This is how I do it with our poor, unsuspecting friends. They come to visit for a couple of days, maybe to get away from the crushing heat of a New York City summer, or the hustle and bustle, to a place where we can all drive from place to place and feel less like dying all the time. They think they’re going to have a nice time. Slow down a little. Relax with friends. That’s why I like to plant the seed early on——in Emily’s case, it was on our way back from the bus stop. “You know,” I explained, “remember that vestibule wall? The one right inside the door? I’ve been saving it for you.” It helped that Emily at least feigned excitement, which gave me the opportunity to really hype it up. We’d have so much fun demolishing it! It would be both catharsis and a work-out! Our home would thank all of us!
While I deeply admire the energy it must have taken to erect this wall——a wood-paneled monstrosity the previous owners added in an effort to retrofit the house with a vestibule, thereby bisecting a perfectly good foyer——it was more than a little awkward and fell a tad short on the historical-accuracy front. I’m not really an old house purist, but this belonged on the Brady Bunch. And not, like, at the Brady’s house. I’m sure there was an episode in there when Marcia found herself alone and on the wrong side of the tracks, and that’s where I see this wall. Just hanging out in the 1970s with a very alone, very afraid Marcia Brady. She’s crying in this vision of mine, always.
This was the day after we finished the kitchen, and we’d spent the afternoon going to pick up everything we needed to cook a meal in the new space. Due to her Italian heritage and a highly developed talent for cooking, Emily is good at these things. She has a more refined palate for red wines than I do, but the bottle we chose was selected mainly for its low price and the size of the bottle, which Emily referred to as a “magnum.” The goal here was to enjoy the new kitchen, and the means to that end would be this enormous bottle of wine and a large Italian meal.
With both the meal and the wine consumed a few hours later, the night was still young. And Drunk Daniel got ideas. I put down my glass of wine and cleared my throat. “So. About that wall.”
“I’m so ready.” Emily refilled both of our glasses halfway, finishing off the bottle. “What do we need?”
I gathered the tools and we dove in with the same strategy I’ve been using on demolishing the other add-on walls in the house: remove components from the outside moving inward. Deconstruct it the way it was built. Less mess, less risk of damaging parts of the house that are important.
I even had the foresight to cover the windows with tape, lest in our drunkenness we were to shatter the glass. That’s one thing you have to know about me——I’m so smart, even when I’m an idiot.
Things started out great: we got both of the bottom windows out by removing several intricate layers of different sizes of finishing molding surrounding them, and then started to pry off the paneling. The paneling, of course, was glued and nailed to a layer of 1/2″ plywood underneath, which was nailed into a very complicated and non-standard framing system underneath. I was more or less prepared for this wall to be as much of an asshole as the other walls had been, but I wasn’t super prepared for it to be even more of an asshole. Everything was hard. Nothing was coming down quickly or easily.
At some point the system fell apart a little when I grabbed my Sawzall and cut through the vertical sections between the door frame and the window (it seemed like it would help?), which I remember being interesting because the whole thing was just a solid block of many pieces of wood glued and nailed together. So beefy.
Shortly thereafter, while we continued to peel paneling and quarter-round and base-shoe off this wood-trimmed explosion, Emily stepped on a nail. She didn’t think much of it until about 30 seconds later, when she stepped on a second nail, this one penetrating the sole of her flip-flop and a somewhat significant portion of her foot.
Just to be clear, I’d told Emily multiple times that she should be wearing different shoes, even offering to let her borrow some of our shoes. She insisted that she’d been around this type of stuff before (she had) and that she wasn’t worried about it (she wasn’t) and that she’d be fine (false). Had I maybe not had a gallon of wine working its way through my system, I might have pressed the issue, but as it was I figured—hey, she’s an adult! Who am I to tell her what kind of shoes to wear while she demolishes walls in my home? What makes me some kind of authority on lady shoes, anyway, or footwear in general? I do almost everything in socks. Flip-flops are probably better than socks. She says she’s fine. I guess she’s fine!
Like any good friend, I ran to my car to retrieve the first aid kit that’s been rattling around in my trunk since 2006. My mother bought it for me when I got my driver’s license (which is a very Jewish mother thing to do FYI) and I’ve kept it there ever since (which is a very Jewish child thing to do FYI), and I’ll admit to being a little excited about having the opportunity to finally use it. The alcohol sterile wipes were all dried up on account of being 7 years old, but she washed her feet off in the tub and slapped on a bandaid or two and took a seat on the couch. I sat next to her, emoting concern.
“Emily, I’m so, so sorry. My house is a hazard.”
“Are you kidding? I should have seen this coming. In a way, I’m glad it happened when I had been drinking. I’ve always been fucking terrified of stepping on a nail, but it happened, and I didn’t faint or vomit or anything, and it wasn’t even that bad. In-out. If I had been sober, I would not have been handling this.”
“That ‘s a positive way of looking at it.”
We sat there for a moment, reflecting on the hidden merits of alcohol.
“Do you want to take a turn with the pry bar?” I asked. “I think it’s easier than the crowbar.”
“I think I might have to just be done for the night.”
“Right, no, obviously. I mean, I wasn’t saying right now.” I did mean right now. I’m blaming the booze, but really, I’m naturally selfish this way. I assumed that Emily would feel fine putting a nail through her foot, taking a little breather, and just getting back to it. I mean, sure, you need your feet to stand up and all that, but demolition is really about arms and back. I didn’t see any nails there. “Just, you know, if you ever want to, like, destroy anything again, I’m saying the pry bar might be more your speed. That’s all I was getting at. Definitely, tonight just chill out. I’m not a monster.”
And then I really took it to the next level of douchebaggery:
“Well, do you need anything? Because I kind of want to get back to work.”
What is wrong with me?? It’s a wonder I have any friends, or any people who are willing to talk to me or be around me or associate with me in any direct or indirect way.
“No, not at all,” Emily assured me. “I’m just going to sit on this couch for a while and try not to faint.”
“Cool, holler if you need anything.”
So there I left one of my best friends, possibly dying on my sofa, slowly bleeding through a hole in her foot caused both by my property and my ambition, while I made my way back to the power tools. I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I wasn’t that drunk, I promise. It just wasn’t that memorable), but I do remember waking up the next morning and going to inspect my handiwork and realizing that I forgot I’d left things like this.
Oh, Daniel. Really? In my excitement/inebriation, I may have put a little too much focus (all of it) on the bottom half of the wall that I could reach, and not enough focus (no focus at all) on the part of the wall that I would have needed a ladder for. This left things looking super stupid and super not-pro. Demolition fail.
Max, who missed every part of all of this, was not impressed by the changes.
I know all of this looks very precarious and like it should fall at any second, but I assure you: not only were the outer support studs still in place, but this whole thing was solid. There was no way that it was going to just fall. The construction on this wall is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I once saw a drunk girl in flip flops step on a nail in my foyer.
See? Insane construction. All of this took me several very long hours to remove, and not because I’m so careful and cautious. It was just really intense, like in a way that I can’t adequately explain in actual words. Just trust. It was the mother of all weird 1970s sobbing Marcia Brady walls.
BUT! BUT! BUT! LOOK AT THAT! OMG. OMG. OMG.
OK, so I know I say this every time, but…ceiling height like woah. Space like I didn’t know existed. LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. House can breathe. It feels SO GOOD to have that awful piece of garbage gone.
I know a lot of people thought I should keep the wall, or paint it, or do something with it to allow it to stay since it’s probably a nice thing to have in the winter, but I hope this view explains why that just wasn’t an option. We’ll do what we can to weatherstrip the doors and keep things from being too drafty to the best of our abilities, but you guys. This house is just supposed to have an amazing entryway. It just is. And after like 40 years of not having an amazing entryway, this feels really, really good. I speak for myself, here, and I speak for the house. The house is happy about all this.
Check out how long that wall is! You can see on the baseboard and the ceiling where the old wall was, and how it just cut up this amazing amount of space into two small spaces. Of course, now we’re left with a really arbitrarily placed light switch, but that’s OK. That little tiny sconce is the only light source in the entire hallway, so we’re going to have to have some work done in here to have a ceiling box put in for a chandelier and some other stuff. We’ll get to it when we can——right now, it’s OK.
Speaking of the walls——check out that plaster! My friend Nora came back for a couple days, and we started peeling off all the wallpaper that had already separated from the plaster. Some parts are more stuck than others, so we just left those alone for the time being. I borrowed a steamer from our wonderful neighbor last night, though, so fingers crossed that it works super well and I don’t have to mess with chemical strippers and other things that sound like a hassle. There are at least a few layers of wallpaper covered by many layers of paint, so it’s not really the same thing as, like, removing a cutesy little sheet of wallpaper somebody put up in the 80s. It’s really labor-intensive and will probably take a combination of methods to restore the walls, but it has to happen. Luckily we were given a little bit of a head start by the original adhesive being like 150 years old and freezing for two winters when the house was vacant. So…yay?
I know people feel really attached to that wallpaper, but it’s not going to happen. It’s all just in really bad condition, and not in a cool way. Just in a sad way. It’s going to be soooooooo beautiful when everything is fixed up and painted and everything, though. Nobody will actually miss it.
As for the floor, it’s OK. This floor probably hasn’t been refinished for AT LEAST 50 years or so (if ever?), so while you can definitely see where the vestibule wall used to sit, it isn’t SUPER obvious since the finish is continuous. The flooring in the entryway/hallway is in the best shape in the entire first floor, but the front room and dining room are both a mess. The flooring is all continuous, though, so I kind of think it just all needs to be redone. Anyone have experience refinishing floors? I’m considering DIY-ing it, but it’s also something I REALLY don’t want to mess up. As for finish, I’d love to just sand and seal the wood (no stain), but there might be some deeper water damage in the front room that would make that look really bad. This wood flooring isn’t original to the house (it was probably added around the turn of the century, maybe later) so I don’t feel SUPER precious about it. There are lots of cool things you can do with wood floors that don’t involve staining them medium-dark-brown.
Anyway, I’m so psyched about this entryway space. I think it needs a nice big worn oriental rug (duh) and a nice bench and a nice chandelier and super pale gray walls with white molding and black doors! I know I mentioned stripping the front doors down to the wood and staining/sealing them a while ago, but I don’t think these doors were ever not painted, and I don’t think I’d love them enough for all the work to be worth it. I think I will love them painted black, though, so I’m pretty excited about that.
p.s.– thank you so much for all the amazingly kind comments about my kitchen last week! It was overwhelming! I do read everything, though, and I really appreciate it all so much. You guys are dope.