Sometimes I Wear Clothes, Too.

That’s right, folks. It’s time for Manhattan Nest: FASHION EDITION.

I always feel more than a little ridiculous talking with any level of authority about the stuff I drape over my body to cover my flesh, but in fact I do wear clothes (everyday, even!) and sometimes I even get a little bit excited about them. It’s taken me some time to feel this way, since I’m pretty short and slim and have a difficult time finding clothes that really fit me and I feel OK in, but I’m learning. I basically approach my wardrobe kind of like I approach my house…I guess I just want it to be clean, comfortable, simple, a little fun, with some decent items that will last for a long time.

Anyway, before get self-conscious and talk myself out of it…here are some of the things I’m wearing these days or thinking about wearing these days.

clothing

1. Slim Fit Smog Print Shirt, Club Monaco: You know when you were a little kid and you got a new piece of clothing and you wanted to wear it every single day? That’s exactly how I feel about this shirt. It’s a lightweight cotton, so it can kind of be dressed up or down, the fit is superb, and the pattern is perfection. I’m loving seeing so many small-scale patterns pop up in menswear these days, but I especially like this one because it’s more irregular and abstract than a traditional floral print or something. Club Monaco is my favorite source for shirts—the slimmer options fit super well and the quality is great (the oxfords, especially!), and you usually don’t get both at that price point. ANYWAY. I love this shirt a whole lot.

2. Men Sweat Long Sleeve Shirt, UNIQLO: Can I just say how much it pleases me that sweatshirts and sweatpants are acceptable articles of clothing to wear in public now? Greatly. I don’t think I can pull off a pair of fashion sweatpants, but I’m all about a well-fitting sweatshirt in lieu of a sweater or cardigan. This one from Uniqlo is everything I’ve ever wanted, basically—it fits so well, although be warned it does run on the small side. I’m usually an XS but the S is perfect for me. I might get a medium just to give myself a slouchier option…

3. ASOS Bomber Jacket with Contrast Leather Look Sleeves: OK, I don’t own this, but for YEARS I have been trying to find a decent spring/fall jacket (and a winter coat, for that matter…I’m bad at outerwear). I’ve been seeing new takes on classic bomber jackets popping up all over the place this spring, and I think I want in on that action. I also like this one from J. Crew and a few others from ASOS…which means I’ll probably just be indecisive until they’re all sold out. No. I am going to order something. I am going to find joy in clothing, goddamnit.

4. 510 Skinny Fit Jeans, Levi’s: I wholeheartedly recommend the 510 Skinny Jean. It’s hard to be a boy and find just the right amount of skinny…you don’t want a legging, you don’t want too baggy, you don’t want it to be too tight in the thigh and too loose in the ankle. ET CETERA. These (which are super cheap right now…) have been my standby for couple of years now. I like the way they contain my legs and buttocks.

5. Eastland Seneca Camp Moc Chukka Boot: I found these shoes a couple weeks ago marked down to $50 at a store in Brooklyn, and I’ve pretty much been wearing them non-stop since. I also have really small feet, so I actually bought the women’s version in a size 9, but the men’s version is exactly the same. The reviews on Zappos sort of make me worry about the quality, but we’ll see. It’s always been hard for me to find a casual everyday shoe that isn’t a unisex sneaker (although I’ll probably also make my yearly white Jack Purcell purchase this summer for good measure, too…), so I’m glad to have found something a little more grown-up.

Revisiting the Big Kitchen Overhaul: Phase 1.5

newcountertops

As we get deeper and deeper into this whole home renovation/restoration exciting adventure thing, we’ve started to come around to a few basic truths. They aren’t really anything new—a collection of clichés about renovating, honestly—but somehow they never really registered before we were actually living it. Is everything dirty and filthy and dusty all the time, despite our valiant cleaning efforts? Yes. Is the renovation taxing on our relationship and friendships? You betcha. Is it more expensive than we anticipated and more time/energy-draining than we could have dreamed? Yup. It’s all true!

Learning this has prompted me to reevaluate some of the ideas I had at the beginning of all of this, especially those pertaining to the kitchen. The original concept was this:

1. The kitchen is unusable, unsafe, and super ugly.

2. Rather than tearing it all out, since we have neither the money nor a plan for how to replace it, let’s drop about $1,000 in the space on quick-n-dirty DIY repairs and cosmetic upgrades to make it cute and workable for something like the next 5 years.

3. Once this is done, renovate the rest of the house! NBD.

4. Once the rest of the house is looking and feeling fresh and fabulous, we’ll circle back to the kitchen, gut the whole thing, and redo it for real. No more crappy 50s cabinets and crappy 50s soffits. New layout with lots of prep space. Maybe an island. Maybe a couple  new windows. Lighting. New floor. Fancy pretty kitchen to go with our fancy pretty rehabbed house.

The first two items on the list seem more or less realistic, and it’s pretty much exactly what we did. The second two? Maybe a little overly-optimistic.

I think we’re going to be working on the rest of the house for a long time. And when it’s feeling done, or done-ish, or whatever, I’m going to go ahead and guess that we might want to take a little breather from things being so chaotic. Maybe we’ll move on to smaller things like restoring our windows. Maybe we’ll take a vacation. A lot of things could happen, but tearing apart a fairly functional and fairly good-looking room might not be high on the priorities list for a longgggggg time, no matter how tempting the potential for the space is. There’s also the whole matter of kitchen renovations being very expensive and money not growing on trees.

Accepting that this might be the only kitchen we have for QUITE a long time, and maybe as long as we own the house (who knows what could happen…), I’ve warmed up to the idea of throwing a little more money down to make some improvements to this kitchen. Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1 ended up leaving some things to be desired, which at first I was very hesitant to do anything about, but now that I feel like we’re in it for the longer haul…

oldcountertops

Remember when I made my own countertops last summer? Well. I used 2×12 Fir framing lumber (which had the right thickness but was soft and full of knots and SUPER labor intensive to sand down, since it’s framing lumber after all), which I joined with pocket holes and screws (using my Kreg jig). To achieve the right depth, each countertop had to be composed of 3 different pieces of lumber (2 full-sized pieces and one narrow strip in the back). They looked pretty good at first, and I was happy with them, despite wishing that I had better equipment and know-how to really join and plane the pieces and making them look and function as one continuous piece of wood.

First I sealed them with plain Mineral Oil and later on I coated them with some Danish Oil (note: not food-safe, but we didn’t use the countertops for cutting on…), but over time we found that the wood was really prone to staining, and quickly began to look dingy even after a thorough scrubbing, just as a result of all the debris being kicked up elsewhere (and carted through the kitchen to a Bagster in the backyard). Not cool.

countertopsbefore

On top of that, the wood warped, the gaps between the boards widened (meaning crumbs and rice and crap would have to be vacuumed out, and even then it just looked crappy and unclean), and one of the countertops sustained a large bleach stain, making the whole countertop situation basically no fun at all.

Nope. Nope Nope Nope. These countertops were not cutting it. It was a good and inexpensive experiment—I’m glad I tried it!—but it wasn’t faring well.

We thought about replacing the countertops in three ways:

1. Investing in actual butcherblock. While this would have been nice, unfortunately it looks like IKEA has discontinued the oak butcher block I used in the apartment, and the birch is out of stock, and I really dislike the faux-butcherblock replacement they’ve started selling. Sources like Lumber Liquidators also make butcher block, but it’s significantly more expensive than IKEA’s was. Both of these options also involve lots of additional costs like shipping or renting a vehicle to transport them, and it just wasn’t an option money-wise. Even if it were, I’d still be hesitant to install something so expensive and specific to this kitchen, and probably not reusable if/when we do tear it out down the line.

2. Revisit the original laminate countertops, which we still have. One of the ideas I had longggg ago was covering the original counters in a concrete finish I’d read about online. It appears all the bloggers are doing this now! It’s supposed to be relatively quick and easy and good-looking and durable. This was probably the cheapest option. BUT when concrete was on the table, that was also when I was considering a plywood plank wood floor, and I felt like replacing our countertops with concrete would make the room feel too cold and sterile and sad. It needs the warmth of the wood countertops, I think, to feel balanced and right.

3. Try another DIY option for cheap wood countertops. I’d just used these wonderful cheap pine panels for the desktop in my office, and to my great excitement they were available in a 24″ depth! So that’s what I did:

countertopwood

I went to Lowe’s and bought two of these! Then I went home, chopped them to size with my circular saw, screwed them in from underneath, face-nailed a 1×2 to the front and side, filled the holes, sanded, and applied three coats of water-based polyurethane. EASY-PEESY. And sooooooooo much better.

newcountertops2

Aside from being much better looking (I prefer the blonder tone of the pine, and they now match the little pine dowel knobs!), the poly resists water and staining like a champ. We still don’t cut on them (we have cutting boards and a small area of butcher block by the stove for that), so I think they’re kind of perfect! They also lowered the countertops about 3/4″, which in turn makes the tiling job look better since I had to start the tile at cabinet height instead of above the countertops because of the height of the upper cabinets. Win-win! I’m super happy with this solution, and only spending about $80 on new countertops felt reasonable. We might reuse the old ones as shelving in the pantry or something…I’m not sure yet.

fridge2

This is sort of old news, but we were also lucky enough to get a new fridge!! After about 7 years of use over at Door Sixteen, Anna decided to replace this large stainless steel LG fridge with an adorable little Smeg (which is perrrrrfection in her kitchen!), and the logistics of getting the old one out of her house were sort of complicated. As it happened, my parents had just sold my childhood home and were sending a moving truck of crap up to Kingston (some furniture, lots of boxes of my stuff, etc…) on the same day that Anna’s new fridge was arriving, so we asked the movers to make a quick pitstop in Newburgh to pick up the old fridge on the way! Anna very kindly refused to let me pay her for it, which is ridiculous, but I’ll take it!

(I forgot to retake the photos post-countertop-replacement, so you’ll have to use your imagination!)

oldfridge

There wasn’t really anything wrong with our old fridge, admittedly. It was about 10 years old and a totally fine, standard Frigidaire model, but we had space for a larger one and I wasn’t about to turn down a free upgrade.

fridge

This one is a bit newer, works beautifully, looks nice, has a few features that higher-end fridges tend to have, and sucks less power. I’ve never had a fridge with a bottom pull-out freezer, and I have to say I’m a total convert! It’s really nice to have the refrigerated section at eye level. I love it. (thank you, Anna!!)

We still have the old fridge (our friends encouraged us to put it in the basement and keep it for big parties and stuff, but as far as we got was moving it out to the mudroom), but I think we’re just going to try to sell it for a couple hundred bucks and see what happens.  I can’t imagine really needing it, and even a little bit of cash for it would be nice.

revashelf

Since we were on a kitchen improvement kick, we also made some upgrades to the base cabinets. The base cabinets in our kitchen had one half-depth stationary shelf, and organizing pots and pans and bakeware and appliances and whatever kind of immediately turned into a huge jumbled mess. It wasn’t a huge problem, but more like a day-to-day annoyance that made me feel shitty about the state of things. It was hard to find anything and hard to develop a good organizational system.

WELL. Lowe’s also sells these fabulous Rev-A-Shelf cabinet organizer things, which are terrific. It was easy to remove the half-depth shelf with a hammer (they were just nailed in with some side supports), assemble these drawers, and screw them into place. The whole thing took maybe an hour from start to finish. The Rev-A-Shelf components come in all different sizes to fit standard cabinet openings, and the quality is excellent and have completely made the kitchen feel a million times more organized and functional and easy to use. Outfitting 6 base cabinets with them (5 sets of drawers and one for pull-out trash and recycling) was definitely a splurge that I still feel a little funny about, but honestly? No regrets. They increase our storage space, and they really took the kitchen from feeling like “eh, good enough” to “wow, I could see myself cooking in here for as long as my heart/bank account desires.” They’re still cheaper and farrrrr less invasive than buying and installing new cabinets, but functionally do the same thing. I’m so happy with them, I can’t even stand it! Total organizational high.

hooks

After a lot of pestering from Max, I installed a few hooks to the right of the door to the mudroom for coats and dog leashes and whatnot. I took them from our closet upstairs, so they were free, and attached to the walls with some plastic anchors and black screws. They’re nice! They’re handy! They’re old!

I am getting reallllllly tired of looking at that faux-wood paneling and general despair through the door to the mudroom. I know it seems like we have a thousand projects on the go, but I’m so fed up with the mudroom that I might be bumping it up the priority list. It’s a big space (about 9′x10′!), and with a little TLC I think it would be perfect for tool storage and project building. The tool situation has kind of ballooned out of control and I’d really love to have one space to keep all of it—right now it’s scattered around the house, which is mega-impractical and inefficient and makes it impossible to keep organized. I keep setting up shop in other rooms in the house, which in turn gets sawdust and mess EVERYWHERE, and I want that to stop…particularly since we’re hoping to be renovating those other rooms soon. I don’t want to do this in the basement because it’s creepy, there aren’t any outlets, and I don’t want to impede access for plumbers/electricians, and I don’t want to do it in the garage because right now it’s literally FULL of construction debris and garbage (shammeeeeee) and it also would require a trip outdoors to get whatever I needed, and in the winter that’s going to be hugely annoying and uncool and hard to maintain. A garage workshop sounds nice someday, but not while we’re in full-on renovation mode, where we constantly need tons of tools on hand and ready for service. The mudroom definitely deserves its own horrifying post, but I’m starting to formulate a plan…which may or may not be realistic and may or may not be cute. We’ll see! It’s kind of a complete and total wreck and honestly might get torn down completely someday, but until that time I guess it makes sense to spend a weekend sprucing it up and making it a usable space.

ANYWAY.

Now that Kitchen Overhaul Phase 1.5 has seen us replace the faucet, the countertops, the fridge, add some much-needed organizational things, and a few hooks, I really feel settled in this kitchen for a much longer haul. Moving forward, I’d love to add a little sconce over the stove (I’m in love with the Radar Sconce from Schoolhouse Electric, and I think it would look great there…), and…get a new stove. I actually don’t mind the way this one looks AT ALL and it functions admirably well for a cheap appliance probably pushing at least 40 years old, but it seems like anything we put in the oven comes out charred and unevenly cooked, which kind of sucks. Now that we have a functioning gas line (we didn’t when we put this stove in, which we took from the now-defunct upstairs kitchen in the house), I’d really like to switch to a gas stove/oven. That’s definitely not happening now, but just maybe if I found something really discounted on Craigslist or something, it would be worth it.  I guess I’ll start looking, just in case…

I’m really glad we did all this stuff, especially since small-scale improvements like this can really increase the longevity of a space. I can stop obsessing about all the things I’d do if I had 20K to blow on a kitchen renovation, and move on to the stuff that really needs attention! Those ceilings aren’t about to drywall themselves!

House
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The Apartment Bedroom Shelves are Gone!

I will admit that sometimes I make major errors in judgment and experience lapses in taste. Sometimes the vision in my head does not exactly gel with the realities of how something looks in real life. The bookshelves in our apartment bedroom? One of these times.

shelves

These shelves went up almost three years ago in a fit of panic, when my modest book collection collided with Max’s enormous book collection and and we found our new, co-habited lives together overrun with books. People can wax poetic all day about how the presence of books makes a house into a home and whatever, but in a small New York City apartment, this many books can be hugely challenging. At the time I tried to think of as many places as I could to stash the books, but all of the solutions either meant kissing goodbye to a few prime art walls, or another necessary piece of furniture, or a window, or my sanity. My friend Maya had constructed these super amazing wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling shelves (pic here) with nothing but 2 x 12 pine lumber and steel L-brackets, and some part of my brain decided I could replicate the look with 1 x 12 pine (first mistake), not wall-to-wall (second mistake), and not floor-to-ceiling (third mistake).

It did not pan out well. What I ended up with was a mess of shelves hanging too high with ugly hardware above my desk, back when I still entertained the notion that I’d ever use a desk facing a wall in my bedroom (fourth mistake).

Because I put a fairly significant amount of effort into building them and really did a number on the plaster underneath in the process and they served their function reasonably well and there weren’t loads of other options, I went through all the stages of regret and remorse that one does with these kinds of things. At first I tried to like them. They weren’t overbearing; they were bold. The hardware wasn’t ugly; it was utilitarian. The books weren’t overcrowded or cluttered; they were cozy. And so on.

Eventually, the desk went away and a much more practical dresser took its place. The dresser is really pretty and, like, a real piece of furniture instead of something I cobbled together, and I think the shelves started to look extra bad as a result of the pairing.

At some point, I went from pretending I sort of liked the shelves to despising them with every fiber of my being. I don’t know when it happened—I don’t recall any defining moment—but the transition was swift and aggressive. Every morning I woke up resenting the shelves, the books on them, the fact that they hadn’t collapsed during the night and crushed me in my sleep…my hatred knew no bounds. I try not to apologize for things in my home when people come over, but I got in the habit of always apologizing for those shelves. In retrospect, maybe the shelves weren’t even that bad, but I wasn’t really seeing things rationally anymore.

Admittedly, I feel a lot of disappointment in myself that I never really solved the shelf issue in any commendable or creative way. I had a couple half-baked ideas, but by the time I had kind of stopped improving the other spaces in our apartment and would have maybe circled back to reevaluate the shelf situation, we decided to buy a house and relocate the vast majority of the library there. The rest went on these little shelves in the corner of our bedroom, re-purposed from old Elfa components from my childhood bedroom. Hooray for me. I’m so clever.

Not.

Bedroomshelves

But! With the books either gone or relocated to these little shelves, I could finally just take down the original offenders. I don’t even think I have a single picture of it happening, or the wall repair that ensued afterward. Since I hung the brackets with big toggle anchors, and there were four holes in each bracket, and there were 16 brackets, there were 64 large 1″ holes to repair (fifth mistake—wtf was wrong with me?). I ended up having to repair the holes with fiberglass mesh tape and skim-coat the wall before re-painting it. I never stopped kicking myself until it was over.

bed2

But now? BLANK WALL. LIKE THEY WERE NEVER THERE. I know this picture is kind of super lousy, but the lighting in this room is tough. I TRIED.

I don’t know. I kind of got so used to seeing/hating those shelves that I’m really enjoying having this wall completely empty right now. I thought I’d hang a reasonable painting or something on it once the shelves were down, but I don’t think we really have anything that I like that’s the right size and would play well with the enormous pieces over the bed. I know. Cry me a river.

But seriously, at night when the thrifted block lamp is on and brassy candlesticks are lit in front of that big blank white wall, it kind of looks like some kind of Scandinavian villain lives here. I dig it.

Maybe I’ll hang a mirror there or something. Maybe I won’t. I can’t predict what I’ll do. It doesn’t really matter, in the scheme of things. Someday we’ll all be dead.

bed1

ANYWAY. That’s basically the deal with the bedroom. Aside from obsessing over the idea of painting the whole room black and reupholstering the bed in canvas drop-cloths and finding new side tables and maybe new bedside lights, I finally feel generally happy with the bedroom. So that’s nice and stuff.

Ignore those slabs of burl under the bed. I HAVE AN IDEA FOR THOSE, OK?

If you want to see more pictures of the apartment bedroom, here you go!

Apartment
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We Got a Dresser!

dresser1

A couple of weekends ago, Max and Anna and I hung out for a few hours down around Newburgh. We went to Anna’s mommy’s house to say hi and check out her beaaaauuutiful newly-refinished wood floors. Those floors are not the point of this post, but it kind of threw my floor-refinishing fantasies into overdrive. Our floors downstairs are a total mess, and I know they could be gorgeous refinished. Someday, floors. Someday. Anna’s stepfather, Bernie, said I could do it myself…which of course is giving me all kinds of ideas about my own abilities that I probably shouldn’t have. We’ll see.

Anyway. Then we went to lunch, and on the way back to Anna’s house, we stopped to check out the new Newburgh Vintage Emporium. I don’t usually buy anything from places like this since everything is usually out of my price range, but it’s fun to look. And then, toward the end—THIS DRESSER! I’ve been casually looking for a dresser since we bought the house (let’s just not talk about our clothing storage situation prior to this, cool?), and then I saw this one and it was all over.

dresser3

I think the dresser is probably early-mid 1800s (so about the age of our house!), but beyond that I don’t know tons about it! I love how simple it is, and I love how each drawer is a different size, and that each one has a keyhole and lock. We don’t have the key, but I don’t really care about that. I wish it was more apparent from the photos, but what really drew me to it was the size! This thing is HUGE. It has the proportions of a much smaller dresser, but it’s totally bulky and boxy and enormous.

At about $300 it wasn’t the best bargain in the world, but I still think it’s a good deal for a piece like this (I think similar ones tend to be more in the $600-and-up-range). The reason it was probably semi-affordable is that the knobs definitely aren’t original, which doesn’t really bother me. For me, that’s always been a realistic way to collect antiques—pieces that have non-original parts or have been repaired or refinished or altered aren’t as valuable as ones in totally original condition. If prices aren’t already lowered as a result, knowing what to look for and pointing out stuff like that can be a good negotiating tactic. The knobs on this dresser are just too pristine and stained too uniformly to be original, but I think the shape and size are kind of nice and they aren’t by any means offensive, so I’ll live with them for a while and maybe change them up down the line somehow.

dresser2

Isn’t it super great how the back legs are all un-fancy and just continuous with the side/back panels and the front legs are pretty turned wood? I think that detail sold me. I love this thing.

Other than the dresser, the bedroom looks pretty much the same as it did back when I posted about it in august. We had to pick up the rug because it was just getting too dirty with all the dust and debris getting tracked around the house all the time, and we’ve since stripped the walls almost completely down to the bare plaster—they were covered in wallpaper and layers of paint, all of which were peeling off the walls in large pieces. I know the plaster walls look fun and arty and beautiful and people will try to convince me to not repair, skim-coat, and paint them, but I swear it’s just the pictures. Parts of them (like the part behind the dresser, for instance) are in pretty great condition, while other parts are totally falling apart and a complete mess, beyond the point of doing small fixes that could blend in a good way. I also just really don’t think this is the house for bare plaster walls. Our friend John has some bare plaster walls in his house (sealed with some kind of varnish to keep dust under control), but his house is a 1725 Dutch stone house and beautifully rustic, where that look really works. Our house, by contrast, is kind of a modest Greek Revival, and I really think the house just wants to be simple and clean and bright. Maybe that sounds like crazy-talk, but I really feel like the house dictates what it wants to be, and it’s more or less my job to make that happen.

ANYWAY.

I still love the deco bed but I do feel like it’s totally out of scale with the dresser and kind of wacky in a bad way, but that’s OK at this point. Maybe it’ll become a guest bed someday. Maybe the dresser will go somewhere else. I know everyone really just wants to see a beautiful, put-together room, but that’s not really how my life works and therefore not really how this blog works. Right now, our attention (and money) is focused almost exclusively on renovating the house and maybe collecting pieces here and there that we really love, and I’m fine with that. We (like pretty much everyone…) have years to figure out how to mix and match our pieces and play around until things look right (or right-enough), and honestly that’s way more exciting to me than trying to do it all in one pass.

The bedroom is pretty low on the list of priorities right now, honestly, but it feels very exciting to finally have a place to store our underwear like fancy adults! Step in the right direction.

The Downstairs Bathroom.

After a couple months of stalking the listing online, the price on our house finally dropped and a few days later I worked up the nerve to call the listing agent to inquire about it. “It’s a great house,” she told me, “it needs some work, and the one big thing is that it does need a new furnace, but otherwise it’s a great, solid old house!” It was a nice chat. I set up an appointment to view it a few days later, and we were about to hang up when I asked. There isn’t really a delicate way to initiate these kinds of conversations, but I had a hunch that had been building for a while. “So,” I said, “did somebody die there or something?”

She paused, and then sighed. “Well, yes, the previous owner did die in the house, but it was of natural causes. He was old—it wasn’t anything violent or anything like that, I can assure you. It’s a really great house—I think you’ll like it.”

I suppose it’s possible that the death might have scared off a particularly superstitious potential buyer or two, but it seems rather unlikely. By today’s standards it might be a little alarming, but before the 1950s or so it was very common for people to both start and end their lives in their own homes. More than likely, he wasn’t the first person to die here—just the most recent. Sad? Sure. A little eery? I guess. But hardly cause for alarm. It was one of those details that stayed in the back of my mind, but I didn’t really fixate on it.

It was clear from our first walk-through that the house needed just a tad more work than the listing agent had let on during that first conversation. Little things like the roof and the unusable kitchen had apparently not been worth mentioning, not to mention the downstairs bathroom, which appeared to have had some kind of plumbing issue that left it literally crumbling, the tiles shedding from the walls like concrete from the Tappan Zee Bridge. For some reason it looked like the door, which was lying its side in the living room, had been ripped from the frame and forcibly removed.

before

“You’d want to redo this bathroom anyway,” she told us. “That back wall is shared with the laundry room, so you could knock it out and double the size. You’d have room for a walk-in shower or whatever you wanted!”

Obvious plumbing issues and cosmetic details notwithstanding, I loved this bathroom just as it was. It’s teeny-tiny—which I think is perfect especially for a downstairs bathroom—and the 1930s tub, sink, and toilet were all in relatively good shape, especially given their age and the condition of the rest of the room. It’s one of the spaces that I couldn’t wait to renovate and make usable again. It’s going to be so beautiful someday. Really. I promise.

One day the real estate agent called me with some good news. “I found out that the plumbing in that downstairs bathroom is fine, as far as we know. I spoke to someone from the clean-up crew and it turns out that the missing tiles were removed by them because they were unsightly.” Unsightly. I’ll never forget that choice of words.

“Is unsightly a euphemism for, like, covered in blood and human remains?”

She only laughed.

“OK, that bathtub has got to go,” Max announced when I told him about the conversation.

“Well, we don’t know that he died in the tub,” I explained. “He could have just, I don’t know, fallen in the tub, but managed to make his way back out again, or, well…we weren’t there. Anything could have happened. It’s a nice tub. I like that tub. They don’t make tubs like that anymore.”

“Yeah, but he probably died in the tub. We can buy a different old tub that someone didn’t die in.”

“But you’d never really know that nobody died in that tub, either. Somebody could have died in pretty much any used tub. How about we get it re-glazed and call it a day? It’s really the perfect size for that bathroom. We can’t just stick any tub in there.”

“I swear, I will never use that bathroom.”

“Fine. It’ll be my bathroom.”

“We’re not keeping that tub in the house.”

“We’ll see.”

This, by the way, is a fight that we haven’t stopped having for a year.

Knowing about the tub bothered me only slightly more than knowing about the death in the first place—which is to say, not very much. As far as causes of death go, dying in a bathtub is relatively unremarkable. The bathtub came up again once or twice more with our plumber during inspections, but otherwise nobody really mentioned it again until after we’d bought and moved into the house.

That’s when our neighbors began to introduce themselves. Apparently lots of people knew about the bathtub, or at least about the death, and Max was quick to forge fast alliances with whomever would listen about my plans to keep the tub. With the exception of maybe 2 people that I can think of, this news has been met unanimously with shock and disgust. “Well, it’s too small to really take a nice bath in, so it’ll really just be for showers,” is my general refrain. Historically, this has helped a total of nobody feel more comfortable with the idea.

“I’ve been an EMT for coming on thirty years, and I’ll tell you—when they opened up all the windows to your house, well, I’ve never smelled anything like that in my life. I’ll never forget it.” This was our neighbor Karen, who came by shortly after we moved in. According to her, the body had been there for a while. Maybe a month, by her professional estimation.

Once, as a teenager, at the height of the popularity of the CSI franchise, my twin sister and I attended a two-week summer class on forensic science. It was there that we learned about the Body Farm, a 2.5 acre plot of land in Tennessee dedicated to the study of the decomposition of human remains. Depending on the conditions and circumstances, lots of different things can happen to corpses over time: in hot and arid climates, for instance, a body left outside will essentially dry up and mummify, but in general they tend to decompose pretty much the same way. In essence, they liquify. In the case of our particular corpse, some percentage probably evacuated itself through the plumbing while the rest stuck around and marinated, waiting to be discovered—by who, we still don’t know.

When we first got to the house, my idea of a significant and readily available improvement to the downstairs bathroom was re-hanging the door, so that we could more effectively ignore it over the ensuing months and possibly years. We have a functioning bathroom upstairs, so there wasn’t any major rush to get it up and running.

Remember what I said about this bathroom sharing a wall with the laundry room, though? Well, that’s thrown kind of a kink in the plans. While we don’t particularly need a second bathroom, we really want a laundry room. The extent of our renovations elsewhere means a whole lot of dust and debris and general filth, and not being able to do laundry in our own house has quickly become incredibly annoying. We generally show up to the laundromat once every couple of weeks with four IKEA bags stuffed to the gills with dirty laundry, and the whole affair is just a big, moderately expensive hassle (those machines aren’t cheap!). The house came with a busted-up washing machine attached to some leaky exposed copper supply lines, but it wasn’t terribly useful since we didn’t have a hot water supply on the main floor until the installation of our boiler in November. Then, of course, the machine promptly died. There was never a dryer, and lacking the necessary electrical circuit and receptacle to install one (not to mention a dryer vent), we’re pretty much starting from scratch. Including having to run new electrical and plumbing through this bathroom wall. “Easy,” I told the plumbers. “I’ll just demo out this bathroom wall and we can get on with things.”

salvageable

This got me more excited about renovating the bathroom someday, because there’s already so much great stuff in it! Check out that hook! Check out that toilet paper dispenser! The sink is also really cute (it’s a little rusty in spots, so we’ll probably have it re-glazed). Normally I wouldn’t really think twice about replacing an old toilet with a new, modern, efficient one, but this one is so pretty that I even want to clean it up and keep it. There’s a painted-over transom window over the door, which I can’t wait to strip. I even love the medicine cabinet! I don’t know if I’ll keep it as a whole cabinet or just harvest the mirror, but I do quite like it. I think the radiator will probably go just because the room is so extremely small and I’d rather do something wall-mounted that could double as a towel warmer and free up the floor space just a little. The window is small but works in the room and has really beautiful textured glass that I didn’t take a picture of. And, of course, the corpse tub. Having all of this beautiful old stuff already here, combined with the tiny size (small room = fewer materials!), makes me feel like we could probably renovate this room fairly inexpensively, even with new plumbing and electric.

ANYWAY.

Picking up where the Crime and Trauma Scene Contamination crew left off, I donned some work gloves and a respirator and started to peel back and dispose of the old tiles surrounding the bathtub and the drywall underneath.

clapboard3

Whats that now? Clapboard? Peekaboo!

So, apparently this used to be an exterior wall. Which made very little sense to me, considering where this room is located. Here I will refer to my floor plan:

FIRST-FLOOR-BEFORE

The bathroom to which I am referring is #10 and highlighted in pink for ease of identification. The laundry room is #9. The wall I am talking about is what divides the two.

At first I thought the laundry room was just a later addition, but then I realized that didn’t make any sense because the clapboard I was uncovering was the exterior, not the interior. Huh.

clapboard4

Further excavation revealed that the wall was definitely clapboard. The walls—which were partially drywall but mostly the same lightweight “beaverboard” used elsewhere in the 20th century “improvements”—were hanging on old 1×2 furring strips which were nailed to the clapboard. Well. Isn’t that special.

Something tells me that this will not be a great strategy when we renovate this bathroom for real. Old furring strips nailed to really old clapboard is probably not going to be so great or so safe for holding up hundreds of pounds of cement backerboard and tile. I kept moving…

demo2

Turns out, the whole room is clapboard, except for the actual exterior wall that the window and sink are on. Underneath the beaverboard ceiling is a tongue-and-groove beadboard ceiling!

I have deduced, therefore, that this bathroom used to be a small porch. Nifty! It occurs to me that this is probably why the upstairs bathroom actually has older fixtures (like that amazing sink, and the toilet that we unfortunately had to tear out on our 3rd day in the house)  than the downstairs one—because it’s older! The top of the toilet tank has a date stamp from 1935, which makes a lot of sense. We know that the house was originally split up into two units in the mid-30s (the Great Depression did that to a lot of houses, and we’ve found newspaper listings for the second floor apartment from 1938), so it was then that they enclosed the porch, then basically built a whole room inside the porch, and BOOM—bathroom.

You can’t really tell from these pictures, but all of this was also covering up an old doorway opening from the kitchen onto the porch. Crazy! Obviously, I think all of this is super cool. Like uncovering a time capsule.

clapboard

bricks

Unfortunately, because these are originally exterior walls and this is my house, it also means that underneath the clapboard, the walls are stuffed full of bricks and mortar. Yep. This is called “nogging” and is how our whole house is “insulated”—I put it in quotations because it has an R-value of less than 1. It was done in a lot of houses especially in the northeast in the 19th century, both as a primitive form of insulation and as a way to keep mice and rats from getting into houses. Normally nogging is composed of “garbage bricks”—like ones that were broken or misshapen or not fired at the correct temperatures. It fell out of practice toward the end of the 19th century. It’s not structural, so it can be removed, but obviously access is pretty much impossible without ripping down all the plaster on interior walls or all of the clapboard off the exterior walls. This is why I just laugh when people try to talk to me about doing blown-in insulation, like I’ve never heard of the concept. I KNOW IT’S A THING. IT IS NOT A THING FOR US. 

nogging

Obviously, this also makes it impossible to run new electrical or plumbing through the walls, which is sort of important in modern bathrooms. So basically this means that all of the stuff nailed to the clapboard has to come out, then the clapboard has to come down, and then the wall cavities have to be emptied out. Yikes! I’m not sure I can totally wrap my mind around carrying and transporting this literal ton of bricks, but at least I am young and strapping and willing to pretend that my home renovation doubles as an acceptable exercise routine, since I can’t seem to make it to the gym.

Before anyone tries to get in my face about preserving the clapboard, ask yourself this: do you want a clapboard-covered bathroom? Like, really, in real life? No you do not. We will, however, save the salvageable clapboard, which may come in handy when we get to work on the exterior and rip off the vinyl siding. We’ll also save salvageable bricks, which I have lofty ideas about repurposing when we get to work on landscaping. It’ll be great.

floor

Oh! And I pulled up the hideous faux-terrazo linoleum and the plywood underneath it, and look! The same hardwood flooring (which we think is fir! not oak, as I had originally thought…) runs into the bathroom, too! I wasn’t really expecting that, but it’s kind of cool. I have no idea if this floor will end up being worth salvaging (there are some areas of rot and holes from old plumbing and a million nail holes from the plywood, and the total floor area is super small anyway…), but it does make me think about putting a wood floor in the bathroom instead of tile when we eventually renovate. Stained black? I like the idea of that. It feels a little less sterile than tile, which I think is nice for the main floor.

demoafter

This has to be the most grueling bathroom demo in the history of mankind. It’s gutted, and now it essentially has to be gutted AGAIN. And then the BRICKS. MADNESS.

It’ll be worth it if we get laundry, though. Eyes on the prize.

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