst did. But Tony and Maggie and I added the stiffening layer so it could be free-standing, and the galvanized steel trim. Tony showed me how to hang it, and he fashioned the metal support alá Richard.

Now what’s left? The shower-tub enclosure in the master bathroom.

The tub part of the enclosure is coming along; the shower part isn't done yet. The tub part of the tub-shower area.

After installing the counter though, I can finally see the end of this once-endless-seeming house-finishing project. It’s satisfying to be completing the projects that my love didn’t get to. Having my hands on his work has helped me be ready to move on.

Which is a good thing: the for-sale signs go up this week. May this creative complex find new people to inspire!

(Click here for the sale flyer.)

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