The Kitchen Begins!

maxandmekko

In the movies, let’s say, there’s this whole idea of what buying a house is like, particularly an old house. It always culminates with that sticky-sweet moment where the couple turns the key, walks in for the first time, and takes stock of their surroundings. They breath deep. The air is musty, but charming. It’s good air. It’s their air, and they know it. They are fresh-faced and full of hope. They quickly start to do things, like sweep and pull white sheets off of old oil paintings and pieces of furniture left behind. They get in a cutesy flirty-fun-fight while painting their first room together, splattering each other with reckless abandon, unconcerned with waste or, evidently, their flooring. They hang curtains. They are home. /end scene

LIES. IT IS ALL LIES.

Despite our best efforts to get plenty of different inspections and estimates before closing on the house, we signed on the dotted line with a few virtual unknowns, the largest among them being the plumbing. The house had been drained and winterized over two years before, and between a few different factors I won’t bore you with here, we couldn’t have it turned on essentially until the late spring. Our plumbing inspection turned up no major *visible* problems with the plumbing, and hey, we figured, somebody was living here! It’s probably fine.

Since we were coming from Brooklyn, the task of getting the plumbing going again became an exercise in endless back-and-forth between me, our realtor, and our plumber. We’d accepted that a few repairs would probably have to be made, but had hoped optimistically that we’d be able to get them resolved before we’d get stuck living with them. But then closing got delayed. And delayed. And delayed. We finally closed 3 days before we were set to move in for our first stint of work (work schedules were rearranged, friends set to stay in the apartment, etc. etc.), and there was still no running water. Then it was two days before. Then it was the day before. From what I understand, our plumber left about an hour before we got there that Monday night. I hadn’t heard from him, so I assumed all systems were a-go.

Wrong. We were so very wrong.

Both toilets leaked profusely when flushed. We had no hot water. A disconnected radiator in the downstairs bathroom was slowly leaking murky, rusty water. It was already dusk, neither of us had showered that day, and there was a brief but lively debate about whether we should vacate for the night and find a motel close by that would take pity on our situation, and our bladders, and give us shelter for the night. I won’t rehash that here, but if you have a sense of our relationship, you can probably guess which sides the two of us came down on. (hint: I may have uttered the words “suck it up, you pansy.”)

Whilst living with working toilets and showers, it’s easy to take for granted how nice they are. Living without them, you quickly develop both a deep appreciation of the nearest Starbucks and an impressive tolerance for human body odor. I only bring this up because I feel that it’s important to remember that everything I’ll be talking about in this post was done during the several days in which we couldn’t poop when we wanted to or recover from a day’s labor with the cleansing powers of a shower. This was the week when I turned into a disgusting dumpster human.

chase

Because I am stubborn and filled with ambitions to have a functional kitchen, I didn’t want to waste any time. Not only did the upstairs toilet leak all over the place, but we noticed that while the upstairs sink and shower seemed OK within the bathroom itself, their use caused what some might call a “water feature” to flow in a brief and spirited way  through the downstairs kitchen. Were it outdoors, it might have been nice——calming, even——but inside, the sound of water rushing down plaster walls and seeping out all over the kitchen floor was a tad more alarming. It all came from behind that wood structure in the corner of the kitchen you see above, so it was mysterious, like a present. “Open me,” it beckoned, “and within me, find nightmares.”

That box of Smirnoff actually contains a vintage light fixture I’ve been hoarding, by the way. The Smirnoff would have been more helpful during this particular period of my life.

plumingdisasters

The wood chase came down easily enough (not that easily. nothing is easy. everything is hard. the end.), and exposed this kind of OK looking pipe? I thought it would be terrible but it wasn’t terrible?

That’s the problem with plumbing. It looks OK. Then it is not OK when the plumber comes to Sawzall out 9 feet of cast iron pipe with a huge crack all the way down the back, where it faced the wall and wasn’t visible. Look at that madness! Leak, explained.

Seriously. Watching new plumbing go in. IS. AMAZING. It all happened pretty quickly and yeah, it’s just a piece of PVC, but it just felt so…liberating? Our house is not broken! We don’t have an indoor waterfall! Things are good!

We also got a new toilet installed on this day (I don’t have a picture, but it’s just a toilet. We bought it at Home Depot. Plumber installed it. Old one was hauled away. That was basically it.), and suddenly life felt more manageable.

Still no hot water (that was an electrical issue, we later found out…as in, we had no electrical in half the house, including the part that powers the hot water heater), but who needs real showers with all this FUN?

Not this guy.

(but check that cute little hook in the last picture, which was hiding behind the chase and covered in layers of paint! he’s getting stripped and reused, for sure.)

kitchenbefore

I also took the opportunity to have the plumbers cap the gas line feeding the old stove. We don’t actually have gas service running to the house at all right now (another long and exciting story), so it probably would have been OK for me to just do it, I guess, but I don’t want to mess with that stuff. Safety first. Or something.

I know that stove might look kind of fun and charming, but it’s super duper gross. Trust. And not in a way that can just be cleaned. Like actually gross. I shimmied it out to the mudroom as fast as I could. Thinking I’ll probably post it for free on Craigslist and see what happens.

brick

Getting the stove out of the way allowed me to start peeling away the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! Almost as gross as the wallpaper was the old yellow wallpaper paste (and probably decades-old grease) clinging to the plaster once it was gone. EW EW.

It’s kind of great the way the room was painted long ago though, right? Vintage color-blocking!

I couldn’t get the rest of the wallpaper down, though, until I took care of the ceiling, so that’s where I turned my fickle attentions next.

lightbefore

I don’t know when or really why this ceiling was put in (probably to contain heat), but I know the realtor had the tiles removed to show how tall the ceiling actually is. The biggest obstacle to removing the ceiling, though, was changing out the main light source in the room, which was hanging ON the drop ceiling framing, wired from the box in the ceiling, to a couple feet of exposed Romex wire, to the wires in the fixture, which were all exposed. Just hanging out. Also, there was masking tape all around the ceiling box…like, not on the box itself but surrounding it on the ceiling.

I am not an electrician, but pretty sure all of this constitutes approximately 9 million code violations.

I got too caught up in the heat of the moment and my fear of being electrocuted to take a bunch of pictures, but basically I turned off the power, detached the old light, and installed the new one. Since the electrical box isn’t in the center of the room, I opted to swag my light fixture a few feet over from the box, which was convenient since the two lights and the ceiling framing didn’t get all tangled hanging on top of each other.

ceilingcomingdown

Pretty sure this is not how a drop ceiling is normally installed, but it really wouldn’t be our house if it was done properly. A metal channel is installed all the way around the perimeter of the room, which the drop ceiling “drops” into and snaps together in this cute and sensible way. But on top of that, our special drop ceiling was also secured to the ceiling with a billion rigid metal wires (possibly old clothing hangers?), which were bent around screws and screwed into the sheetrock ceiling above.

Pretty creative. Pretty not fun to remove. This is a main theme in this house——weird quick-fix solutions involving 4 standby materials: masking tape, packing tape, metal wire, and caulk. I have a lifetime of scraping crusty old adhesive off of stuff. Warning you now: probably going to kvetch about that a lot.

I know it’s impossible to tell from that photo, but I tried to be very organized and systematic about taking down the ceiling. First I removed all the stuff in the center, and then I removed the stuff attached to the walls around the top of the room. That framing around the room was all nailed in some places and screwed into the walls in other places, which was way fun dealing with on a tall ladder, alone, juggling a hammer, a pry bar, and a screwdriver. All of the metal from the drop ceiling filled a 40-gallon contractor trashcan, which currently looks like a scary spiky torture device out in the garage. FYI.

ridge

As a reward for my labor, I was left with this weird ridge in the wall where the framing had been. It looks like the walls were all skim-coated with joint compound at some point, but only underneath the drop ceiling, leaving a slight depth discrepancy in the wall and a lip where the old wall met the skim-coating.

Cute.

Not cute.

So basically I went around the room with a glazing tool (more rigid than a spackle knife) and knocked off the weird ridge and all of the lumps and bumps.

Then I went back around the room and liberally applied Ready Patch all over the weird ridge and all the holes and all the holes in the ceiling and all the holes everywhere else.

An entire quart of Ready Patch later (that’s a ton of Ready Patch), all that was left to do was wait for it all to dry so that I could go back around the whole room and sand it all smooth and hope it wouldn’t be too noticeable when I finally, joyfully could get around to painting this godforsaken room.

Welcome to my glammy DIY bloggy life. Fun and adventure abounds!

progress

But! Check it out! I love that nice little light hanging there, just waiting for everything else to take shape. It’s totally looking so much better already, even though it’s still a horror show.

I ended up cleaning the old wallpaper paste with Scrubbing Bubbles from an aerosol can, by the way. I only bring this up because I was told a little vinegar-water solution would take care of it, which was SO very wrong. Scrubbing Bubbles and a sponge worked miracles, though. For real.

beforeprogress

Progress. It feels good.

pssst——missed it in all the hubbub? Here’s the whole plan for the kitchen!

 

 

 


108 Comments

  1. Looking good so far! And actually, the movie I associate most with old home renos is “The Money Pit”, so it looks like you are doing all right. I have been obsessively checking your site ever since you bought the house, because it is SO EXCITING. I might be slightly envious. Can’t wait to see more!

    • bah! I ran down here to say the same thing! This adventure is smelling like a more erudite and slightly saltier remake of the Money Pit. And I love it. And you have your wits about you, Shelly Long and Tom Hanks do not.

  2. Well, the light fixture looks great! Although at these quirks must be very aggravating, i think it makes for some great entertainment for the rest of us…. so, there’s that.
    My dad (70+) decided to buy a house built in 1908- and vacant for the last twenty yrs. Well, except for the bats…
    Those cute 9 over 9 windows? Bat friendly. Whenever I go down to visit him (to make sure he’s alive) we spend some time bonding while playing “catch and release the bats”. He took his sweet time getting his water hooked up, and i think he might be part polar bear. But these old houses give us plenty of conversation starters, like: “why would someone only stucco half the wall?” Or “why would someone paint faux woodgrain on a perfectly fine wooden door?” Or “is that wallpaper on the floorboards?!”
    See? You will never run out things to talk about- which is great for the rest of us!

  3. Super cool progress, but poor you and Max! When it rains it always pours!! I’d be driven mad by all of those little details, but you’re beavering on at a real clip. I assume that there is a delay in the posting of these blogs, since I saw a bit of cheeky paining and decorating going on in your Instagram feed. I’m glad that you are making some headway. Always love reading this — I love your writing style, it brightens my day!

  4. I need a shower just looking at this. I hope you’re all set now with hot water!

    We have a bunch of painted hooks too, but how do you get it off the wall without breaking it? We also have a bunch of old french door latches and lift-lock door latches (colonial, domt kmwo what theyre reall called) that have been painted over. The door knobs I could get off I cleaned, but how do you clean hardware you can’t remove? Help!!

    • I’ll talk about that in another post (promise!) but basically I use a utility knife or a razor blade to gauge out the old paint in the screw, unscrew it (usually handheld and elbow grease is better than a power drill, since there’s less risk of stripping the screw), and then it usually just pops off pretty easily. You’ll need to sand/patch/paint the spot where the hardware was, obviously. Then I like to boil everything in a crockpot on low heat overnight with a little laundry detergent, scrub in the sink, dry, and spray paint! Either reuse the old screw or replace with new (sometimes a size larger) if the screws are bad or the hole in the wall/molding is too loose for the old screw to hold.

      • And here I thought you were using that crockpot sitting on your counter to cook in until you move your upstair’s stove downstairs. Judging by all the work you are doing, eating has probably slipped to the bottom of your priorities. I totally don’t believe the Smirnoff box story, by the way. Both of you drank it all.

  5. Hey,
    A great…and exhausting looking job! A note on the drop ceiling (or suspended ceiling as they’re called down in here Australia.) The weird wires you discovered are pretty normal. Yours did look like a serious DIY job but most suspended ceiling systems use the wire to hold the whole thing up as the framing is super light-weight, normally aluminium, and wouldn’t be sble to support itself over much area.

    Keep up the good work! Looking forward to some pics with paint on the wall!

  6. Hooray progress! It look so much better already!

  7. Looking awesome,so many things you said are exactly what’s happened with our (much smaller) house. Our whole place seems to have been built with scrap material!
    I’m pretty sure you won’t have an issue because of age but please be super careful in case there is asbestos. We started stripping our kitchen to add a pantry and thankfully I broke through from the other room (and therefore didn’t disturb it) as the entire lower half of our kitchen walls turned out to be asbestos sheeting. It wasn’t in the building inspection reports and so it could have been disastrous if it wasn’t for dumb luck.
    Anyway I’m sure you’re all over that kind of thing but after my near miss I’m a bit jumpy when I see anyone else renovating.

    • Thanks, Lila! I remember reading when that happened in your kitchen! Scary!

      Our house definitely has asbestos——all old houses do, it just comes with the territory!——but yes, I’m being very careful. I’ve done tons of research on it at this point, so I feel more prepared to handle (or not handle!) it when I do encounter the stuff we don’t already know about!

      • Daniel,
        What kind of “handling” are you going to be doing? I’ve started stripping the popcorn ceiling off my…ceilings….and I’m about 99% sure it contains asbestos. Of course, I didn’t remember that until I’d done the hallway with only a paper mask and eye protection (no gloves, no long sleeves, no rubber boots). So now I’m super nervous. What did you come across in your research?

      • Hi Ashley!

        Well, um, that’s not great. Sorry! But people unwittingly handle asbestos containing material all the time, and they’re OK. What’s done is done! The ill-effects of asbestos seem generally linked to people who had a TON and many years of unprotected exposure, and from my understanding, you’re unlikely to experience that stuff from one home-improvement project. Obviously NO exposure is better, but it’s not like you’re in a factory breathing in asbestos fibers for 20 years, either. Don’t freak out.

        If I were you, I’d probably stop what you’re doing, though, and get a sample of the ceiling tested. There are many places that do this (here’s one!), and it only costs $35. If the test comes back positive, then I guess you have to weigh your options. A lot of people opt to have asbestos professionally removed/abated, which can cost a lot of money. PERSONALLY, I do feel like the risks associated with asbestos are really due to improper handling, and with the necessary protections and precautions, homeowners can safely remove asbestos containing materials from their own homes——assuming it’s legal in your state (New York, for example, has taken this stance, while other states have forbid anyone but a licensed asbestos abatement specialist from handling asbestos). Even though this is for flooring, I think this guide is very thorough and helpful to guiding you through the process of removing it yourself.

        If the test does come back positive, you might consider having your air tested by a home air quality specialist. Just because you removed the ceiling doesn’t mean you removed the fibers, which could still be hanging around in your air (they’re roughly 10,000 times thinner than a human hair). Depending on that, you might decide to have your air professionally cleaned. I’m sure that’s very expensive, too, and there seems to be some debate on whether it even really does anything, but that’ll have to be up to you.

        If the test is positive, for other rooms, the safest thing you can do is ignore the ceiling (paint over it, live with popcorn), OR just have it covered by new drywall. You’ll lose an inch or so of ceiling height, but you can have a smooth ceiling AND not worry about releasing tons of asbestos fibers into your home!

        Anyway, that’s the long and short of it. I know this stuff is scary and intimidating, but it’s worth doing your own searching and evaluating your options——I’m REALLY not an expert at all! There are a lot of varying opinions (and hysterics!) out there, so this is really just what I’ve made of my own research on the topic.

  8. As someone who has taken on the whole buying a 100 year old plus house with lots of DIY fixes and additions by former owners (constant state of yelling WTF?), I totally understand and applaud your work so far- it’s not always fun, especially sans air conditioning.
    So glad you are documenting it, will be so worth it in the end!
    Plus the first coat of white paint is so satisfying- it changes everything.You know this, but I just remember it making everything feel so clean.
    Make sure you are buying drinking water! Those old pipes are not good, lots o lead.

  9. Awesome Job, can’t wait to see the finished product!

  10. I laughed, otherwise I would have to cry. My husband and I just bought our second house, which is 53 years old, and it has its share our problems. Today to a/c froze over, probably because it’s the pounds of refrigerant short, and the old owner refused to get it serviced before we bought it. Cheap asshole. He also lied about making it move-in ready after his tenants vacated. I have pulled twenty or so nails out of the walls, not to mention all the staples and screws, and have probably over a hundred holes to patch. But, it’s not nearly the work it sounds like you’re dealing with. I feel you on the hot water, I finally got the gas company out after a week, and they refused to light my water heater pilot because the unit isn’t off the ground the required 18 inches.

  11. Geez you did a lot already. #intheZONE

  12. I was totally eyeing that forlorn hook and thinking “that MUST be rescued.”

  13. you’re so freaking brave. i love the colour blocking! have you watched any UK grand designs? you need to watch season 9 episode 5, the conversion of a water tower (yes, that’s right a water tower) in central london into a beautiful home with an amazing living room at the top with unobstructed 360 views of the city (big ben, parliament house etc etc). one of the first things they had to do was pay thousands of pounds to have a load of dead pigeons and pigeon pooh removed from the water reservoir. i can’t believe the couple (who are gay btw) survived. it’s amazing. they’re amazing. here it is… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ST66hBvp3Q

    • grand designs <3

    • thank you so much for sharing that stunning project. Most of us can only dream about having such resources, let alone spending it on something out of choice … but I feel like, as they said in the program, it was because they fell in love with the building and romance is expensive. Isn’t it always!

      • Glad you enjoyed. It looks like such a stressful build but what a stunning result

  14. It already looks so much better!

    I’m hoping to buy a fixer upper in the near future, and your plumbing issues are making me totally nervous. I guess as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, the surprises won’t be as surprising?

  15. I read a lot of DIY and decor blogs and I ‘read’ them mainly to just look at before and after pictures. But yours I read to actually READ with the added bonus of pictures. I love your writing – you are very talented. That is all.

    Alsoimsuperexcitedtofollowyourhouseprogress. Somuchfun!

  16. Exciting! You are amazing, I would be terrified to do pretty much all of that!

  17. I feel slightly bad about how hard I am laughing at your pain. Schadenfreude!

  18. You are, indeed, a trooper. And someday you will be able to laugh and look back and feel satisfaction and love what you’ve accomplished.
    Our dropped ceiling had 3 inches of mouse poop on top, discovered when I tilted it and it came pouring down upon my unsuspecting head.
    Tearing down a “janky” closet in the bedroom revealed cloth wrapped wiring spliced together with brittle, charred, masking tape… and a hidden fireplace! Awesome until the moment when a shopvac extension I was using to vacuum out the flue became clogged with a dead crows head. Handed off that duty to my SO who managed to dislodge the rest of the unfortunate bird.
    Two other fireplaces and all carpeted areas had been used as litter boxes, not good, having cat pee drip from your arms in 100 degrees weather. Too bad the cats were obviously not mousers who liked to creep around in dropped ceilings.
    Hot and cold faucets were reversed on every fixture, light switches were upside down, who installs them so that “on” is down and “off” reads ffo? A plumber described the water lines as a “maze”, one hot water run doubled back twice before reaching its destination 20 ft away.
    The back door was hung in such a manner that one had to step inside a bathroom, shut the back door, and then step into the kitchen. There was a 220 line outlet in the center of the kitchen floor.
    Every room had wallpaper, under paint, including the ceilings.
    If I had known going in what we would encounter I would have run! yet was totally worth it to stay :) I feel as if I can accomplish anything.
    Reading your blog is often the highlight of my day.

  19. Glad to see that scalloped wood hunk over the sink gone. Our house had one I couldn’t wait to banish; I called it the unibrow. Anyway, quite an adventure already, right? Thanks for sharing it with your usual humor. After roughly 8 yrs, our fixer-upper is nearly fixed, but we’re way older than you and got lazy once we checked off the big stuff. (Hope you can get some $ back for the ceiling supports from a scrap metal dealer.) I’m really excited to see what you do with that kitchen.

  20. You are in for a bumpy ride with these old houses. We are at the tail end and it is still a nightmare but it was much worse than yours will be because we did structural work. Good luck to you. Learn from our mistakes at brownstonecyclone.com!

  21. Beloved man, this, right here, is why Home Despot sells those big orange buckets.

    Trust.

    My bathroom took six bloody, bedamned weeks to finish. I got real well acquainted with the Homer Bucket in the meantime.

    And that is all I’m going to say about *that*.

  22. And I thought *I* was having a touch time removing popcorn ceilings and repainting doors! You have made me appreciate my own (properly wired and ceilinged) home SO MUCH MORE. But I bet it’s going to be STUNNING once you guys are through (as if you’ll ever be “through” though. Who am I kidding?) Are you tackling each room until it’s done, or handling the biggest problems first?

  23. eh, the weeds are high enough behind the garage – who needs a working toilet? (when I first moved to NYC from Michigan, after driving 16 hours straight in a uhaul with every worldly possession and getting lost in brooklyn (pre-cell and GPS era) I walked into my new apartment to find the toilet in the middle of the living room floor. On fourth of July weekend. And my bedroom was half the size that my friend/roommate had led me to believe…)

    As for me? that ridge where the drop ceiling was? I would have just slapped up a picture rail molding…no scraping or patching need, just put that sucker right up there and walk away (paint the molding and walls above and below all the same color)

    Also, that big round hole? extinct exhaust fan? or old chimney flue? (and I’m dying to know about the rectangle by the baseboard….)

    • I totally thought about doing that, but between not wanting to deal with the added time/expense/hassle of putting up picture rail, and really not wanting it wrapping 1950s soffits (that just would never look right!), I decided against it. Maybe stupid, but…well, I can be stupid.

      Yeah, I think the hole would have been the original vent for whatever kind of stove (wood-burning?) sat in the room. The hole was covered by the wallpaper and a little piece of tin. Not really sure what to do about it yet!

      (no idea what that little rectangle is. I wasn’t adventurous enough to find out!)

  24. Echoing another comment – get a lead test done and *please* drink bottled water in the meantime or at least let the water run for a few minutes until you feel the change in temperature. (And be careful with the dogs water, too).
    Can’t wait to see all your plans and projects – congrats on the house!

  25. This is bringing back distinct memories of my condo reno, where we removed drop ceiling to find exposed wires and electrical boxes daisy-chained across the kitchen ceiling. As in 2 feet of Romex, and electrical box, two more feet of Romex, another box, etc. The only reason we could think of for this is that the contractor ran out of Romex at the end of the job (20 years ago the building was renovated from apartments to condos… badly), and only had two foot sections left. And a lot of electrical boxes.

    Oh, yes. I am also reminded of the time we decided to gut our only bathroom. When I was 8 months pregnant. Working toilets… can never be overrated.

    I can’t wait to see your kitchen with a coat of paint. That is when all the ugly, all the hard work, all the blood and tears, gets covered up and people think “Hey, that kitchen is not so bad. What is he complaining about?” Including you. After about 10 years of heavy drinking. Thank goodness for the power of photo documentation — we can all bear witness to your hard work. You guys did hard work!

    And the light fixture looks great. Like a beacon of hope, leading the way for the rest of the kitchen.

  26. So FRICKING awesome how fast you are getting right in there. Very inspiring. I look forward to your new posts so much. No pressure. Keep up the good work!

  27. You are a bonafide Superhero and your super powers are patience and vision! Love your house. We recently had to leave our ca. 1875 Italianate Victorian in a historic neighborhood for a job relocation – a sad day indeed. Enjoy your home. These old ladies are charmers!

  28. That’s totally how the drop ceiling in my kitchen was too. Suspended with wires! Kind of felt like I was living in this alternate reality in which the previous owner had decided it was absolutely imperative to hang multiple wires from the ceiling, which were so loose anyway I can’t imagine how effective they ever were… and yet, when it came to the completely visible moulding atop the bead board he opts for scraps instead of a nice solid 5 foot piece. That’s the beauty of older homes though, when something is actually done right or easily it’s like a miracle, and you get to do a little dance of happiness instead of cursing the previous owner’s name (which I do often by the way because I’m pretty sure I know which one of those bastards is responsible.)

    Your progress is awesome tho! I can’t wait to see how the rest of the kitchen comes together.

  29. I’m super impressed with all the work you’ve accomplished! Also it made me feel especially good to see that your drop ceiling had been installed the same way that mine was. Poorly. Thanks for sharing.

  30. A. I’ve never commented before and when I saw the MN’s next to most people’s name I immediately thought: JEEZ, there are a bunch of people from Minnesota here!

    B. I soon realized I was a dumbass.. and perhaps I’ve had too much vodka this evening.

    C. I am so proud of your “I CAN DO THIS!” attitude. I am in the same boat of “suck it up, you pansies” in regards to my roommates, which I understand is not the same as sharing a house with someone you love/have a life commitment to (I’m currently preparing my non-live-in bf to my DIY lifestyle), but they need to know how to suck it up!! I bought an older house, and it immediately fell apart with the upstairs bathroom leaking into downstairs without a visible leak so the walls starting sagging and the floors started warping and we all ended up having to live in a hotel until it was fixed. Granted, insurance payed for it, but they only covered me, so FOUR girls in one room for a month was a HUGE obstacle for us.

    Since then, they’ve all voiced to me how they want a “move-in ready” house, and all I can think is: You are all SHEEP. BAHHHH! (i hope you know this movie reference..)

    Congrats on the new place! I am excited to see your progress!

  31. God, I laughed so hard I snorted. But the kitchen looks so much better already!! Way to go!

  32. Of all things, the cutesy scene in my head is the married-life montage from Up, when she’s in her wedding dress, sawing timber for their fixer-upper shared home. Hmmmmph. I’ve just moved into a place that’s nowhere near as, uh, neglected as yours, but it still wants plenty of modernising and even that’s getting tiresome. Thanks for sharing your miserable journey, you’re doing the lord’s work.

    The more things you check off that big list, the more things you get to add to it. Frustrating, but the results are going to be amazing.

  33. It looks so so much better already. Dude, I don’t know you but I am really impressed with what you’ve done so far, it’s a beautiful house and I’m so glad that it’s in your hands.

  34. Is it wrong that I love the wooden kitchen cabinets that are already there with that cool retro floral splashback?! Perhaps, whatever the case I bet your kitchen is going to look amazing when it’s finished!! :)

    • Haha, of course it’s not wrong! You’re going to have to take my word for it though–you wouldn’t like it in person. The cabinets are bad–water-damaged in places over the years, weird marks from where stickers had been and stuff, and it looks like they were polyurethaned in place, with lots of sloppy drips and stuff. The backsplash is just contact paper, which was FILTHY and peeling and really not looking good, I promise!!

      I totally understand what you’re saying, though. It’s not my taste, but I’ll concede that if things were in better condition, this might have been a cute retro kitchen worth restoring. BUT I think you’ll like it when it’s done, too! It’s going to look great.

  35. I seriously look forward to your blog posts more than any others! You are so freakin’ funny, I can’t even handle! Just removing that drop ceiling makes such a difference! So excited to read about what’s next!!!

  36. Phew. This is giving me flashbacks to when we renovated our house…acting as general contractors. We did a lot of the work ourselves, but paid people to help as necessary (multi-apartment townhouse, downtown Boston, yada yada, house of horrors, it was all right in the end after we got over the PTSD). You are brave for taking it all on yourselves. The result will be amazing!

  37. I think you guys are so smart and brave for taking on this project. The satisfaction of doing this kind of work yourself is empowering, exhausting and ultimately so rewarding. I think you are an amazing writer. I also think this step by step renovation is bookworthy. I am glued to your blog to see what you accomplish next. This is a real life version of This Old House. Your account is much more interesting than when the pros come in, time lapse photography happens and, boom, the house is done! Can’t wait for the next installment.

  38. I love the new PVC pipe! I love the light shade installed amongst the chaos! But most of all, I just love the look on Max’s face!
    Says it all really, without having to read a single word!

    So glad you guys stood your ground in those first, trying days without water – I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you. I can tell just from looking at you that you can slum it with the best of them! Whatever happens next, I just know you’ll take it all in your stride.

    Bravo Daniel, for all that hard preparation work. I’m really looking forward to seeing – and reading about – what you do in the kitchen in the coming weeks.

  39. Wow, seriously impressive work. Cannot wait to see more progress. Looks great so far.

  40. Gogogo…reading your adventure has given me the courage to tackle a few of the repairs still needed around my 1925 bungalow (avoidance due to project creep: every 10 minute project turning into a 2-week odyssey). And it reminds me of the fixer-upper friends bought. Previous owner had done his own electrical wiring – drilling through door frames and draping wires happily. When he ran out of real electrical wire he used stereo wires, stapling them to the walls at random. Oh, and he lived for years using a cracked oil furnace. Yeah, washing down that house was fun. Shoulda bought stock in the company that makes TSP back then.
    Keep up the great work – doing and blogging.

  41. This definitely would have ended in tears if I were in charge. Big ups to you for a massive amount of work!

    Your weird ridge/Ready Patch situation reminds me of the scene in Edward Scissorhands where Peg is trying to give Edward an Avon makeover ending with “Darn this stuff!”

    Can’t wait to see what’s next!

  42. Daniel! You are making strides! It is looking better. I cannot wait to tune in for more changes!

  43. Damn! That is all I can say but you guys will make it look great. And you know people will be tuning-in every day for updates. Your own little soap opera of the design blog world. Oh, the drama now unfolds…

  44. The hook will make it all worth it. :)

  45. Stay positive! I am very much enjoying reading your old house adventures.

  46. I’ve loved reading your blog for a long time, but now that you’re upstate with this huge fixer-upper-project it’s literally become my favorite blog EVER. I can’t wait to see more updates.

  47. I find that I set aside your posts until I have a good chunk of time to dedicate to reading them, because not only do you share a lot, but the comments are always interesting and I like to read them all. Then I feel like writing a novella sized comment in response. But I’ve had an exhausting week, so today I’m going to say: 1) wires are the standard for drop ceiling installations which you’ll still see in abundance if you visit commercial construction projects where they are still used a lot for acoustical reasons. 2) I think the little rectangle behind the stove was a clean out door for the flue as this diagram indicates. http://www.thefireplacechannel.com/articles/article/3679544/55112.htm 3) The color blocking just gave me a vision of how beautiful and plain the original kitchen probably was. And apparently I can’t write a short comment even when I try.

  48. Daniel, you are the very meaning of fierce.

  49. Instead of those patch cans/spackle you can buy a huge tub of joint compound, works better, lasts longer, cheaper, and you get more!

  50. I’m in awe of your renovation powers. I thought removing popcorn ceiling from my small half-plex was a lot of work but THIS, this is amazing. This house is lucky you guys found each other. I can’t wait for the rest of adventures!

  51. My drop ceilings were also installed with the rigid coat-hanger wire holding the frame to the ceiling. It was a huge pain in the ass. Congrats on all of your hard work so far, things are looking good!

  52. Tee hee hee. You make me laugh. Bravo on your amazing progress, it is really looking good.

  53. Before you start painting, I would highly recommend a serious scrubbing with TSP. It works miracles & really gets the surface ready for a fresh coat.

    Very excited for all your future adventures in home ownership!

  54. Daniel,

    I follow your blog regularly and had some sort of flash forward.

    Someday, when you’re both older, greyer and lovelier still, you’ll both look at the photo of Max by the car it will all drift back to you.

    The smell of the summer day, the heat, the work, how much you loved the dogs, the screeching arguements, how young and brave and sure you were…and it will all be worth it.

    Blog on with your bad self.

  55. You are a total home-reno champ! That’s a ton of surprises for you guys to have to deal with and it looks like you’re making some great progress. We just replaced ALL the cast iron piping through our entire 100 year old house with PVC and it was really satisfying but a ton of work. When we were in the process of buying, one of the cast iron rads actually LEAKED during the inspection…eeeek! Keep up the good work, slowly but surely right??

  56. Awesome, brilliantly written, witty column. Bravo for taking on this extensive renovating challenge. Your vision, brilliance and energy will carry you through. Can’t wait for the next chapter!

  57. Where I’m from, we would not call this a horror show. We would call this a shit show, and we would have two smirnoff boxes. One for the light, one for the vodka.

    Awesome work so far!

  58. That metal paper plate looking / pie plate that covered the hole in the chimney is standard for all of us with old chimneys that used to vent a wood stove. You probably want to get a new hole cover, especially if anything else vents through that chimney, but even if not – birds, and bugs and shit can get into your house that way!

    The kitchen is already looking better. I need to challenge myself to finish my kitchen before you since I’ve owned my house for 6 years now.

  59. Ha- we removed a giant soffit and discovered it was “framed” with two 2×4′s hanging from old coat hangers. Why do something well when crappy is so much crappier?

    Have you considered learning to solder? My husband and I replaced all of the nasty old galvanized plumbing in our craftsman with copper ourselves, and easily saved over $10k. It’s actually fun, once you get the hang of it. And not difficult- we passed inspection no problem and have gotten lots of compliments from professionals we’ve had in for other jobs.

    (But, uh… I do second the Homer bucket comment. You can line it with a garbage bag and balance a toilet seat right on top! Also, solar showers aren’t too bad, if you can find a place to put them).

    Your kitchen is going to be beautiful.

  60. My goodness. Do you have a full-time job? I can not believe you can accomplish so much with your hands and I can only admire you on the sideline. It’s simply a pure demonstration of your LOVE. .

  61. I love the photo of Max and Mekko looking totally disgusted.

    I also experienced the ancient cast iron waste pipe breakage — four storeys of it. Dreadful. I feel your pain, boys. Thank heavens it happened now and not after you got the kitchen all fancy and nice.

    It looks great — your saga brings to mind mine. I can’t wait to see more!

  62. Oh dear that looks like a lotta work. I can’t believe I’m saying this as I normally get very annoyed (jealous really) of bloggers and the free shwag they get but… I hope to gawd you’re pimping this blog/project/life story out like a MUTHA to all the Home Depots, Design Within Reach, Dwell Magazine, HGTV, Apartment Therapy type peeps you can!!
    You need and deserve some help with his amazing project. Not a free ride but some fun and useful goods to keep you motivated and not lose your shit!

  63. I swear that there’s a special rule that people that sell old houses do everything to the house on the cheap. Ugh. There’s a running joke in our house and the matching one next door (sold by the same person at the same time) that if it breaks, our seller installed it/ fixed/ did it. If something is of decent quality we know it was an owner prior to him.

    Our fun story: our settlement was delayed for over a year. Yes, a YEAR. Because the seller gave us a general picture of the steps he had to go through before he could subdivide, but neglected to mention that one of those steps was dependent on a third party who had no interest in things progressing… we would have walked but this was the only house in the area we could afford. Anyway, the year passes. We go to the house again to look at it. The back is all weatherboard (clapboard) over single brick. The back gate hinges are attached to the weatherboard. My husband opens the gate. Notices it feels a slanted… closes and opens the gate again… and the back of the house falls off.

    The genius who attached the weatherboards used untreated pine battens going all the way into the ground. In the year the house was vacant termites ate those things to shreds. There was nothing to hold the weatherboards to the brick any longer. When the seller repaired it for us he wanted to do the same thing again! Argh!

  64. I love this blog. Good luck you two.

  65. Today’s the first I’ve visited the Nest in a while.. Y’all bought a house? And are engaged?! Warmest congratulations to you both. Could not be happier for you!

  66. Woa, you’ve already done quite a bit. Cannot wait to see how this turns out – I know it’ll look awesome!

  67. Great post Daniel! I love your long, detailed posts. I can’t wait to see the kitchen reveal! xo

  68. –“Open me,” it beckoned, “and within me, find nightmares.”–

    Pure gold.

  69. My dad’s house-warming present for anyone who buys a house and has to fix it up is copies of “The Money Pit” and “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House.” Sounds like you are very much in the territory of those movies! Best of luck- for a few weeks recently, my uncle also did not have plumbing at his new-old house while renovating, and Dunkin Donuts was the bathroom. You will become best friends with everyone at that Starbucks, I predict,if you’re not already.

  70. When we did our old turn of the century home, we had no bathroom to speak of for the first month, while we ran new plumbing. We finally had hot water after about 6 weeks. Plenty of days doing a quick scrub in the kitchen sink with cold water. I took showers at work (I’m a teacher, used the showers in the gym before school). It seems like forever when you’re in it, but looking back, it wasn’t so horrible. We did the same thing with the house we’re in now. No bathroom for the first 2 weeks. Gas stations and fast food restaurants served just fine. Now the bathroom is gorgeous and I’ve forgotten all the inconvenience! There’s a lot of satisfaction in getting it done yourself, and the skills you’ll acquire during this reno will be many!

  71. It is amazing what a difference a few (albeit hard earned) changes make, the kitchen already looks so much better. I have found fabric softener and boiling water works well for wallpaper removal, I am fighting 80 years worth of the stuff in the apartment I am renovating right now!

  72. This takes me back….Life is vile without a tolet, shower and hot water! Now you have those things, everything else will be easier (until you have to pull the old pipes out again, LOL).

    Love your light fitting. With one of my renos the main living room had a very old long bar fluorescent globe with a very low wattage swinging off a couple of chains – so depressing, and my first project (I know where you are coming from).

    One thing I would like to mention given the house has been attacked (remodelled doesn’t seem like the right word) by amateurs for decades, is asbestos. If you don’t know already, please make sure you are able to identify it. If you come across it, get the experts in to remove it. Once those fibres get into your lungs, they can’t be removed. It is often found in old carpet, so be wary.

    Best of luck. This will be a great learning exercise – you will be an expert in all things when you finish, as well as the owner of a beautiful period home.

  73. Such a great post! As they all are! Things are looking better already. It’s amazing what previous owners, and even builders of new homes do -and don’t do – to houses. We moved into our new home 25+ years ago only to move out 3 weeks later because the pipes burst. And weeks went by before it was redone, but not complaining compared to what you’re doing! So our pipes were never installed correctly. Of course the water running down the walls happened at 11 at night and I was pregnant! You’ll be able to fondly recall your own tales from the crypt years from now, too! I also see that new kichen fixture as symbolic and lighting your way out of the mess. Great pic of Max and Mekko. Deserves framing! Wishing you the best. Can’t wait for the next post as well as the comments, too!

  74. The kitchen will look great… either way :-)
    And you already have a car, boy do I feel stupid now!
    Kitchen is looking great.

  75. Looks like a shit-ton of work. It must be satisfying to step back and begin to see things come together, you can definitely see the potential in that second-to-last photo.

    Also, please tell me that you wore gloves before removing the grease/brick/crap layer. I know that I would have just torn into with my bare hands, eyes bulging, sweat trickling down my robotic,clawing DIYer body, until every last scrap was gone, GONE, because I’m not always able to do the sensible/sane thing.

    Can’t wait to see the walls and floors redone.

  76. Did you know that both Newburgh and Hudson have Habitat for Humanity ReStores? You can buy all sorts of donated building supplies, appliances, plumbing fixtures, furniture, etc. Often times you find antique cabinets and slabs of stone. If you need something in particular, you can ask them to keep an eye out for that thing. I love the outside of your house. The asphalt is good for outdoor cooking and eating. Don’t be so quick to tear it up. It will be fun to see what perennials pop up each season. If you divide your plants, offer some to the neighbors and they might give you some of theirs. White pines are the fastest growing trees for screening. Plant something special each fall as a remembrance of the year. Ann

  77. God this looks familiar! Yep, we had to replace a “stack” , too. And, had to put in a new 200 amp electrical service – our old house had 40 – things were blowing out everywhere. There were times when I just walked in and had to sit for awhile and stare at it all – is this worth it???, can I do this??? will it ever end??? I’m so exhausted. Yes, its worth it and you can do it and it will end. And when your so exhausted you sleep great. Your house is going to be beautiful!

  78. I’m very impressed by your, how shall I say this, gumption?, moxie?, spunk?, mettle for somewhat maniacal home improvement. It’s always an adventure. I completely understand the haphazard “fixes” one encounters, and how incredibly frustrating those can be. While removing decades old wallpaper from the living room here, I found no drywall at all underneath a 2 foot by 2 foot section – the paper had just been stretched over a huge hole!

    What is with faux brick anyway? We recently removed some vinyl white flooring in the kitchen, only to find vinyl red-brick flooring underneath. UGH. Faux brick is just awful.

    Anyway, here’s hoping you can get your shower in working order soon, as that really does make a whole day of sweating much more bearable! Your place is looking better already.

  79. Thought of this post today while opening up a wall to see where the leaking fluid on the floor in our toilet came from. I feel lucky it was leaking at the attachment of the waterreservoir to the toilet. So no wastewater. Good luck while progressing on your house. Just remember: Things can only get better (sometimes thet do get worse before getting better). Have a wonderful week

  80. Lurker here, de lurking to say- Wow. You are doing an amazing job – the kitchen already looks so much better.

    Anyway, if that circle on the wall next to the sink is a flue for an old stove, it’s likely tied into a chimney. You could have real brick behind that wall. Just looking at the way the wall sticks out a little and then the sink area is set back into a little alcove, really looks like the chimney breasts and adjoining alcoves in our old house.

    • Yep, there’s definitely a chimney! And brick behind about an inch and a half of plaster. For now we’re leaving it, but I’d love to expose the brick someday!

  81. Have you ever checked out the blog, An Urban Cottage? I really like the way he fixed up the exterior and it reminds me of your place a bit. Also, he is originally from Buffalo too.
    http://anurbancottage.blogspot.com/2012/01/greek-revival-exterior-renovation.html

    • Yeah, I actually just found that post about a week ago, just doing a google search! He did SUCH a good job. So amazing!

  82. That photo right after the drop ceiling came down looks like tears of blood.

  83. You are so brave. Awesome job so far. Can’t to see what you guys end up with.

  84. I just started reading your blog and find the writing so well done and charming. I can relate to what you’re going through with the kitchen. I survived a similar renovation doing the much of the work myself, as time and money allowed. When all was said and done, I was sans kitchen for almost a year! You two seem more motivated and organized than me! Your plan looks very similar to what I was going for too. Can’t wait to see the progress.

  85. Go team! It’s very weird and strange how a lot of the designer blogs I follow suddenly all decided to move or buy houses. I just bought a 1926 duplex with my boyfriend and am too, finding interesting ways the previous owners interpreted methods of renovations of old.
    Also, I can’t seem to help myself in tearing down or removing non-connecting areas at a time. What is this peeling wallpaper in the vestibule? Ah, the plater is cracked. What is this peeling paint in the bathroom? Ah, there goes the rest of the paint of that wall.
    My place is starting to look like a derelict bunker…
    How do you deal with that madness?

    Stay cool.

    • We DEFINITELY fall victim to that whole issue, too, but I think it’s really just an extended exercise in self-restraint. The fact is, while you’re living in a place, the best way to go about things is to really just take it one room at a time and just try to ignore everything else. Right now, we’ve been trying really hard to get the kitchen DONE, and I don’t want to touch much of anything else until it is…otherwise, a year from now, we’ll still have an unfinished kitchen and a bunch of messes everywhere else! We don’t have a master plan or anything, but I think it’s generally helpful to stay focused on one space, and try to remember that this is going to be a longggg process, and we’ll get to everything eventually!

  86. This is exactly how drop ceilings are done. The metal edge around the perimeter cannot support all the panels. Something has got to hold up the middle. If this truly is an investment, be sure to do it right. Don’t just patch things over like you have done in the apartment. No ceramic tile over plaster or drywall, no more layers of floor put on top of the others. Done right this house is going to take all of your time and all of your money. Find someone with experience to guide you. You don’t know what you don’t know. I wish you well.

  87. I’m not sure how it works in America but in Australia we have http://www.scrapmetal.com.au/. It might be worth investigating with all the drop ceiling framing and undoubtedly other yet to be discovered items you’ll have to remove.
    Pros – money back for unwanted items, excellent recycling.
    Cons – how are you going to get it there, is the money worth it.

    I regularly see men in big vans drive around collecting metal items from the nature strips on our council clean up days. One man I spoke to cuts off the power cords from broken fans, washing machines,etc. He gets about $50 for a typical rubbish bin full.

    Something to consider.

    • Yeah, we have scrap here, too! The problem is that I drive a tiny Volkswagen jetta that can’t fit anything, but maybe I could borrow a bigger car from a friend. I’m sure I’d spend more on the truck rental than I’d get back scrapping, though, so we may just let someone else have that honor!

  88. It feels SO GOOD to read this. I feel validated, and commiserated. I have a house that’s over 100 years old and was neglected for a long time.

    I of course can’t think of anything crazy right now, except for the chunks of crumbling chimney that I find deposited in my basement, but reading your drop down ceiling issues, I recalled when I took down some old leftover blind/shade mounts, sans shades or blinds, and found them to be held in place by a million 7-in deck screws. I laugh/cried.

    Then it took about 3 hours, and almost ended my marriage, to install 2 ENJE roller blinds, of which still don’t properly roll up because the windows are literally crooked. And so now it still looks like shit.

    old houses…yeah. haha

  89. That is actually how to install a drop ceiling. I have to draw sections like that in CAD and it makes me sad because not only is it fug, but plus I think of the abortion scene in Dirty Dancing.

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