Penthouse Plunge: Demolition Begins With Few Surprises

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Building permit (finally) in hand, demolition of the A-unit began on overdrive to make up for lost time. The main concentration was to gut the kitchen and bathrooms on the A-side.  Unless this is your first time reading about the Penthouse Plunge, you know that I purchased a 5,311-square-foot double penthouse at the Claridge on Turtle Creek. My plan is to re-divide the units, renovate and sell the A-unit while I happily live in the B-side.

As you know from my recent donation to Habitat for Humanity, the A-side kitchen had already been disassembled and donated. But there’s more to kitchen demolition than the cabinets and fridge.

In this case, opening the walls revealed their quirks – as they always do.

First, I noticed that the back wall of the kitchen had been moved out by two-feet to rejigger the laundry room. This has me reworking the kitchen and laundry areas, which happily increases the size of the kitchen and adds a very usable pantry. And for those of you who’d questioned accessing the laundry room from the office, now you don’t.

This is why you don’t buy cabinets based on architectural drawings – there are always surprises and you don’t want cabinets not fitting to be one of them.

The second kitchen surprise was that behind/next to the fireplace. Where there was supposed to be dead air, there was an additional 16”-wide fireplace vent from the unit downstairs – and it was running through the new kitchen entry. Luckily, the building manager confirmed with the downstairs neighbors that they’d changed their fireplace and no longer needed the chimney. Crisis averted. All I needed to do was remove and cap it off.

The third surprise were floor-to-ceiling water pipes that instead of tucking next to the structural column nonsensically came out of the ceiling, jogged away from the column and then back again near the floor. Their only purpose seemed to be making the wall as fat as it could be.

The other expected “surprise” was that the soffits built above the cabinets were hollow and served no purpose – it was the 1990s and I guess tall cabinets weren’t in style?

All in all, not too bad in the kitchen.

It’s only awful wallpaper

The powder room that I thought was god-awful plaster texture turned out to be heavily embossed and rigid wallpaper.  Hooray!

The master bathroom was largely uneventful. The biggest oddity was that the original owner had moved the toilet. Typically boring new plumbing lines through steel-reinforced concrete in a high-rise this is a no-no. So what they did was install a back-draining toilet.  Back drains have the water (and everything) exit out the back of the toilet. It’s much more popular outside the U.S. Where cutting through floors is also frowned upon.

The fix will net the new owners a bonus – an extra-pricey wall-hung toilet. I haven’t figured out the exact model, but Toto has some snazzy ones as does Duravit.

Speaking of drains, another piece of luck. When the Olympic-sized Jacuzzi was removed we found they’d run that drain under the tub too. But in this case, it was good. The Jacuzzi had as odd drain placement that I’d wondered how I’d get a tub to fit.  Turns out the original drain is well-located already.

The shower ceiling was also unnaturally low – slightly less than eight feet in a unit with 12-footers. Once the shower tile came out, we saw that there was so much dead space above, I could have almost installed a double shower – stacked!  So I’ll be raising the roof in the shower for more lofty ablutions.

All in all, demolition will cause me to refigure the kitchen/office/laundry room a bit and buy a more expensive toilet. Otherwise, everything was pretty much as expected.

Why Building Permits Matter

Above is a graphic illustration of why building permits are crucial. That outlet was found inside a wall and powered lighting on a built-in shelving unit. Only one outlet was plugged-in, leaving one exposed outlet pointed up so anything falling into it could have caused a fire. There wasn’t even a cover plate on it. Very dangerous.

If the city wants to protect its residents from shoddy work, building permits have to be issued with speed. Current timetables encourage scofflaws.

Of course, there’s more demolition to do, but already I feel renewed by the progress and can hardly wait for the new walls to go up.  Stay tuned.

Remember:  High-rises, HOAs and renovation are my beat. But I also appreciate modern and historical architecture balanced against the YIMBY movement. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, the National Association of Real Estate Editors recognized my writing with three Bronze (2016, 2017, 2018) and two Silver (2016, 2017) awards.  Have a story to tell or a marriage proposal to make?  Shoot me an email Be sure to look for me on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t find me, but you’re welcome to look.

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Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson is's condo/HOA and developer columnist, but also covers second home trends on An award-winning columnist, Jon has earned silver and bronze awards for his columns from the National Association of Real Estate Editors in both 2016, 2017 and 2018. When he isn't in Hawaii, Jon enjoys life in the sky in Dallas.

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