The Downstairs Bathroom.

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

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

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

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

before

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

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

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

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

She only laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

“Fine. It’ll be my bathroom.”

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

“We’ll see.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

salvageable

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

ANYWAY.

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

clapboard3

Whats that now? Clapboard? Peekaboo!

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

FIRST-FLOOR-BEFORE

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

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

clapboard4

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

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

demo2

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

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

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

clapboard

bricks

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

nogging

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

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

floor

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

demoafter

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

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


191 Comments

  1. Oh my, this was an exciting post! An emotional roller coaster that kept me on the edge of my seat. I love that last photo…there’s something about it. Good luck, can’t wait to see what you do with it!

  2. Would you consider making the room back into a porch. Just wondering also will you use the toilet from downstairs, upstairs because you couldn’t save the other one.

    • No, I’ve never seriously considered turning it back into a porch! When this was a porch, it was at a time when servants needed a place to shell peas and before indoor plumbing——it’s much more useful now as a bathroom! Obviously one full bath is fine for us, but it will be nice to have two, and there isn’t really another spot to put another bathroom in the house. We also already have a sizable porch on the front of the house—no real reason for more porches.

      We replaced the upstairs toilet when we removed the old one already, so I’d much rather keep this tub, sink, and toilet in the same bathroom if possible! When we renovate the upstairs bathroom, we’ll probably upgrade to a better-looking toilet up there, but the one that’s there now is new and works great. :)

  3. i would turn it back into a porch – wouldnt that be nice? – to sit out there in the morning and evening and see your back yard?

    make room # 9 the bathroom and put the washer/dryer in the mudroom.

    (can yall tell where ahm from?)

    ps this has to be the most amazing surprising house – is there an attic? if there is there has got to be more surprises (or basement?)

    • See my response to Keenan about the porch idea above! It’s not like we’re on tons of land or anything…it’s a double-wide city lot facing another house and a commercial business. The current laundry room is only big enough to maybe squeeze a half-bath into, anyway, and the mudroom is a more recent add-on and kind of a dump—I actually think we’ll end up tearing down the whole thing altogether, and maybe putting a nicer deck in its place.

      And yes, there’s both an attic and a basement! They’re both basically empty and unfinished and really not very interesting, but you never know!

  4. one other idea – put the washer dryer upstairs – would nt that be nice and convenient? and you have the plumbing lines already up there from the old second floor kitchen….

    • Oh! And having a second floor washer and dryer would be nice, but there isn’t anywhere to put them! That’s totally OK with me, though—having laundry in the house at ALL will feel enormously luxurious, no matter where they are. The plumbing to the second floor kitchen was quite old and messed up and has actually already been totally removed anyway.

  5. Daniel, you make your tribulations so entertaining, but really, you must have to pull your optimism up by its bootstraps regularly with reminders of how beautiful the bones of your house really are. Now that you’re actually seeing those bones and all….

    After dithering for several years, we have finally decided on a cross-country move. As we compile our punch list of house-readying tasks, your blog brings much cheer. And reminds us that now, at last, we’re too old to look for a fixer-upper again. Nope, nothing more than easy cosmetic fixes from now on. But if I were younger, I would SO envy you all of it–the soaring highs and the crashing lows of the work you’ve undertaken in that to-be-glorious old house. As always, thanks for sharing the rollercoaster ride.

    • Thank you, Gillianne! And yes—I love this house so much, so it isn’t too hard to stay motivated, even when everything is a million times harder and more complicated than it seems like it should be. I really do genuinely enjoy all this stuff, even when it’s back-breaking and seems completely insane. :)

  6. Absolutely friggin’ fascinating!

  7. I have lived in a few 19th-century houses, and I’d never heard of “nogging” until now, so thanks for that. I wonder if it was supposed to help fireproof things, as well?

  8. Also, I keep trying to figure out how an old man dying in a bathtub results in the wall tiles being “unsightly.” Fair warning: This is going to be morbid speculation.

    Did he slip or pass out, then bang his head against the wall, staining it with blood? Does that type of tile stain? Maybe it broke?
    And they had to break down the door. So did he lock it? Why did he lock it? He probably lived alone, since no one found him for a while. Did he kill himself? Was his wife out traveling for a week and he didn’t want her to find him when she returned? Did the door get stuck? Was he trapped in the bathroom?

    • So many questions that need answering!

    • Well, my understanding is that as bodies decompose (particularly in damp/wet places), they sort of…explode…in addition to turning to goop. So the “unsightly” tiles may have had to do with that, but your theory might be correct as well. I don’t think the tile itself stained, but the grout may have been affected or something—the regulations around this sort of clean-up are very strict, and basically anything possibly containing pathogens has to be removed, not just cleaned enough to look OK.

      I don’t know about the door thing, honestly. He did live alone (his wife passed away several years prior), although I don’t think it was a suicide, if only because I’m guessing somebody would have told us (and I also don’t think that falls under “natural causes”). But I also don’t know. Our neighbor thought it was carbon monoxide poisoning, but we really have no idea.

      • thus the blocked pipes when you moved in. yeeeeee! this is the most morbid, yet gripping, post yet.
        the door would have to be removed by the medics, right?

      • Yes, the blocked pipes. I didn’t want to bring that up, but…yeah

      • Totally random, but there’s an interesting This American Life about clean up after a death. Again, it sounds morbid, but The American Life makes anything fascinating, so there’s that.

      • if he was taking a shower or a bath, wouldn’t the water have been on…..for a month?

      • Well it’s nothing a good cleansing ceremony won’t cure… He must have been a bit lonely at the end of his life if no-one found him there, and that is the type of energy to clear out. Nothing like ripping out a wall to start that change!

        I’m just curious though – as you say, you never really plan to use the tub in there, wouldn’t a walk-in shower be more useful? Like, why refinish/ reinstall a tub that you declare you won’t be using? It’s a pretty style, and I’m just asking, not critiquing! Many of us stand in the tub to shower in Australia too, especially in old houses, but walk-in showers are really catching on down here.

        LOVE the wood floor in there by the way.

      • Julie—I think the house would have flooded, so I’m assuming the water was off!

        MJ—Yes, a walk-in shower would probably make more sense, but I don’t really like them in old houses as they’re a fairly recent invention and I think it would look really out of place. I’ve been showering in tubs my entire life, though, so it doesn’t really bother me!

      • yeah I dig, and if you are keeping all the other 30s bits, then the tub definitely belongs in there too.

  9. Eh, I wouldn’t care if someone had died in my bathtub, either. I asked my husband about it and he looked utterly horrified. Different strokes.

  10. But who won the battle of the bathtub?? Or is it ongoing? Inquiring minds must know!

    • I always win.

    • I hear ya on the home battles. My hubs can pop up at the most inopportune moment with an opinion! Geez. BUT…the home should be a place that has only things that evoke good feelings, good memories. Compromises yes, battles won and lost, no. I know that if he pops up with Idontlikeit, or ugh, then it really elicits an emotion that I don’t want him having in our home. So I have to rethink. GRR. ;) But he’s worth it. Max is too. AND…of course when one is opposed, the other can always mount a good campaign to get the other to change his/her mind. I’m convinced that’s what inspired Pinterest! ;)
      Wonderfully funny, yet descriptive post! I’d go for the second bathroom as well. Can’t wait to see what you do, step by step! I can’t even manage to get my back room finished painted…high ceilings are tough on me.

  11. Love the tub! I honestly don’t know what I would do if I had known someone had stewed in it for a month though.

  12. I love time capsules & your’s is fascinating. Do you have details about the family and the man who died in the tub? Those are needed for your book.

    Of all rooms in the house, the bathroom renovation will be the most intriguing & challenging so far.

    You can do it, that’s a given.

    • We really don’t know a lot about them, except for when they bought the house (1974) and when they died. They didn’t have any children that we’re aware of (at least none that are living), and the estate who handled the property were apparently not very close relatives. We know the man owned several cars and, at least for a time, a boat. That’s pretty much it. :)

  13. I’m so captivated by your corpse tub. Hopefully we will one day find out more background information on that.

    Sorry if that was totally morbid. I’m pretty sure whomever lived in our house died in it, too, if it’s any consolation. Probably multiple people actually, since a doctor used to live and practice here.

    • Ohhhh yeah, tons of people for sure died in your house.

      (one of our best friends in Kingston lives in a 1725 stone house, which was a doctor’s office for most of the 20th century. When he bought it, he also got all of the medical equipment! If you want to see some horrifying shit, take a tour of John’s basement…)

      • Oh that’s awesome. Our doctor was more in the 1920s and 1930s. We need to learn more about who he was.

  14. If you live in an old house, you’re right, there’s a good chance that a few people expired within its walls. That’s why I smudged the shit out of mine before I moved in.

    It’s fascinating when a mystery unveils itself when you’re peeling back the years. The old porch is a great discovery.

    Just a warning about using the bricks outside. They may not have been made to withstand freezing and thawing. My old neighbors got a huge stack of old bricks that came from an old interior chimney and they built a beautiful patio with them. Once it got wet and froze and thawed all winter, the bricks disintegrated almost into powder and they ended up with a huge mess. You might want to test a few outside for a winter before you use them.

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right!! We actually learned this lesson already—there were some bricks lurking here and there in the dining room ceiling that we used to hold a tarp down over our gagster outside, and a coupe of them turned to sludge when it rained! Some of the others seemed OK, though, so I’ll definitely let anything salvageable from the wall cavities weather for a while to see how they do.

      • I was thinking just like Steve. In early construction, they differentiated between “salmon” bricks used for interior work and bricks used for exterior work due to proximity to the fire used to bake the bricks. Salmon bricks did not get hot enough to become resistant to weather. If the bogging is extra bad bricks and bricks that weren’t properly fired, they will certainly crumble. Might make an ok aggregate path, I suppose.

      • That was supposed to say “nogging”. Stupid autocorrect. Also, knowing this can help you identify the fragile bricks by color.

        Also, this is very exciting work!

    • Sorry, I need to add an opposing point of view here — we’ve had good luck with old bricks for making paths and patios. Now I have to acknowledge that I live in VA rather than NY (Danilel) or MA (Steve) and the milder climate may make a difference, but our yard is filled with paths dry-laid with old (some colonial era) handmade bricks. We have dug up many of them and moved them around for new paths. A few break but you need some pieces for every project anyway. Most of them are very porous; however, bear in mind that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore” definitely applies. That said, you can’t build walls with them. Whatever you do, don’t get rid of them! (I’ll come and get them from you if you want to discard.)

      Daniel, your writing is so great; love the bathtub story and I’m on your side, rather than Max’s, on this one. Past history is fascinating but this is your house and your history now — make it absent ghosts.

  15. Ah, the tainted house discount! Never bothers me, either. Someone died in our house too and it even made the papers. There’s a house in the ‘hood that used to be a hospital, back when whiskey was the main available anesthetic, leg wounds were treated with saws, etc. The family that bought the place reported that no amount of sanding would remove the bloodstains soaked deep in the wooden floors. So they got some Kilz and porch paint, and covered it all up. Onward and upward.

    Just realized that I read this wonderful blog post with great interest while consuming a plate of franks and beans.

  16. That room is cool. I wouldn’t mind a death tub in my house but I probably wouldn’t want to use it for actual bathing.

    • It’s a very small tub—for showers only! We’ll bathe in the clawfoot that we’ll put upstairs someday. :)

  17. When you started talking about the bathtub tile removal demo and there was a picture beneath (which turned out to be showing the clapboard), I thought that it was going to be a photo of gore, stains or other icky remnants of the deceased. My stomach was in knots and I didn’t want to scroll down! So glad it wasn’t that- I don’t think I would have slept tonight if it were.

  18. I love what you’re doing with the place!

    I would totally try to keep the bathroom too. Although, I’d be inclined to move the washer & dryer to the mudroom, and make the old space a huge pantry!

    – Ashley

  19. Is it bad that the first half of this post made me laugh?

  20. Holy shit, this was amazing. And that last picture is my favorite. Your bathroom! It’s a porch! And in that picture it’s both!

    I love your blog.

  21. PLEEEEASE keep or pay homage to the beadboard ceiling in the new bathroom! That’s such a cool surprise find!

    • I’d like to! Unfortunately I don’t think this actual beadboard will be salvageable (for a number of reasons I won’t bore you with!) but I do love the idea! It really is beautiful, and would be a nice nod to the original function of the space.

  22. Amazing. Love it, love you.

    Also, I was eating soup when I began reading this. Liquefying human remains pushed pause on the soup-eating.

    Good luck, and I can’t wait to see it come back to life (the bathroom, not the previous owner). And I bet you a million dollars Max uses it when you’re through.

  23. I’m totally with you on the tub. Icky? Definitely, but you didn’t know the person and you never actually saw the liquefied body and it’s gone now. I would sanitize the crap out of it and call it a day. Have other people pooped in my bathrooms? Yes. Is that gross? Absolutely, but that doesn’t stop me from using them. After I sanitized the literal crap out of them.

    PS if you want to make your vintage toilet less wasteful you could maybe just fill a bottle with water and stick it in the tank to use a little less water water each flush.

    • Also, the house my mother rented while I was in high school was previously a hospice run by a nurse. People most certainly died in my bedroom. Didn’t bother me at all.

    • Well, unfortunately the tub glazing definitely has some…*permanent staining*…so we’ll have to have it totally reglazed. But yes, your point is well-taken. :)

      I need to do more research on this, but I think you can basically buy entirely new toilet parts to replace old ones, so that’s probably what I’ll try to do! The interior mechanisms of this toilet are ancient and all being held together with, like, packing tape…so hopefully those kits will also help it be more efficient!

  24. So on your side about the tub. That is a damn fine tub. I love your conversations with your fiance–they seem so comfortably familiar. Our poor guys, they try to be a voice of reason, but there’s a vision damn it! You are great. Love this.

  25. You crack me up. This post came out as we were boarding a plane so I was trying to read fast before we had to close the doors. I was sitting in my seat laughing outloud so that I’m pretty sure everyone who walked past me thought there was something wrong with me. To emphasize this point, one guy said he was in 24A if I needed further assistance. Seriously-what?

    BTW, I’m thinking rigormortis (sp?) might have required the removal of the door but I didn’t get to go to CSI camp so you probably know more.

    • Well, rigor mortis generally sets in only a few hours after death and ends when the body begins to decay (24-hours or so in most conditions), so he was welllllllllll past that point.

  26. Dude, am I weird for LIKING that board as a wall? Especially in the last photo of the post-demolition. Maybe not for all four walls but as some sort of a feature wall above the tub it could look kinda cool? no? Just me? hah.

    • I don’t think it’s weird—it’s cool-looking in the picture and sort of nifty in a gross way in real life, but it’s just not what I really want in a bathroom! Even just for one wall, and especially not the one above the tub! I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t meet code, anyway…:)

  27. We bought a fairly new house which we got for a good price because the previous owner had died in it. That didn’t faze us at all, though I kind of made a point of telling the real estate agent I didn’t want to know where he had died.

    I figure that we banished any death karma from that house by conceiving our kids there. That usually is all it takes to set the balance right.

  28. Daniel…you just make me feel like anything can be possible with the right mindset.

  29. I’m sitting at the dining room table here in Sydney feeding my two year old and have just burst out laughing reading your post and all of the comments/responses. The toddler is looking at me and he’s covered in food with a puzzled look on his face.

    How fascinating. I love the fixtures in the bathroom and reckon you should keep the tub despite its colourful history.

    You are doing fantastic thing with this house and I really enjoy reading about all of your renovations projects that are totally laced with humour and drama. This is surely a movie/documentary in the making..????

  30. How about supplying the laundry room with water and electrical from the sink area in the kitchen and moving the washer and dryer to the opposite wall? Then you would not have to deal with this former exterior wall since you could use front-wall installation in the bathroom again. Or do you want to keep the washer on this wall because its not in sight from the kitchen in this location?

    By the way – I really enjoy your blog and your writing. And I´m nearly green with envy because you get to live in and work on such a beautiful old house with all these original details. In the area of germany where I´m living houses as old as yours are very rare and often expensive because of the destruction in WW II. I love that you put so much work and thought in this house and it will be gorgeous! Thank you for sharing.

    • Thanks, Larissa! The space between the door and that wall actually isn’t as deep, so there wouldn’t be enough room for laundry without blocking part of the doorway, actually! I also want to keep the washer and dryer on this wall because I have fantasies of moving an exterior door to the wall across from them, but that’s a whole different can of worms…

  31. We had an old bathroom which was similarly built into the back porch of my 1870 house in Ithaca, NY. The floor was still slanted to help the porch drain which made toiletting a toddler very exciting! The clapboard remained along with the tongue and groove ceiling and an ill-fitting chain pull ceiling light. The plumbing was always freezing up during snowy winters for lack of insulation. I miss that old house so much!!!! Thanks so much Daniel for your fabulous writing.

  32. Ah this day couldn’t get any better: The sun is shining, my trainer didn’t make me suffer too much, it’s friday and when I sat down to have my cup of tea, there it was, a ginormous post from Dear Daniel,a demo one no less, and an entertaining dead-body story to boot. Sheer heaven…
    It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest to know that someone had died in my downstairs bath: au contraire man with no hair, I would have reveled in the idea of regaling guests with the story, but them that’s just me :)
    Cannot wait to see the end results. I would die for a tub like that (no pun intended).

  33. This post had me laughing out loud, and I had to read some of it out to my husband, who was looking at me like I was crazy. Neither of us would be bothered by the tub scene – if the tub is nice and in good nick, keep it!

  34. Daniel, you’re CRAZY! And I’m so glad!!!!!

    I really had the feeling of being in the house when reading this post. This proves to me that you could write a novel, easy.

    If you just get this renovation business finished, and sit down in a quiet room for a few months, I know you can do it.

  35. I don’t see anything weird about keeping the bathtub where someone died. It’s a perfectly functional bathtub and it’s not a porous surface. Also support keeping the old toilets — I have two oldies and they are soooo much better at flushing than the new ones. I look forward to hearing about re-enamaling. I have an old tub (no idea if anyone died in it) that is starting to wear thin and will use your research to help make up my mind.
    Sorry about the clapboard and brick stuffing surprise. I had a mason tell me that all four stories of my chimneys are filled with garbage bricks and building debris (wtf? who would have hauled it up the roof to dump down my chimneys in the first place?). Oh, old houses.

  36. Hi Daniel,
    Great post. I just wanted to comment for the first time (although I love your blog) to say that my house in the suburbs of Paris, France was built in 1907 and has original wooden floors thoughout : oak on the ground floor, “cèdre rouge” on the first floor and pine on the top floor. I thought your flooring in this post looked like my “cèdre rouge”. Does “red ceder” exist in English? Is “cèdre rouge” fir? No idea. But I thought you may be interested… Good luck with it all anyway.
    PS I would do some sort of Balian space clearing ceremony to clear away any lingering bad vibes from every previous occupant, not just the liquified ones (ug).

    • I think red cedar exists here, but I’ve never heard of it being used as a flooring material, especially in an old house. Fir is very closely related to cedar, though, so I bet that’s why they look similar! I’m pretty sure our floors are fir (douglas fir?), and I think upstairs is the same but maybe a less expensive grade——the wood looks similar but the grain patterns aren’t as nice as downstairs. I can’t wait to refinish them all!

  37. I think having the laundry on the second floor is a good idea. I love your blog.

  38. Seems like everyone is doing bathroom business (well, at least you are, and DIYDiva, and Younghouselove), which makes me feel kind of a trendsetter, albeit only very very slightly, after finishing our bathroom series of posts not even two weeks ago.

    Back on topic, I loved reading your post, because as usual it made me smile. You’re crazy in a good way. And yes, the great thing about old houses is that they are full of surprises, as in a porch turned bathroom being a perfect example.

    If you want to keep the tub, by all means do so. I wouldn’t think twice of not keeping it just because someone died in it, especially if it’s a good in the room. Why replace it with something similar, right?

    I was also really surprised to find out about the bricks behind the board, that’s something I didn’t know. Then again, that’s most likely due to the total lack of history in and ignorance of building in wood over here. Brick all the way baby! That being said, have you thought about grinding small trenches in the bricks, to house your new electrics and plumbing? That’s how it’s done over here, and it would save you the hassle of needing to get every brick out. There’s some example photos on the plumbing style at the end of http://www.townhousehome.com/drains-drains-and-plumbing-everywhere/ and one photo for the electrics in the beginning of http://www.townhousehome.com/electricity-and-a-fan/ . Basically you cut brick away, install the boxes with plaster, install all piping, and fill back up again with plaster or mortar, depending on how waterproof you want it.

    If you want to know more, just let me know, I’ll be happy to help!

    • Oh my! I’ve never seen that before. I don’t think that would quite fly in this situation, both in terms of passing inspection and because this brick isn’t at all structural—it’s really soft, and I’d worry about long-term stability with trying to do something like that. I think the safest and smartest long-term solution will be just removing all the bricks. That will also free up these wall cavities for future stuff we might want to do, like running kitchen electric or plumbing…that kind of thing. This is our chance, so we might as well take it!

      • Those both are very good points indeed, which I could not asses from behind my screen :) I certainly understand the spirit of “doing it once, doing it good” as that’s what I aim for as well, and my first concern would be safety and the long term as well. It’s also true that if you don’t get rid of them now that you have the chance, you’ll never get to it (because, well, that’s how people are, right?). Just wanted to make sure you don’t break your back over something that could have been not needed, but it seems you’ve got it thought out!

  39. Demolishing an old bathroom makes for the most exciting discoveries! So few people can appreciate the archaeology and detective work needed to make sense of an old room like this.

    Our downstairs bathroom was similar. It was originally a 10 x 10 small addition that was built outside the downstairs exterior door with a tub and a toilet. Some time later, the space was bisected, adding a sink to the half that contained the bathroom parts, and the other half became a vestibule and a closet. The 1943 newspaper that was stuffed into the original framing put a date on the construction … we’re not sure which construction, though.

    About your tub? Keep it. You can’t get another one of that quality without spending $$$, which would be better put to use on other things.

    Love your bathroom, love the story so far. Aren’t old houses fun?
    Connie

  40. Daniel,
    I don’t know. I think you missed a great opportunity by not saving this to post on Halloween!
    I can’t decide which is funnier, your post or the comments….
    The whole thing is part horrifying, part hilarious.

  41. Another totally interesting, engrossing post! This is better than Breaking Bad!

  42. Love this! This is one of the reasons I love old houses- the archaeology of it. Eh, I’m with you- no reason to get rid of the tub. Also YES, do wood floors in the bathroom. When I renovated I put tile in my bathroom and HATED it. Finally, years later I put in hardwood and OMG, why didn’t I do that sooner? Don’t let people scare you about water damage, either.

  43. This post has combined my love of true crime/forensic pathology with my love of design blogs. Not something I can say everyday. I can only hope that you keep the tub and that some post down the line involves a ghost story or two. But seriously, keep the tub.

  44. Entertaining stories as always. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

  45. If you got the tub re-glazed, then you could totally argue that the part of the tub that had anything to do with dead body is gone, and only new, fresh tub now exists!

    We live in an apartment in a divvied-up Edwardian mansion, where there’s a good chance multiple deaths and births have occurred; to me the human past of the house is just another part of its soul, along with its 1000-year-old redwood timbers and pounds of ancient horsehair in the plaster. I’m about the most rational person I know, but I swear all that stuff gives this place some sort of… vibe? Presence? Makes it feel comfy and lived-in and organic in a way that newer construction never does. Owning a home like yours would be a dream come true!

  46. YES. This is the stuff. Experiences like the corpse tub are priceless. Great relationship fodder, like traveling to undeveloped countries with your partner. If you can survive that, it’s destiny and you have found your soul mate. I’m sure Max realizes that you will likely have the tub re-enameled, and presumably by now all the tissues and viscous fluids from said corpse have been flushed out, and with future plumbing fixes and upgrades, there will be no trace of the Kingston Malodor. Once it looks all fresh and updated…the mental scarring might easily fade to grudging acceptance?

  47. I am mostly disturbed by the blocked plumbing!!!

    There was a funeral home near my house that they turned into condos, so I am sure a lot of bodily liquids were in their plumbing. There was a murder in my neighborhood. A man sliced his wife and baby boys and then killed himself, I am always wondering what will happen to that house. It is a 2 family and ppl are living upstairs, maybe they will end up buying it for cheap.

    As for me if I buy the house dirt cheap or free I would not be bothered by either I am sure, but since I have no talent in renovating anything I would probably not buy a house that needs extensive work even if everyone that ever lived there are still alive.

  48. Really interesting post, but it was quite unfortunate that i started reading that while casually eating avocado toast… I did finished the whole post while eating, because i think that reading the end really helps the grossness of it to fade in my mind, but please (really pleeeeease) add a little warning at the beginning, something like “if you are eating and consider yourself a person that gets disgusted / pukes easily, please postopone either eating or reading the post”.

  49. I can’t wait to see what you do with this space!

    As far as the corpse tub goes, I am on your side. While I’m a fervent believer in ghosts, I also wear vintage clothes (surely SOMEONE has died in one of my dresses) and live in an old Brooklyn apartment. Which, as it happens, was the scene of a murder around the turn of the century—a crime of passion between two brothers. A good, solid cleaning and a reglaze and who’ll be the wiser?

    • Wow! It’s never really occurred to me to dig too far into the history of our Brooklyn apartment, but now I want to…

  50. I hope you keep the tub, just so you can keep saying “corpse tub.”

  51. this may be your best post ever. it addresses the ghosts in old houses thing, how loving the house is loving the ghosts, and honoring their time. keep the tub. we’re all headed there anyway and it’s where we come from.

    and, btw, investing in a solar clothes dryer (designer clothes line, with sage-painted uprights and chartreuse and turquoise sprayed wooden clothespins) changed my life. clothes dryers are apparently one of the biggest users of unsustainable electric energy. and the line dried sheets smell so heaven the scent pervades both my linen closet and the bed room. i can’t recommend line drying more highly. you have to start using unscented detergent and it’s heaven.

    xoxo you’re wonderful, love to mr. tub.

    here’s a link to the virginia woolf short story, A Haunted House. it’s so beautiful and the pictures of your house remind me of it every time.

    http://www.bartleby.com/85/1.html

    • p.s. i agree no one wants a clapboard bathroom but the strong horizontal behind the tub is bumpin’.

    • Thank you! Gosh.

      I love line drying when the weather cooperates, but in this climate it’s just not realistic to year-round (or even for summer-round, since it rains and is humid all the time…). You’re absolutely right that it’s better in pretty much every way, but it’s just not practical for us to have that be our only method of drying.

  52. I know for sure that someone died in my house, but it doesn’t keep me from using the kitchen. Admittedly, that death was a lot less…impactful on the actual house though. This may sound strange, but I would be more inclined to change the pipes leading out of the tub than the actual tub. So consider this a vote for Team Keep The Tub

    • Ohhhh yeah….those pipes are for sure getting cut out and replaced. Partially because they’re outdated and don’t vent properly, etc, but the human remains element is also a compelling reason.

  53. Shivers… I’m with Max on this one. Don’t think I could ever bathe, wash hands or “go” in that bathroom with the door shut! Imagining all those horror movies where there’s a ghostly image of the dead thrashing and splashing around in the tub right as the hero is about to slip in for a nice soak. No thank you!

  54. This was a fantastic read! Man, I love this blog.

  55. Dying alone in my bathroom and being found weeks later is my biggest fear

  56. Fascinating! So much history and story around these rooms. I too am looking forward to seeing what you decide to do with the porch/bathroom/laundry rooms.

    jbhat

  57. Oh, the cool things you keep finding in this house!! Those bathroom fixtures are awesome, everything matches. And there is nothing wrong with that old tub that a good cleaning wouldn’t cure, which I’m sure you have done many times since. I envy you your wonderful old cool house, even with all the work it takes to make her beautiful again :) If anyone can do it, I know you can. And I love the look of the old clapboard behind the tub……… cool lines. Maybe not practical, but I love the look :)

  58. This blog is the only one whose comments I read. Your posts are endlessly entertaining and then there’s the bonus content in the comments! Rockin’. Also the only blog where design is so….human? Its awesome to see the actual process instead of just gleamingly perfect rooms each time. I swear we all cheer for you when the ‘after’ posts come out!!!

    and, um, sorry, I’m on Team Max. ‘Cause, um….eeeeeew.

  59. Corpse tub stays, if it were me. Great tub. Cost savings. Even better story. Hope you won that. :D

  60. This is so facsinating to me. What would I do with that information!!! The house I grew up in was built in 1920 so renovating it was fun to see the bones and just imagine how people lived back then. It was on the edge of our city in 1920, and across the street was a lake. We moved to a bigger house across the street that was built in 1960 when the lake was filled in, it definitely lacked the character.

    The most interesting thing we’ve found in that house was some 1970’s dirty magazines behind the original sink vanity. HA!

    We are the story tellers of our old houses – We had previous owners come tell use stories of what renovations they’ve down and we have always done the same when we’ve moved out of the house. I think the history behind houses are SO interesting.

  61. I’d reconsider re-glazing that sink and/or tub. It is seriously toxic, and it always peels up.

    But I do love that tub. Our 1938 house didn’t have its original one, which I’m sure was lovely. When we had to replace the crummy leaking 1980s steel one some previous owner put in, we couldn’t find a new cast iron one narrow enough that was more than 8 inches deep. First I looked for a vintage one, but couldn’t find the right combination of length/drain side/condition. We had to go with acrylic, which I hate. So sad.

    • There are lots of different re-glazing methods out there, but I’m definitely not talking about the aerosol you can get from the hardware store! I think we’ll probably have both the sink and the tub sandblasted and powder-coated, which isn’t horribly expensive and provides are really beautiful, durable finish.

  62. Interesting! I don’t think I’d keep the tub, but old people passing away in their homes seems quite normal to me – maybe because I grew up in a very rural area. We lived in a 200+ year old house when I was little, and my parents were always fascinated by its history. Based on old town records, they estimated that dozens of babies were born in that house, and probably a similar number of elderly people passed away. Does Kingston have a local historical society? They often have a wealth of information about the people who lived in houses that are still standing.

    • Kingston does have a historical society, but unfortunately they weren’t very helpful! What we’ve found more helpful was going to check out the deeds to the house—you can basically work your way backward from deed to deed and find out all of the names! Then searching those names and the address with newspaper archive websites has turned up some interesting things. We need to do more of it (we traced our deeds back to 1869, I think, before we had to leave!), but we’ve found out some cool stuff!

  63. You are a wonderful storyteller and this post was just so entertaining and enjoyable to read! I’m not surprised because I’ve always enjoyed your posts, but it’s seriously amazing that you can make a post about a bathroom demo so friggin delightful.

  64. I love this post.

    I would have a hard time standing in that tub. My mind would wander.

    So cool what you uncovered.

  65. I know you’re only two humans and can only go so quickly, but I wish I could read a new adventure every day. This house is fascinating.

  66. I am sure you have heard this before but, I love your blog.

    And today, I double heart love it. You have to keep the “Corpse Tub” just to say Corpse Tub to guests. Reglazeing it should make it look as good as new and I would do it on the sly and surprise your honey. The corpse tub can be your fur babys bathtub.

  67. I vote corpse tub stays, with a good bleaching! Once it’s all remodeled that’ll be forgotten anyway. I’m sure you’ve been asked, but have you seen the movie The Money Pit? I’m reminded of it often while reading you’re posts :) but in the best ways.

  68. I haven’t read all the comments yet, because I don’t have time, but. This sounds like a book. You have such good material. I never heard of nogging either. I do know that a lot of beach houses were insulated with seaweed and newspapers. I’m surprised that your house didn’t have a summer kitchen. Many houses of that time period did. Waiting for the next installment.

    • I actually think that our mudroom might have originally been a summer kitchen, and then was fully enclosed later. The room doesn’t seem very old, but the foundation under it is definitely old.

  69. PS: if you don’t want to keep the corpse tub, put it in the backyard. You can sink it and make a nice koi pond or a planting bed.

  70. What a fascinating history your home has. I also love and have to commend you for wanting to keep as many original details you can. I’m excited for what you plan to do to that bathroom (some day) ;)

  71. What a cool find of those old bricks in the wall! Have you considered keeping them and expose them as a sort of feature wall? To reveal some of the house history?

    • Not really! I don’t really know how that would work…there’s nothing really holding them into the walls except having some kind of wall material on either side, so they could basically come tumbling out at any time! Also, dust, cleaning them…no thank you! :)

  72. keep the wood floor and paint it white!
    Will save a lot of time/money and still looks beautiful.

  73. I’m a little lost with the final gutting steps — is it not possible to leave the nogging and just replace the interior from where the clapboard layer was, and start the room from there? Or is the shared bathroom/laundry room wall is what’s causing the issue for your future appliances and that’s why it has to get all taken down? It would seem like there’s some kind of shortcut that electricians & plumbers could do using the existing kitchen lines instead but I don’t have the whole picture nor other intimate knowledge of why this scenario wouldn’t work like you do. But I’ll hope for your sake that something works out.

    Old houses are a trip aren’t they? I’ve got a house as old as yours with a hideous 70s dark brown bathroom. I knock on the tile walls and I can tell they’re hollow. What’s behind them? plaster or vintage tile? something else? I might never know, I’m too scared and lazy to gut since it’s my only full bathroom and I hate living in a construction zone. Will probably just end up getting it all reglazed :( Wish I had your determination and movtivation man!

    • Yeah, you COULD probably just frame out the room inside the clapboard (which is sort of what was already done here, except they just nailed furring strips to the clapboard…), run plumbing/electrical up through that new framing, and horizontally through the clapboard/brick where necessary, but that would mean losing a LOT of space—too much space to even really maintain this as a bathroom, given how small it already is. I’m not really that interested in shortcuts when it comes to the house, though—I’d much rather do the best thing for the house (and yes, for us too!), even if it means a bunch of extra work.

  74. Looking at the layout, I wonder if there was a door from the porch into the laundry room. If so it is likely that the laundry room was where the icebox was, and the porch was for the iceman to bring in the ice, so he wouldn’t have to haul the ice through the house and kitchen. The only reason I say this is because many of the sears homes had a small room off the kitchen just for this. In fact my last house originally had a small room off the back kitchen porch for an old icebox. Not really anything that matters, but always interesting to learn about the way things were.

    • No door from the porch to the laundry room, but there was a door from the porch to the kitchen! That is interesting!

  75. I know it’s not the point of this post, but the Body Farm is really freaking fascinating. My grandparents live in Knoxville (where it is), and my grandmother actually studied with Dr. Bass (who started it) in the 80s. What most people DON’T realize? The farm is right in downtown Knoxville, not out in the hills somewhere. And no one ever seems to notice…

  76. I was eating a Cadbury Creme Egg as my afternoon snack while reading this. The creamy center wasn’t quite as delicious once I got to the liquified human remains part of the post.. Haha. I love reading your blog! I can’t believe you’ve been in this house for a year already, and I can’t wait to keep reading about your progress, room by room.

  77. Holy moses that’s a tale (and bathroom) and a half! I’m with Max, ha, I really don’t know if I’d want to take a bath where somebody died..yikes! You’re far braver than I am ;)

  78. Wow. SUPER cool story.

    I have some important points to make before I read everyone’s comments:
    1. That tub actually doesn’t fit in there. A claw foot would be better.
    2. Turn it back into a porch. (Bead board ceiling, back door, nice!)
    3. Locate laundry upstairs near bedrooms.
    4. If you don’t have a location for the dryer vent, use a separate condensing dryer and a washer from Miele. They work great. it’s the combined units that suck. You need a standard laundry hookup with waste and supply lines as well as the correct electrical plug. The units can be stacked with a Miele frame or side by side.

    • Hi, Cate! I guess I’ll go point by point…:)

      1. It really does fit, I promise! I think it’s hard to convey in pictures how small this bathroom really is. The tub is really little——there’s DEFINITELY not room for a decent-sized claw foot, and I don’t think a small claw foot would really be any kind of functional or aesthetic improvement. I really like this tub, and how it fits in the room!
      2. This was addressed in the first few comments, but I really have no interest in turning it back into a porch. It’s been a bathroom probably for about as long (maybe even longer) than it was ever a porch, and it’s much more useful to us as a bathroom. as a porch, it would really just be small and unused, honestly.
      3. Also already addressed, but there isn’t any space upstairs for laundry! Really.
      4. I don’t think the dryer vent will be an issue! I think we actually already have our machines picked out, and we decided we wanted side-by-side so that we could have an ironing surface on top.

  79. Wait. I just re-read the part about the nogging and the clapboard.
    Electrical and plumbing can DEFINITELY be run through these walls. They do it all the time. (Also they already did it — it’s a bathroom now. I’m not following your logic.) To give you a few examples: The plumbers have run holes through our hearth, slate, and our extremely thick rubble foundation, which is also underground. I don’t know how they do it, but the holes are nice and neat. The electrical wires all go inside this metal cable stuff, so that would just go through a nice neat hole the same way. There is absolutely no reason to touch your clapboard, or your nogging or anything else.
    How about bead board on furring strips instead of tile? More appropriate for the age of the house. Cheap too. Also you don’t need a tub or shower on the first floor, just a powder room.
    Though I still think you should turn it back into a porch.

    • Sorry, maybe I should have been more clear…YES, you could run plumbing or electrical through the walls as-is horizontally, but not vertically. We need to run stuff up from the basement, and the advantage of losing the clapboard and the nogging is that we can run it in the wall cavities, not outside of them. This will also help us gain back a few inches of space, which might seem insignificant but really isn’t in this little bathroom! The existing plumbing just runs up from the basement through the floor, and there isn’t any existing electrical except for one light with a pull-switch (which I don’t think even meets modern code), which runs through the exterior wall (which doesn’t have nogging, since it is from the 1930s). With the nogging, there’s no way to add an overhead light, a vent, an outlet…I really think this is for the best. I really don’t take these decisions lightly, and I’m all for preservation/restoration, but I also think practicality has to win out at a certain point.

      I really do want to maintain this as a full bathroom. I know a powder room on the main floor is more customary, but I do think having two full baths in the house is a nice feature, and there isn’t anywhere else to put one.

      • Oh, I see, I see. What about being all deconstructionist and exposing the shower and tub knobs and lines, but hiding everything else just like it is in the “before” photo so you don’t have to build a soffit at the end of the tub? Or remove all your brick nogging.

        And wouldn’t you know it, we have bead board and nothing is in the walls. It all comes up through the floor. But our tub is clawfoot so that’s different.

        How big is this bathroom? Ours is 4 x 6.

        Or….don’t hate me please…what about a walk-in shower constructed out of tile? Just thinking.

      • It’s about 6×7…a little smaller.

        I don’t personally really like walk-in showers in old houses normally! Not quite sure how else to put this…I like the tub! It’s staying!

  80. Not only that but the stupid cable people run their darn wires (and the old fashioned telephone people) right through our walls, which are also clapboard with brick nogging.

  81. I’m on team Max on this one. I would only be able to picture a rotting corpse with me in the shower every time I used it! Great post, Daniel!

  82. This is such a interesting post! Any really old house (like yours) has had deaths – they used to lay the deceased out for viewing in the front “parlor” – very common practice. I have lived in several old houses and I can tell you, they all have their own unique “vibe”. The house I loved the most had a ghost – I saw it once – strutting right out of the dining room (it was very tall)- across the living room – and reached for the mantle – it saw me (I could not make out a face) – threw up its arms (I saw the long fingers) turned and disappeared. The whole thing lasted about 7 seconds. I lived there 12 years – only saw it that one time.

    This changed my whole way of thinking. I certainly respect the past and history of a old house. And, there are ghost. The media has made it rather stupid which is unfortunate – we have so much to learn here – we are infants really – the way we think of ghost.

    You should keep the tub, sink, all of it. Thanks for this post!

  83. I have three thoughts. A stained black hardwood floor would be rockin’. Funny how the word “sterile” can connote both good and bad. And last, I can’t think of a better way to keep unwanted guests away than to tell them the story of your bathtub.

  84. Pretty awesome! As far as putting a wood floor in the bathroom, I don’t know if you’re aware (you probably are), they do have tile that’s oblong and has a faux treatment on it to look like wood – It’s not going to fool anybody but it’s a pretty cool look – might be more durable than a wood floor? I first started seeing it in high-end showrooms and now it’s popping up at home-improvement stores.

    Just thought I’d throw that in.

    • oh…no offense, but I think that stuff is horrible looking!

      I think as a general rule with renovating old houses like this, you don’t really want to put in super modern materials that couldn’t have been used originally. That’s not to say that modern renovations can’t look like modern renovations, but I always think they look best when they utilize classic materials and finishes. I’m actually not really concerned about a wood floor in a bathroom! As long as it’s well-sealed, I think it’ll be totally fine.

  85. I realize this post has a dead liquified body in it, but more importantly, you’re a twin?! Cool.

    I’m having so much fun following along on your journey and living vicariously through all the excitement of this renovation. You’re a machine!

  86. fucking love this blog. best post ever.

  87. Also, knowing someone passed away in your house gives you a convenient scapegoat. The previous owner of our house died in our bedroom, and we can always place the blame for various annoying things on his ghost. Where are my keys? Jose hid them. Who keeps turning off the lights in the stairwell while I’m in the basement? Clearly, it’s Jose. Who rang the doorbell at 3 am, causing the dog to go berserk and wake the children? I think we all know the answer to that.

  88. Nope. No. Uh Uh. Hell no. I love you Daniel but I am 100% on team Max with this one. If an object is associated with the phrase “exploded, liquefied corpse” it has to go. I have no doubts though that you will work your magic to make that room beautiful but you’ve got to listen to Max on this one. Perhaps take out all tub/shower capabilities and make it a half bath powder room?? You could even keep the other less haunted fixtures that you love.

    This post however was fascinating especially since sadly my husbands co-worker recently passed away and wasn’t discovered for a similar amount of time and I have had lots of questions going through my mind. I am curious, how did they eventually get the smell out?

    • Ha! I appreciate your passion about my bathtub. (THE TUB STAYS. SORRY.)

      I have no idea about the smell. I think they have special machines for that, plus airing the house out, plus removing everything (especially textiles like carpeting and curtains and whatnot) probably helped.

      • Yes, there are, in fact, specialists and products to remove all those stains and smells and substances and thoroughly disinfect. An entire industry. It’s so interesting to see what pushes someone’s squeamish button; you seem to have a high threshold, supported by aesthetics and practicality. I’m with you: keep the tub. Can’t help feeling that ONE of your projects will turn out to be as uncomplicated as you expect from the start. You’re definitely due for an easy one.

      • Well, it’s your house… I’ll do my best to not comment with “I told you so” when a ghost looks at you in the shower. :)

        I’m fascinated that they are able to clean that stuff up so well. My solution would have been the same for if I ever find a snake in my house – burn that mother down and start over.

  89. I’m 100% with you on this one, you won’t ever find a replacement tub that fits as well in the space (well, I suppose if anyone could you could, but it would be a pain). It doesn’t matter what happened in it, sandblasting it down to the iron and reglazing will remove every possible speck of the former owner. Max can cleanse it with sage or salt or Holy Water for all I care, but don’t abandon your guns on this one! It’s too pretty a fixture to waste. Good luck on the eventual brick demo, too…

  90. Hey Daniel! Love the CSI: Renovation Edition. Since you’ll only be standing in the tub to take a shower – I think it’s fine to keep the tub. Just think of all the gross things that have happened when you take a shower at the gym or a hotel room.

    Do you think your house, or bathroom, is haunted? Any spooky bumps in the night?

  91. Best post to date. I love your blog. I daydream about running into you in NYC when we visit in June. This house deserves your family and the love you are bringing to this renovation. You rock!

  92. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of the corpse tub for the past few hours. I’ve come to the conclusion that I could keep it if the person had just died quickly of a heart attack or something and was found soon (read: immediately) but I couldn’t cope with knowing they’d sat there stewing in their own liquefying juices for a month. Oh my God, it’s too much! I’ve seen decaying corpses and it’s not pretty (as you know). I know I’d be thinking about it and imagining him in there every time I went to the loo. By the way, do you know what year he died? I’m not sure whether you’ve mentioned this before, but was your house empty for a long time before you bought it?

    • Yes, it was vacant for a little over two years. I’m sure that’s part of why we’ve had to do so many repairs…it’s tough on a house to sit vacant for that long! I’m actually surprised that things fared as well as they did.

  93. Plus, did he die in the summer months? If so, he probably did blow up and explode. Hence the removal of the tiles etc. above the bath. This is too much. The things that poor toilet has seen.

    Man, I love your blog.

  94. Fascinating, informing, hilarious!! I wasn’t too creeped out (okay, I was laughing out loud. I’m sorry, poor dear lonely old man, whoever you were). Daniel, you’re a terrific writer, I am SO GLAD you are sharing your adventures on a blog!!
    But I finally did officially get creeped out when I scrolled back up to the top and saw that scary old man arm on the ad about “remove dark age spots WITHOUT A DOCTOR” next to your post lol.

    • Heh, talking about dead bodies is probably doing some horrible confusing things to my Google ads. Sorry!

  95. This is a great story! You have to keep the tub–I mean, how many people can say they have a corpse tub?? I agree, changing out the plumbing is more important.
    I applaud you for keeping the materials in your house appropriate for its era … no tile that looks like wood–yech!! You are doing a great job with that.
    Also, loved your comment about uncovering a time capsule. This happened to us when we demo’d some cabinets during our kitchen remodel and discovered our breakfast room was originally a closed off butler’s pantry! The house was revealing her secrets! And our mudroom was once a back porch, so we are covering what were the original exterior walls with shingles and they will be painted to match the exterior. I want to acknowledge the original configuration of the house. I love your blog–can’t wait for more!

  96. Well one lesson we can all learn from this: make friends with your neighbours. Is this your ghost?
    I have to say: look around you, all these people/ everybody will be dead one day. And they need to die somewhere. I think a house where people have lived who have made eachother unhappy in an unfulfilled marriage for years probably has a much worse ‘karma’ to it than a house where someone died in the bathtub of old age after a content life and marriage. I would prefer dying at home, though it would be preferable to be found before my body exploded/ die in the presence of some people I love.
    There is an American photographer (who’s name escapes me right now) who has taken pictures of the bodies in that forensic yard. I saw an exhibition of them and they were really beautiful to be honest. Though her gallery in NY cancelled the exhibition because they did not expect to be able to sell them ;-) There is a beautiful documentary on how she works and how she started taking those pictures.
    I certainly understand the uneasyness Max has about it.

    • P.S. What a story by the way. Also I think walk in showers have been around at least 100 years over here in Europe (Maison de Verre in Paris f.i. off the top of my head) for me showering in a bathtub is a completely foreign notion.

      • Yeah, I think walk-in showers are more typical in Europe than they are in the States, at least in older structures. They’re very popular now for new construction and renovations, but I don’t think I’ve EVER seen one that was original to a structure pre-dating the 1950s or 60s. My understanding is that older ones would have been reserved for the very wealthy, and it was sort of a novelty. Most houses in this area of this age would have had a cast iron tub, which might have later been retrofitted with shower hardware.

    • The photographer is Sally Mann (here’s the link for those interested—images are graphic!)! Max and I actually saw the exhibit when we were in Sweden, of all places! They were showing the documentary in one area of the exhibit, so we saw that as well. It was great. I love her work.

      • I think it has to do with attaching the plumbing underneath the shower. Over here the floors in bathrooms often are raised 2 inches in order to facilitate the shower plumbing. When you have a wooden floor underneath it really has to be made very well to avoid complications.
        Thank you, I knew it was Mann, the first name slipped from my mind. Somehow the pictures in my memory were less graphic (I have to say) maybe they are less confrontational when seen up close in a 1 by 1 meter format?. But what a beautiful documentary don’t you think?

  97. Fabulous post!

    A thought: My grandparents’ 1900 house was rearranged several times and they ended up with a great laundry room that had a sink and toilet in it. It was where we were required to wash our hands before meals and “so forth”.

  98. Wow. You had me at liquified human remains. Simultaneously grossed out and completely intrigued. I would be on team seal-the-room-off-and-never-speak-of-it-again if I weren’t familiar with the re-glazing process. With some new waste water pipes, a full sandblast and re-glazing on the sink and tub and all new tiles and grout, you’ll have a lovely little bathroom on your hands, and I wouldn’t be grossed out to take a shower there (but I’d still hesitate to take a candle-lit bubble bath on a dark and stormy night….)

    I think the unknown past histories of old houses are part of each home’s unique appeal. You’re a new layer of that history, just like the layers of pain and wallpaper and bits artifacts you uncover as you renovate. We’ve always tried to leave a little note to the future in our own renovations – initials and a date behind a new wall, or tuck a newspaper under new csbinets, etc… Who knows who will wonder about us someday- you’re a part of this home’s story now too… And, as the neighbors will surely be grateful, a less fragrant occupant..

    Enjoy sharing this renovation journey with you!

  99. Was reading the post over a bowl of Sunday morning cereal and managed to get to the part about the body fluids escaping thru the drain line just as I shoveled another spoon full of Kashi Go Lean into my mouth. Oh well. I didn’t really want to finish that bowl of cereal anyway.

    Congrats on your bathroom demo. I only have one word of advice: Don’t re-surface your tub. The manufacturers would have you think it was being “re-porcelain-ized” which gives you the impression it’s going to be just as hard and durable as the original finish, but it’s not.

    The new surface is basically paint (epoxy based, I think) that is too delicate and temperamental for bathtubs. I lived in a rental where this was done to the tub and also had it done on my 1920s claw foot tub and the results were the same: It will look good for maybe 12 months depending on use and then the paint will start to chip and bubble. And don’t even think about dropping a tool on the surface or even the removable metal drain. BIG chips.

    Instead, consider giving it a really good cleaning w Ajax powder cleaner w/ bleach (for the dirt & stains) and Bar Keepers Friend (for the rust) then finishing w/ Gel Gloss One Step Cleaner. It’s old….it should look it!

    Good luck!

    • Thanks, JoAnna! Sorry about your cereal!

      The type of resurfacing I’m talking about is a little different. The kind where they come to your home and spray everything isn’t really a long-term solution (I think it’s supposed to last about 10 years, and then needs to be redone, but obviously as you say the finish is delicate and easily damaged and may not even last that long). What we’ll probably do is have it sand-blasted down to the bare cast iron and powder-coated, which is MUCH more durable. I know other people who have done this with great success and beautiful results. It’s more expensive, but worth it…and still probably cheaper than buying all new fixtures. Unfortunately the rust issues with the sink will only really be solved by sealing it with a new finish, and the bathtub has some SERIOUS staining (you know, dead body and all…) that are not going anywhere. It’s kind of grotesque and not really the type of patina you want, trust me.

  100. Hi Daniel,
    a long time reader from Australia first time commenter.. you have an amzing blog, keen sense of details and fantastic taste.
    also the poor bath tub is being used as a skip bin currently…lol. dam thats what you get for harbouring a dead body, not sure if you have come across this blog but might want to check out their bathroom makeover
    http://keepsmilinghome.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/bathroom-before-after-sharp-contrast.html.
    keep up the good work mate cant wait to see how this one turns out.

  101. I was cracking up reading this post and had to share it with my husband – we also bought a death house. When we put the offer in (really, really low, because it had been on the market for a crazy long time and needed some upgrades) we had no idea but found out before closing that the previous owner had killed herself at the house, thanks to the power of Google. Interestingly enough, in our state suicide doesn’t have to be disclosed to the potential buyers…
    We debated it back and forth once we found out, but ultimately figured that for the neighborhood and age of homes we were looking at, someone had probably died in most of the houses we liked. We did, however, thoroughly interrogate the seller’s realtor as to where said suicide happened, because we did NOT want to be ripping up tile and finding surprises below. It’s been four years and no sign of any ghostly activity, so I’m thinking we’re in the clear on that front too.
    I say keep the tub, although I agree with you that the pipes should be replaced – just imagine if you had some sort of backup! Since it’s not the only bathroom, anyone who’s really squicked out by it can just use the other one. As a bath lover, I can guarantee I would not ever be using that for a luxurious bubble bath, but I wouldn’t care about having it in the house.

  102. Hi Daniel,

    Once again I have fallen behind in my RSS feeds for your blog and the comment I am about to make has nothing to do with this post so I do apologize.

    When I happened upon the following blog, showcasing the renovation of a 1880s house, I immediately thought of you (natch!).

    The house is located in Wesboro, MA and I have to say, I do not like what the homeowners did to the inside of the home. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful and modern but…well, the entire historical character of the house has been stripped away (at least I think so). To that end, I am curious to hear your thoughts on this reno.

    Here is the link: http://sueathome.com/2014/03/03/a-remarkable-renovation-43-church-street-in-westborough/

    • Oh, man. Well, this is a big topic, and for the sake of diplomacy…that’s not what I would have done. BUT, it’s hard to say where they started—I think if houses are REALLY far gone or previously “wreckovated,” a modernist renovation can definitely be in order, and I think is often preferable to faux-old renovations that just look fake (you see this a lot with Brooklyn brownstones, where so much happened to them over the years that a gut reno makes a lot of sense, and the results can be beautiful). If they did start with a salvageable interior, though…well, maybe they should have bought a different house. I do have a lot of respect for how they restored the exterior, though.

      • Thanks for reading my blog. I’m so intrigued by the strong feelings that people have about the house that I featured. I thought it was stunning and since it was so far gone when they bought it, I think the fact that they honored the look of the exterior so perfectly, they should get some brownie points for that! I agree that the kitchen is a little too modern for my taste (and I didn’t even show the lime green bathroom that I didn’t like AT ALL!) but overall, I think it’s pretty clean and simple. Anyway, thanks for being diplomatic in your comments. Your blog is awesome!!!

      • Thank you, Sue!

        I totally understand—I’ve absolutely been on the receiving end of negative criticism about “ruining” something old (not necessarily a whole house, but we’ll see how this turns out, haha!), so I’m very hesitant to join that kind of discussion, ESPECIALLY if I have no idea how the house looked before the renovation. It looks like parts of their site that might explain further are down, and even so, pictures can be very deceiving. Even if this renovation isn’t really my taste (I consider myself a modernist, but there are choices here that I personally don’t like…it isn’t the contemporary-ness that I object to!), I really respect how much love and work they’ve put into this house, and I’d MUCH rather see a house being taken care of and loved than neglected and falling apart. It’s a tricky subject, but ultimately I have a hard time understanding when people get up in arms over something being cared for and given new life just because it doesn’t mesh with their taste.

  103. Hi Daniel,
    It is me, again! I just saw this and thought of you, yet again. http://www.savethemasonhouse.org/

  104. Now, I enjoyed your story of the corpse tub and dissecting the layers upon layers of this bathroom… but apparently the one thing I took away from this post was the word “landscaping.” I know that summer is like a million years away and there’s a ton of other gross shit to take care of first, but I’m eager to see how you’d apply your design sensibility to outdoor spaces. :)

    • Ha, me too! Truthfully I’m feeling completely lost and confused just thinking about it, but given that our yard is basically 50% sod and 50% asphalt and a chain-link fence, I’m not sure I can make it much worse!

  105. No! No! No! I just can’t! This whole situation gives me so much anxiety! I had to put my lunch away. Seriously.
    I used to love old houses and I grew up in a plantation house that was rumored to have a ghost named Rufus who was a man that had been a slave on the property and was shot in the driveway. I used to play outside with my imaginary friend, Rufus and it was a grand old time…..

    Then I binge-watched American Horror Story a few weeks ago and I’m ruined for life. No more old houses, no more previous-owner history…..I can’t. I’m done. Fresh, new, shiny and untainted is all I want now.

    I can’t wait to follow along with the saga of “The Downstairs Bathroom”!

    • Hahaha, well, not to burst your bubble, but people die everywhere, all the time, and they have for thousands of years! Even new construction houses are often built in place of older houses where…people probably died. That’s just how the world works!

  106. You have to watch the movie SUNSHINE CLEANING! It’s about a pair of sisters who fall into the business of biohazard cleaning. It’s funny and sweet at the same time.

  107. Love this. The tub wouldn’t bother me at all, especially after being re-glazed. When I was in high school I got into Patricia Cornwell’s mystery books and one of my favorites involved a research trip to the Body Farm. So freaking cool.

  108. Holy canoli… I think you are the most positive person I have ever heard of. Ever. I would have screamed, flailed, run out of there, anything other than say ‘eyes on the prize.’ You are my hero.

  109. I keep re-reading this post, I love it so much. Reminds me of the humor and the horror of Shirley Jackson mixed into one because of the way it starts out so innocent and sneaks up on you. (Everyone knows her horror stories, but she had another set of books — with presumably different readers — that were very funny, about raising kids in old houses in Vermont.)

  110. I love how casually you toss out, ” And, of course, the corpse tub.”

    I also love the look of the clapboard and the brick, but can understand that you aren’t going to keep it as is.

  111. Maybe it’s just because I’ve watched all of the episodes of Rehab Addict, but I love your medicine cabinet – I think they’re so unique when they still have the full cabinet. If you can keep it, that would be awesome. Also, I want the hook and the toilet paper holder! They are so blocky in such a great way.

    Can I ask what kind of tile you are planning on having? The tiny tile that was there seems more like floor tile to me – but I’m not an expert in old houses at all. Are you still thinking of white? Or something more striking?

    Also, can I just say that you sharing this after having dealt with the major aspects of cleaning out the pipes, etc. makes it so much easier for me to let the fact that there was a decomposing body in your home for about a month slide? I understand that your response is generally, “People die in houses all the time!” but I do think there is a bit of a difference between having someone die in your house and having them explode because their body was neglected for so long. Now that I am so attached to your house, I find it really hilarious, but I do think your case is helped a bit by the investment everyone already has in your home. We love it too much to care that it should have been featured in a CSI episode.

  112. I love the story! but i dont think i would have the guts to buy a house that recently had someone decomposing in it… my respect for looking past that and trying to preserve the house original details.

  113. I just love the way you tell your stories.

  114. So much for my midnight snack…

  115. Oh my god. OH. My god. I would shit.

    Do you suppose he died and sat there on the edge of the tub and then, as time went on, his back stuck to the wall like a forgotten tomato in the crisper drawer? I don’t know man, I’m not David Caruso, I’m just looking at the outline of missing tiles and how it’s roughly man-sized, and it’s freaking me out.

  116. This is one of my favorite posts! Can’t wait to see more. I am always afraid to start a project for fear what I might find underneath it all, but this takes the cake! I also think you should keep the tub, also just so you can keep calling it that.

  117. I vote for keeping the tub! But had a few other ideas about reworking the bathroom…

    Reframe the door into the bathroom and move it closer to the exterior wall (Living room). The new door location can still swing out into the hallway without blocking the entrance into the Living Room or could possible swing into the bathroom without hitting the existing radiator. Another option – make it a pocket door thus eliminating the swing issue. By moving the door you will accomplish a few things, namely you won’t see the toilet when stepping into your home from the front entry (if the hallway door is open), all of the plumbing can then be relocated to the interior wall saving you from the possibility of frozen pipes and you get an art wall that will be viewed from the front entry. When you step into the bathroom, the sink would be on your right then toilet and tub. Note from your pictures the plumbed wall feeding the death tub is framed out with a 2×4 thus making access to the controls easier & using the toilet a bit more comfortable. Unfortunately, you will probably need to relocate the toilet closer to the tub but that may not be a bad thing. Often old homes used cast iron waste lines and over the years the interior passage gets smaller & more restrictive. Replacing it may be a very good thing!

    Thanks for sharing the trials & tribulations of remodeling with all of us. It’s always enjoyable!

  118. I accidentally came across your post this evening and I have to tell you, I kept thinking to myself, now HERE is someone I can relate to. I simply must tell my son’s friend about you. You are a wonderful writer and having just purchased my own home (it wasn’t supposed to be a fixer-upper, it just turned out to be that way) I’m facing exactly what you so eloquently describe. I can so empathize with you. Just keep on trying and you will succeed. You have some great ideas! Thank you so much for sharing all of this!

  119. This line? “Whats that now? Clapboard? Peekaboo!”

    Made me laugh so hard that I almost choked.

  120. Hahaha! I loved this post so much. When my wife and I were on the hunt for our new house there were a few who’s previous owners died in them and she was NOT having it. Like didn’t even want to walk in the house to look at it. Some people are just really uncomfortable with death. This bathroom is gonna be amazing once its done. Like seriously amazing. Oh and I love that you kept the tub. They really just don’t make em like that anymore.

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