Olivebridge Cottage: Oh Dear, Here We Go…

Toward the end of high school, I became what some people like to call a “theater kid.” Those words make me cringe a little because everyone always assumes you mean that you were one of those annoying 16-year-old “thespians” practicing your “craft” for an “audience” of younger siblings and grandparents who were “emotionally riveted” by your “art,” who then typically turn into attention-craving nightmares of adults, but only the second half of that is true for me. Me, I was on crew. My high school was super cool because we had one of those experimental “black box” theaters, which is exactly what it sounds like, so every season we had to totally conceive, design, and build the set for our peers to tromp across with their forced British accents and fake theater cigarettes and stuff.

We didn’t mess around, either. When we put on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, we built three 3-storey Roman houses, clad in faux-stone that yours truly crafted from foam insulation, which turned on enormous carousels to expose the backsides of the set during the second act. We were fast and loose and dumb and it’s amazing that nobody died.

Maybe the best part of the whole thing, though, wasn’t the building part or the shows but what came after that. After the final show, the actors would spend some time doing some weird bonding shit and crying and stuff, and then when they were all tuckered out from emoting, we’d get into strike-mode. Per tradition, the school would basically lock us all in while we spent hours and hours dismantling our months of work. We’d wield screw guns and circular saws with wild abandon until our masterpiece was reduced to a pile of lumber and garbage, and then we’d sweep the floor and eat pizza and the graduating seniors would do some awards ceremony thing and then we’d all leave, I guess. The details are a little fuzzy. This one time (er, probably every time) one of the actors had the forethought to bake and then kindly distribute pot brownies to the cast and crew after the show, but he got suspended and then things got slightly more supervised and significantly less fun.

I bring all this up because demo at Olivebridge Cottage reminds me a lot of striking our theater sets. See, we didn’t really know how to build things and it didn’t really matter because realistically the set only had to last through a couple of weekends. They always looked good, but everything was more or less held together with either 4,000 screws drilled in from every angle or 1 screw that broke in a wood knot and a bunch of duct tape. There was nary a middle ground. Because we saved anything salvageable to potentially reuse when building the next set, I recall spending a lot of time removing said screws from 2x4s and cursing whoever put all of them there.

The thing is, the insides of a house shouldn’t really remind you of a theater set built by a bunch of children with braces and anxiety disorders. They should probably remind you of, well, a house, ya know? Like maybe you’ve seen houses on TV or out in the world or on the internet, so when you see the insides of your house you can be like “ah, looks familiar!” while thinking about those things and not what you were doing when you were 16 and struggling to roll a halfway decent joint.

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Starting roughly 20 minutes after demo commenced at Olivebridge, little red flags began to slowly erect themselves throughout my brain. See that wall? It’s, uh, wrong. It doesn’t really look so wrong in the pictures but the thing you don’t see is that the entire thing was built not with lumber and nails, but with lumber and screws. SO. MANY. SCREWS. The screws were primarily of the drywall variety, but there were also decking screws, regular wood screws, some other types of screws…anyway. No normal contractor would build a wall this way, because the act of framing walls generally involves framing nails, as that is their function, but I sort of let it slide at the time. The wall was coming down anyway, and it was probably just this wall, right? Red flag #1.

Not right. Not even approaching right. I started depositing the removed screws into a cup, then when that filled up I found a mid-size tupperware, then I had to graduate to a bucket. Screws everywhere. Drill batteries could barely keep up. Total chaos. My life is wild.

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Removing the insulation (presumably there for sound rather than heat…) revealed a beautiful cornucopia of mold…everywhere.

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A mold issue had been noted on the home inspection report and having it professionally remediated and a vapor barrier installed in the crawlspace to prevent the issue from returning were conditions of the sale, but looks like some of those minor details might have slipped through the cracks. And by some, I mean all? And by minor, I mean relatively major? I’m pretty sure that actual mold remediation would have entailed removal of affected drywall and other materials, and I’m also pretty sure that some 6-mil plastic thrown down in the crawlspace without so much as a piece of tape, gravel underneath, etc., does not a vapor barrier make. Red flags #2 and #3.

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Then there was the unidentified rodent nest. Mouse? Squirrel? Chipmunk? What you’re seeing in this fun blurry picture is a bunch of eaten up insulation with a hefty dose of animal shit and a bunch of eaten acorns. It wouldn’t be terribly uncommon to find this in an exterior wall (though still troubling for reasons we’ll explore another time…hello, foreshadowing), but here? Inside of a totally interior wall with no obvious access point? No bueno. Red flag #4.

Great start.

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So, ahead I forged! Despite the unwelcome discoveries, getting this MASSIVE waste-o-space bathroom outta here felt good. It felt like the house was expanding and starting to look and feel right without this stupid useless space.

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Hopefully you can get a sense of how enormous this bathroom was, and how right-in-the-middle-of-everything it was. Totally dumb. The hot water heater is being swapped for a tankless model in the hall closet (this one was about 20 years old, so it probably didn’t have a ton of life left in it anyway). That metal thing that looks like a duct to the right is the backside of the big propane-powered heater thing. I didn’t know at the time but this thing was about 15 years old and rather than try to relocate this huge ugly beast and wait for it to die in a few years, we decided to spring for one of those little ductless mini-split systems that’ll do A/C, too, instead of just heat.

Anyway, holy moly, the framing up in here was some crazy stuff. It took a little while to disassemble, but I’d rather take a *little* extra time on this stuff and be able to potentially reuse the lumber than see it all go to a landfill. Spending so much time at the dump kind of guarantees everlasting guilt about creating more garbage so I try to keep it to a minimum when possible, since renovations generate more than enough garbage as it is no matter how conscious you’re being.

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Almost there! The construction of this wall that the bathroom shares with the kitchen sort of confirms my suspicion that the bathroom was added sometime fairly recently. See how the bottom part of the wall has older framing, and then some newer work was added on top of it? So I think the kitchen always had this division wall that ended a couple feet from the ceiling, which I can see being pretty cute when it was built. Our standards for “openness” have changed a little in the past 60 years or so, though, and I think having more of a flow between the kitchen and dining spaces will work really nicely in this kind of house.

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With the half-bath mostly gone, it was fun to start to really get a sense of how big this space will be! Even with that wall still standing, the amount of light traveling through the two rooms was vastly improved and way exciting.

I try to keep things reasonably clean when I demo, and on a job site in general. Especially if you don’t have a dumpster, taking periodic breaks to bag debris, sort out electrical (TURN THE POWER OFF), and collect and organize your tools so you don’t keep losing them all helps keep things running smoothly and without a massive pile of garbage to try to wrangle at the end.

Also, be safe! ESPECIALLY if you’re dealing with mold, a good respirator is important to protect those lungs. Add in a bunch of rodent nests and who knows what else and none of this is stuff you want to be breathing in. You’re welcome for that glimmering piece of very obvious advice.

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Andddddd, woah! Yay! Light! Space! Removing this cabinetry and this drywall was so awesome. Light just came FLOODING into the dining space and the whole house felt lighter and so much bigger. This is gonna be nice!

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Of course, this meant I had also moved on to demo-ing parts of the kitchen, which was exciting and terrifying. This kitchen has a lot of confusion and bizarre aspects so diving in was a little scary. You never know what you’ll find!

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For instance…removing the stove and the cabinet next to it revealed some funky crap. A punch through the back wall revealed lots and lots of totally rotten, eaten, and otherwise destroyed fiberglass insulation, and the side wall didn’t even have any drywall!! No wonder this kitchen (the whole house, really) was freezing in the winter! It’s essentially uninsulated 2×4 walls without drywall in places. Yikes! I keep debating whether my garage is more weather-tight than this house was.

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Once the final wall was gone, I got to work on removing the lower run of cabinets and appliances in the kitchen. Oof. So much grime and mold and nastiness.

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A little mold I can handle. Show me THIS much mold, though, coupled with the damp rotten insulation and the mouse shit and the acorns and the rest of the unidentified collection of horrible crap and I might throw up.

I did not throw up, FYI, but I COULD have is the point. This was some nastiness right there.

So…wanna know something fun and cool? See that big white PVC pipe going down through the floor? That’s the dryer vent. Guess where it vents into?

THE CRAWLSPACE. THE SPACE UNDERNEATH THE KITCHEN. WHO DOES THAT. I picture it going like this:

“Honey, I wonder why we have such horrific mold problems! I feel terrible all the time and the house is full of spores!”

“I wonder if it’s because the machine that dries our wet clothes has been pumping hot moist air into the enclosed space under our kitchen for many decades?”

“NAH.”

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Probably the consequence of this absurd venting situation (aside from the extreme mold) was…lots and lots of rot. At least on this wall. We’ve since found more and more and more rot in other areas of the house for other reasons (we’ll get there…) but this wall specifically seems to primarily be a result of the stupid vent.

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Also, the framing on this wall? Horrors. It looks like somebody basically decided to build a new wall about a foot in front of the actual exterior wall, except they had no concept of how walls are made. Then they built a soffit another foot out from the exterior wall just for funsies. Then they plopped a crooked window inside this lunatic construction with zero support, added some cabinets and plumbing and called it a kitchen.

You can probably get a sense from these pictures, too, of JUST how wonky the floors are here. Basically the entire floor slopes down overall about 1.5 inches from the left side to the right in the picture above, with a pretty significant dip in the middle to make matters even more fun and exciting.

I don’t have a picture of it because it’s too dark in the crawlspace, but a quick look down there revealed why the floors are like this. See, the flooring in this section of the house is a funny mix of 2×4 and 2×6 lumber. Because the span is about 13 feet from side to side, some sagging isn’t surprising at all…I think the modern standard for this is 2×12 lumber, so the joists are under-sized to begin with. Luckily there’s a big support beam that runs lengthwise down the center, held up by posts, to hold up the middle of the floor and prevent this…except whatever genius put in the 1/2 bath decided to CUT IT IN HALF and just leave it dangling in space, doing nothing and supporting nothing. Coupled with the fact that these joists are also rotted in places from the moisture damage, I guess it’s not that surprising that the floor looks like it’s probably about to collapse? Go figure.

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Cool header there, bro.

And thus began the Olivebridge Cottage renovation. Only up from here, right? RIGHT?

(wrong.)

Diary time!

Day 1: Demo’d half-bath, inspected crawlspaces and moved appliances out of kitchen space.

Day 2: Continued demo on half-bath and utilities spaces, started demo in kitchen!

Day 3: Kitchen demo. Noted extensive mold issues and likely plumbing concerns. Dryer vents directly into crawlspace, Jesus Christ. Loaded truck for dump in AM.

Day 4: Two dump runs in John’s truck, continued work on kitchen demo.

Day 5: Dump run in morning, then continued demo in kitchen/dining spaces. Loaded truck for dump run in AM.

Day 6: Dump run in morning, more demo in kitchen and dining spaces. Will complete next week.

Black Garage!

valsparreserve

Ever since I got the idea in my head to paint my garage black, I haven’t really let go of it. As much as we know I love my black paint for all sorts of accent-y types of things, it’s not something I’d let loose on any and every house, but I have this whole vision for mine. It involves the following: since my house is Greek Revival (or, ya know, Greek Revival-ish), the only color that really feels right for the house itself is white, right? Maybe an off-white-ish-grey with a brighter white trim, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go. Once I sort of clean up the architecture on the back and side of the house (bye-bye, mudroom and hazardous “side porch” thingy!), the house is going to be so pretty. The garage and even the nice new wood fence are never going to be things I want to highlight, so I like the idea of blacking them out and letting the house and the garden really shine. Black can seem bold, and in some contexts it is, but I think here it’ll do a nice job of receding and letting the house do the visual heavy-lifting. IT’S GOING TO WORK, OK? OK then.

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Hot DAMN, look at that thing! I recently decided to find my house on Google Maps using the street view function, and evidently the last time the Google van rolled through Kingston was sometime before the house even went up for sale. After the previous owner of the house passed away, I knew the listing agent had stepped in to coordinate a little work on the house (repainting the wood trim, removing and remediating the oil tanks in the yard), and she’d mentioned at some point that they’d done some work on the garage during this time, but I never realized how bad it was. Yikes! Lookin’ pretty rough there, garage.

garagebeforebefore1

The garage isn’t original to the house, but it is quite old—I’d guess around the turn of the century, maybe a bit later. It’s seen some alterations over the years: the main door is much newer and probably replaced two side-by-side hinged carriage doors, there used to be another large window on the opposite side and two small windows on the back, one of which appears to have gotten poached for the laundry room. Anyway, I don’t really have a problem with continuing to alter it…some old houses come with some pretty magnificent garages/carriage houses that demand more careful preservation, but this isn’t really one of them. It can only go up from here, right?

GarageBefore1

Luckily by the time I bought the house, the garage was looking a little less horrific. The whole thing had been repainted, a brand new roof had been put on, and it was generally OK-looking. Still nothing gorgeous, but fine.

I’ve more or less left the garage alone until recently, mainly focusing on just cleaning up the overgrowth around it and using the inside as a glorified garbage dump. Cute, right? It’s never held a car as long as I’ve owned the house. Not once. I generally kind of forget that’s even a potential option, which is totally ridiculous.

garagebefore2

More recently, the garage has looked a little something more like this, kind of. Overgrowth more under control, asphalt removed, weird half-foundation behind the garage removed (evidently there was a garage expansion plan that never quite materialized, oof), and more or less a blank slate!

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To jog your memory, here’s kind of the concept for how this area will look/function by the end of the week. KIDDING. But hopefully by the end of the summer? I’m trying here, folks. The plan is to remove the little window and the patch where there used to be another window and throw some french doors on the back of this bad boy to make storage and whatnot easier and, hopefully, the whole construction a little more attractive. I have high hopes. Since the garage isn’t spectacularly weather-tight or insulated or anything like that, I feel fine with going ahead and using french doors that are really intended for indoors (probably these) which are way cheaper than exterior doors. They’ll be painted black too…I’m lazy with SketchUp so use your imagination to fill in that gaping hole.

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ANYWAY. A few weeks ago, I dove into painting this mo’fo’! As usual, I did not take my own advice and did not get any samples—I just went with my old faithful Benjamin Moore, Onyx! Then I went with my other new-ish old faithful and had it color-matched at Lowe’s to their Valspar Reserve line of exterior paint and primer in one, which is magic stuff, for real. I’ve used the interior paint in my dining and living rooms (still looks awesome, FYI) and the exterior on Bluestone Cottage, and it’s been great! It’s about $45/gallon, which I think is totally reasonable for the quality compared to other brands.

My pals at Lowe’s generously stepped in to save my scrawny ass and sponsor a bunch of backyard projects for me this summer (thanks, guys!), so the paint was on them this time around, but otherwise the 5-gallon bucket would have run me about $215. Having used the paint before I knew more or less what to expect out of it, but I was still pretty amazed by the coverage! I considered using a tinted primer for the first coat and then two coats of paint, but decided to see how the paint performed on its own, and I’m glad I did! Usually painting super dark over super light (or vice-versa) means 3-5 coats of paint, but the coverage just with the first coat was incredible! Two coats had things looking pretty great, and then it’s just been touch-ups here and there to really get in all the nooks and crannies.

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As you might be able to tell, I did not go crazy with prep. When I restore the clapboard on the house I’ll probably aim to strip it down to bare wood (or close to it) before repainting, but there was no way I was about to put that much work into the garage. Instead, I went around on my ladder and used a scraper to flake off anything that was chipping or peeling (onto tarps to keep any possible lead-containing chips off the ground), and then gave the whole thing a good cleaning. For that part, I used a garden sprayer filled with TSP-substitute (I bought the powdered version and just mixed it with warm water) to clean off any dirt/grime/whatever that could interfere with good adhesion. I used reusable microfiber cloths, which I find are best for trapping all the crap when you’re cleaning by hand. The cleaning is a little slow and boring but super worth it!

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EEEEP! Painting that first wall was SO EXCITING that it probably took me twice as long as it needed to because I kept going across the street to see how it looked. Which admittedly is kind of insane and terrible in process, but getting a glimpse of how it would look completed was totally thrilling.

This was the stage during which I received some rave reviews from the neighbors, which included “hey, it’s your house” and “it’s definitely very…you” and “you should have painted it rainbow.” Aw, shucks.

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I think I took this photo after the second coat but before touch-ups, but here we go! Almost done! I LOVE it. Almost. I almost love it. I will love it. This is going to be one of those things that is going to look a little kooky and wrong until more of this exterior plan starts to come together—removing that chain-link fence is going to be HUGE HUGE HUGE, and I desperately need to do something about the windows on the garage door. That tattered, water-stained fabric curtain is not helping this cause! I love the idea of replacing the glass with a textured wire-mesh-reinforced glass, but that stuff is spendy and I don’t want to throw a lot of cash at this thing right now, so that might be a “someday” dream. I’ve been thinking about reviving ye olde cornstarch trick and just pasting some fabric up on that, at least for now, so we’ll see.

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Sorry about the crappy iPhone pics (I’ll post better ones when the fence goes in!), but I’m super into the way the black-on-black looks on this garage. I used flat paint, which makes me kind of like the scale-y texture of the old clapboards? It has a lot of character but it’s sort of subtle. I’m into it.

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ANYWAY, I do want to give the garage a little bit of bling, ya know? I need to redo the garage’s electric anyway, so I’ve been thinking about adding a larger light on the street side (between the circular window and the garage door) and two smaller sconces on either side of the french doors on the back. Sounds good, right? The street that the garage is on is a very small cross-street that gets basically NO light at night (which might sound nice but is kind of a safety hazard), so I think adding something to the garage will help out the street a little bit too. I’ll probably put that one on a timer switch and the two sconces on a regular switch, and LED bulbs in everything to keep them from being energy-sucks. If the bulb is going to be exposed, I’m totally trying those new LED Edison-style bulbs, which are so hokey that I feel my life is incomplete without them.

So. You know me, all hot 4 warm metallics. A copper light would look so fly on the black, especially as it patinas over time, right? Above are some of my favorites I’ve been tossing around—bigger guys for the front, smaller sconces for the back. Hmmmm.

1. Progress Lighting Brookside Copper Outdoor Wall Light, Lowe’s, $192.

2. The Maritime Copper Gooseneck Light (raw copper), Barnlight Electric, $379.

3. Starboard with Shade Sconce—Mini (weathered zinc), Restoration Hardware, on sale for $190.

4. Harbor Sconce—Large (weathered zinc), Restoration Hardware, on sale for $110.

5. Carson Straight Arm Wall Mount, Rejuvenation, $695. (good god, though, look at that thing!)

6. Avalon Indoor/Outdoor Sconce (black), Pottery Barn, on sale for $559/set of two.

7. The Bowie Copper Wall Sconce, Barnlight Electric, $200

This post is in partnership with my friends at Lowe’sThank you for supporting my sponsors!

 

Patterned Shirts for the Dudes!

Lately I’m really into shirts with exciting patterns on them. I mean, I like patterns on other things outside of my body, but I’ve always been more of a solid/stripe/plaid kind of guy, shirt-wise.

No more. Gimme a good pattern and I will wear it and feel happy about wearing it.

Here’s the thing with patterned shirts on the gentlemen: you don’t want to be described as, “you know, that guy who always wears the crazy shirts.” At least I don’t. I don’t want to be a “loud” dresser, because people who dress “loudly” tend to be super annoying and I don’t want to be super annoying, or give people good reason to think I will be based on how I’m dressing.

So you have to find the good patterns so you don’t look like an irritating clown. How do you do that? I think like this. First, you limit the colors. A crazy pattern with only a couple of colors will look less nuts than a more simple pattern with a bunch of colors. Second, I like to steer toward abstracts and away from things that are literal/legible, like little floating anchors or even florals. I own a few good florals but they’re tough to get right and can go silly/kitschy/cutesy real fast. Third, I like to pair a good pattern with normal stuff like a simple pair of classic jeans—you don’t want multiple elements of your outfit calling out for attention because then you will look crazy.

Look at me, writing with fake authority on fashion. HA. So, boys. Point is, according to me, you can totally rock a shirt that’s a little weird without looking nuts. I do it all the time and nobody has ever explicitly told me I look nuts so I assume we’re all good. Here’s a little round-up of some shirts I’m into right now to carry me through the rest of summer and into fall:

ABSTRACTS

1. Navy Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $30

2. Slim-Fit Cloud Print Shirt, Club Monaco, $89.50

3. Blue Aztec Print Short Sleeve Casual Shirt, Topman, $50

4. Navy Paint Print Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50

 

POLKADOTS

1. Selected Homme Blue Geo Long Sleeve Shirt, Topman, $85

2. Selected Homme Black Slim Fit Shirt, Topman, $20

3. Classic Fit Ditsy Dot Shirt, Club Monaco, $27.30 with code THESALEONSALE

4. Short-Sleeved Cotton Shirt, H&M, $14.99

 

ABSTRACTS2

1. Slim-Fit Indigo Cross Shirt, Club Monaco, $48.30 with code THESALEONSALE

2. Weekday Shirt Happy Times Grandad Collar Sumi Print, ASOS, $73

3. ASOS Shirt in Short Sleeve with Paint Print, ASOS, $40

4. Navy Confetti Drapey Short Sleeve Smart Shirt, Topman, $50

 

Plans for Olivebridge Cottage!

Hey, remember that other house I’ve been working on? That vacation cottage? The one out in Olivebridge? That we called Olivebridge Cottage? For those nice sweet clients from the big city? That one that I wrote a blog post “introducing” and then never spoke of again?

Well, it’s done!

PSYCH. LOL. GOTCHA.

Oh, Olivebridge Cottage. Spoiler: you are so much more than we bargained for. Like, so much more. Like, an unthinkable, unreasonable, unfathomable amount more. I hope you guys like whatever the house version of blood and guts and gore is, because it is what Olivebridge Cottage has been serving up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday for the past two months.

Honestly, I haven’t been sure how to even blog about this renovation because it’s just been total insanity. Plans and budgets and timelines have had to change on what feels like a daily basis, and I haven’t been totally certain of what the appropriate time is to jump into writing about it with some semblance of certainty or authority or professionalism. Thus are the hazards of trying to live-blog a renovation. Or at least this renovation. This little house is bananas.

Last time I posted about the house, it was a bunch of before pictures and some vague ideas about what the big plans were (I’d recommend going back to that post and just looking at the pictures if you need a refresher). That was only a few days into the job…back in the days when my heart was full of naive optimism and my brain still full of the understanding that this was more or less a kitchen renovation. We’ll get into how and why everything has changed since then, but for now maybe it makes the most sense to just start with…where we started? The overall aesthetic direction for the renovation hasn’t really changed, so before we dive into demo and all the lunacy that’s come with it, let’s all get an understanding of the basic layout and stuff…

 

olivebridgebefore1olivebridgeproposal1

Is it even worth apologizing for my Sketch-Up renderings at this point? Probably not. I really don’t enjoy doing them (to say the least…I might be the least tech-inclined blogger ever) but it’s helpful when clients and/or contractors are involved so everyone can be more or less on the same page with stuff.

Anyway, here’s a side-by-side of the overall layout. Before is above, proposed after is below. It’s oriented this way because the top is the side that faces the street, but the right side is where the entryway is. So you walk into this little vestibule space, and turning left brings you into the 2nd bedroom (which is an old enclosed porch) and turning right brings you into the living room space. The plan for the vestibule and second bedroom has always primarily just been some paint and a few other cosmetic upgrades, but there’s since been talk of bringing the new flooring into those two spaces as well. It’s a small house, so cutting down on the number of different materials all over the place would probably be a very nice thing. It’s mostly a question of budget at this point.

The living room is sort of an odd space because of the dimensions of the room and the location of the wood stove and size of the hearth. It’s all a bit wonky. At only about 12 feet wide (and having to function as a pass-through to the dining/kitchen area, the entryway, and the bedroom/bathroom area), it’s a REALLY difficult space to lay out with regular furniture in any kind of conventional set-up. Then off the living room is this sunken area, which is also an enclosed porch and sits about 6″ lower than the living room. It’s about 6 feet wide and is supported by a beam and four posts, so even though the area is wide open to the living room, it feels kind of closed off.

The proposed plan didn’t call for altering anything really with the wood stove, but that’s probably changing due to safety issues and code compliance and all that fun stuff that includes the house not burning to the ground. The proposed plan also called for at least putting a structural support beam between the living room and the sunken section so that we could lose the vertical supports, and there was a lot of talk of just leveling out the floor (which, yes, would leave sort of an odd ceiling height when you got way up to the front of the house, but would have still been OK…just kind of quirky?). If the living room were even a foot or two wider, I think leaving the sunken section as-is would have been the obvious answer (and building some kind of great bench or shelving or something below the windows), but the narrowness of the room more or less precludes the placement of even a normal-size sofa. So that was the thinking.

Spoiler: none of that stuff is happening because now very different things are probably happening.

olivebridgebefore2olivebridge2

ANYWAY. Up a couple of stairs, you’re in the dining room/half bath/utilities/kitchen area. You can really see here how enormous that half-bath is, especially relative to the size of this house, so I’m glad it’s going away! That funny-shaped wall inside the half-bath shows more or less where the hot water tank was and the guts of the big propane-powered heater.

In the proposed plan (which was actually the second proposed kitchen concept—the first didn’t have the breakfast bar part), the half-bath goes away and the kitchen gets a lot more space and a lot more storage. It’s still not a huge space but there’s enough for a couple of people to comfortably maneuver in the center of it, and opening up the kitchen/dining space is going to make the whole house feel much roomier and brighter and all those nice things.

That thing next to the refrigerator represents some kind of utility closet that we thought might be necessary, but luckily it’s been nixed because the plumber confirmed that we could put the new tankless hot water heater (which will be more efficient and much, much smaller!) in the closet across from the bathroom (where the washer/dryer will also live), and we’re doing away with the propane-powered heating tower thing altogether in favor of a new ventless mini-split system that will ALSO have A/C. Color me jealous! I’m not a fan of the way those things look in old houses, but it’ll be just fine in an all-new and modern space.

Spoiler: we’re now on to kitchen design #23478904587 so the kitchen probably won’t actually look much like this, at least layout-wise. So feel free to tear it apart or whatever because it’s not getting built anyway.

moodboard1kitchen

After we’d figured out the overall layout and more major decisions about the renovation plan, I sent Adriana and Barry this “mood board” do-dad to help sort of visualize the overall aesthetic direction and a few specific products I had rolling around in my head! If you’ll recall, the goal of this renovation is for everything to be very inexpensive without looking cheap, so I tried to keep things as budget-friendly as possible. The overall concept this is trying to communicate is that Scandi-mod vibe with lots of blacks and whites, but also throwing in some nice natural textures and some bright colors so it never feels to sterile or boring. Ya dig?

1. We weren’t really sure what was going to be lurking behind the bumped-out wall in the kitchen and the soffit above the bumped-out wall, so in case we needed to maintain a soffit of some kind, I thought a few fun-colored lights like the Alabax fixture (medium size) from Schoolhouse Electric would be so cute! I love the Marigold color. Adriana nixed this particular fixture because she doesn’t like exposed bulbs (I tend to agree, honestly, since I’ve been trying to transition as much as I can to LED and those bulbs aren’t all that cute to look at), but they both liked the idea of adding that element of color.

2. Range hood, sink, faucet, and cabinets are all IKEA. We’re keeping the existing stainless steel stove and refrigerator, so the plan is to use the LUFTIG exhaust hood and the DOMSJO double-bowl sink, which will be set in the new line of SEKTION cabinets! As I am a huge IKEA nerd, I’m excited to try out the new cabinets and see how they compare to the old AKURUM system. I’ve checked them out in the showroom and they seem really great. I pitched the RINGSKAR faucet but that was nixed due to lack of spray function and concerns about quality, so I’m on the hunt for something else. Anyone have a modern faucet they love that didn’t cost a billion dollars? Spill.

3. TILE! I was sure this backsplash tile would get nixed immediately, but Adriana and Barry were on board! I love a tumbling blocks pattern. This tile is made to look like nice cement encaustic tile that would usually cost all the money, but NOPE—this stuff is from Home Depot, of all places! Each tile is 7.75″ square, so at $1.97/tile you can cover a LOT of territory with it without breaking the bank. I ordered this a while ago (it tends to go out of stock every now and then, so I wanted to make sure we’d have it ready to go) and I have to say it’s quite nice in person. The whole line of these vintage-repro Merola Tiles is pretty great. A lot of it is made to mix and match and it’s a great alternative if you can’t spend the money on the real deal.

4. Since budget is so slim, we need the countertops to be super cheap. Adriana very specifically did not want butcherblock, which is my first instinct for inexpensive countertops, and we all agreed that the laminate options I found were kind of blah. As I am a blogger, it looks like I will be joining the ranks of many bloggers who have come before me in trying out Ardex Feather Finish for cheap, DIY-friendly, faux concrete countertops! Just google it and you’ll find lots of blog posts about people using this stuff right over their old laminate counters or even just over plywood if they’re starting from scratch. It can look pretty great! For this house, though, I really like what Jenny over at Little Green Notebook did by adding black concrete tint to the mix—I think it just takes it up a few notches and makes the whole application look really luxe. I’m psyched to try it! It seems kind of hard to screw up and I’m relatively good at stuff, so it should be OK. Right?

5. The two globe pendant lights are from Cedar & Moss. We’re still sort of playing around with lighting—kind of a challenge since things are so open, so the kitchen lighting has to play well with whatever’s going on above the dining room table and the living room, too. The thinking behind the globes was that we might have more of a “statement piece” above the dining room table so we’d just want something simple above the peninsula. I’m not sure if these or anything even like them are going to happen, but holy guacamole…Cedar & Moss makes some good looking lights.

6. I’m into these Roadhouse Leather Counter Stools from CB2, especially as a way to introduce some warmth into this business and balance out the colder, harder materials and textures. Like a lot of things, not sure if they’re going to happen, but I’d like to use them and they’re a good chair to know about regardless as they’re nice looking and fairly budget-friendly. They come in chair height, counter height, and bar height. I wish I could…refine the bases a little bit? But overall that’s a good-lookin’ chair.

OK, now that we’re finished with this whole thing, we can finally really get into renovating this sucker! Much like Bluestone Cottage (I’ll get back to you soon, I promise…), I’ve been keeping a daily diary of the insanity and have lots and lots of pictures of the progress/disaster unfolding before my eyes and taking over my life, so I hope you’re into all that. This one’s a doozy!

Mudroom Demo!

I hate my mudroom. Like lots.

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This is the mudroom shortly after moving into the house. Look at Linus! So cute.

I’m the sort of person who tends to think most spaces are workable and potentially charming with a little bit of TLC, but the structure attached to the back of my house has never really felt like one of them. There was a time when I felt like replacing the floor tiles with leftover VCT from the kitchen re-do, painting the paneling, installing a cute-ish light, and building out some super simple storage would make this space sort of nice and useful. Clearly that never happened, and in the meantime I decided I just wanted the whole thing to disappear.

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Oof…sorry, house! This is not one of your most flattering angles. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I think the front of my house is really pretty, but the side and back have suffered over the years from some weird additions, and alterations to those weird additions, and then the vinyl siding and chain-link fencing happened, and the trees in the hell-strip came down, and…ya know. It doesn’t look so great. This angle is the one that will definitely change the most during my time in the house, though, and I think I can make it attractive and much more cohesive with enough time and energy and, of course, money. Right now I’m sort of running low in all three departments, so while I wish I could tackle everything at once, it just isn’t possible.

The mudroom, though, is structurally unrelated to the house itself and should come down pretty easily, so you can imagine how much self-restraint it’s taken to even let it survive this long. It has admittedly been a nice place to just throw crap when I’ve felt too lazy to find a better spot for it and just want it out of the way, but that’s pretty much the extent of its utility as a room.

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Anyway, back to before pictures…this room was pretty gnarly. The paneling was the cheap 70s luan variety, the floor was this super ugly vinyl tile, and I don’t even know what that tape on the wall was about. The roof leaked (and still does), the ceiling is only about 7 feet and slopes toward the front corner, the door had a broken pane of glass (I can’t remember if I put up that scrap of plywood or if it was like that…), the tiny window on the back wall was also broken…I think maybe the only nice things about the room are that it has a wide-plank beadboard ceiling and the old door, both of which I plan to reuse elsewhere.

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Demo on this room actually started a while ago…like maybe a year ago. I’d just had it with all the luan paneling and the tiles popping up off the floor and figured that I’d at least gut the interior and get that out of the way.

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One nice discovery was that the original clapboard was right under the paneling on the back wall of the house! I expected it to be there, but houses have a tendency to throw weird curveballs so I was still relieved to see it. I wonder if the whole was painted this mint green color at some point.

Since the foundation under this room is definitely old (stacked bluestone, like the rest of the house, but not part of the adjacent foundation under the kitchen), I always sort of figured that this used to be a summer kitchen. Having a covered but outdoor space to cook during the summer is relatively common in old houses, I think mainly as a means to keep the main house cooler in the warm summer months. Seeing the vent hole for a stove on the outside of the house (there’s a chimney behind that wall) is confirmation of this, I think.

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The other walls were pretty much just paneling nailed up to the 2×4 studs—no insulation or anything. The whole construction of this room is super wonky—usually 2x4s would be nailed in with the short side facing the interior and exterior, and you’d see a top plate that support the ceiling joists, etc. etc.

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It’s sort of hard to tell, but you can see here that some of the clapboards on this wall look to be newer, particularly as you get toward the door, and some are the originals. I think this is because the entire back wall (where the little window is) was added at some point to fully enclose the space and then the door had to be added to create access to the backyard.

Once I’d gotten all the paneling down, I could’t help but dive into the floor! The tile is laid on top of plywood, which is laid on top of what are essentially enormous shims that were put in place to level out the floor. Since this was a semi-open space originally, the entire floor slants toward the back corner to direct water away.

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CHAOS! It’s amazing how gutting even relatively small, simple spaces seems to create so much garbage! I wish I could just have a dumpster rented in my driveway for the next…decade? This was back when I used Bagster bags (I’ve since switched to just borrowing my friend’s pick-up and hauling to the dump myself, which is MUCH cheaper), which are thoughtfully designed to hold 4×8 objects perfectly. I do miss the convenience of Bagster bags, but also a little sick over how much money I spent on disposal during the first year in the house by relying on them. It could’ve paid for my own rust-bucket pick-up truck! Oh well.

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See how all the clapboard on the wall with the window is newer? Without this wall, the 2×4 ceiling joists would have been supported by a single 2×4 top plate resting on 2×4 posts in the outer corners. So flimsy! It’s sort of amazing that the roof has lasted so long, particularly through heavy snow loads and whatnot. I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say this room is a structural hazard (after all, it’s been fine for many decades before I came along!), but it’s definitely a far cry from the way we’d build anything today! Even if I were interested in restoring this space as-is, I’d be looking at a lot of serious structural work (maybe even rebuilding it entirely), so I really don’t have any qualms with just losing it and giving the space over to something that will actually be used and enjoyed (porch! porch! porch!).

Underneath the vinyl tile and plywood and huge shims was more plywood! At first I was just inclined to leave it, but…curiosity. Weird bursts of energy. Little impulse control. Same old story.

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Hey, cool! The original floor is old wide-plank pine. It’s in solid condition, too, so these boards will definitely get salvaged and reused somehow.

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Outside, I finally started removing the vinyl siding a week or so ago! Removing vinyl siding is shockingly easy—you really just need a hammer and a pry bar. I think I had this whole wall un-vinyl’d in maybe 15 minutes? You just start at the top and work your way down.

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Underneath the vinyl siding is a very thin layer of foam insulation, which is nailed into the clapboard.

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Here is where I will mount my soapbox:

Vinyl siding is not good for old houses, and the last two pictures kind of sum up why. Often people think that covering a house in vinyl siding improves the appearance (agree to disagree there…), helps with maintenance, adds energy efficiency, and might even preserve the underlying materials, but very often that’s not the case! Regardless of how you feel about how vinyl siding looks, the fact that it’s so effective at disguising potentially very serious issues makes its continued use sort of alarming to me. When water and moisture get behind the vinyl, the vinyl and foam insulation are great at catching that water, trapping it, keeping it next to the wood, and even advancing decay by keeping it dark and warm up in there. Yuck! So what you get is a nasty hotbed of mold and rotting wood. And if pests like termites and carpenter ants aren’t already hiding behind the vinyl (which they totally might be and you wouldn’t really know it because you can’t see them), well…they’re known to enjoy chowing down on some decaying wood now and then so they might decide to join the party too. So underneath a wall that just looks like clean, fresh, wood-grain-embossed-plastic, there can be all sorts of crazy activity that can not only affect the clapboard but also wreak serious havoc on underlying framing and potentially anything else in the wall like electrical and insulation.

*dismounting*

ANYWAY. As much as I’d love to rip down ALL OF THE VINYL RIGHT NOW, that’s a huge project involving careful lead-paint-containment and lots of time and potentially money and it’ll have to wait a while longer. I’m hopeful that most of the underlying clapboard will be in good shape and just need to be stripped, primed, and painted, but of course there’s no real way of knowing until I see it! For the sake of this summer, I think I’ll remove just the vinyl on the back of the house (leaving the vinyl “cornerboards” in place) and use that as a test run for how the rest of the house will be. I’m a little scared to look! I’ll salvage any of the good older pieces of clapboard from the mudroom for patching in elsewhere on the house if/when necessary, and hopefully it’ll all work out and be so beautiful and not so difficult and I won’t rue the day I wrote these words.

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