I don’t really think of myself as a criminal—maybe the odd speeding ticket now and then, that one time run-in with the police in a national park when I was a teenager, that other time run-in with the police in Washington Square Park as a freshman in college—but all things considered, I’d say my record is pretty clean. That is until a couple of days ago, when I found out I am a habitual trespasser. I put it in the present tense because I have both been trespassing for over a month and, apparently, will continue to trespass.
Evidently, once a house is classified as condemned by the city, entering the premises becomes illegal. This makes a lot of sense, I guess, but I guess I never really thought about it too hard. I especially never really thought about it too hard when the person entering the property also happens to be the owner, which is the funny position I find myself in now. That’s right: I am not technically allowed to enter the cottage, despite the fact that it’s in my name. I’ve been assured that the condemnation can be lifted as soon as the building permit is approved (hopefully today or early next week), but until then, I’ll be routinely breaking the law.
Don’t tell anyone.
The first time I trespassed, allegedly, was the day I set up an appointment to walk through the house with the listing agent. It was a Thursday. We were supposed to meet at the house at 2. I stood around outside until about 2:10, at which point I gave him a call. He picked up. He sounded sleepy.
“Oh yeah,” he told me, “so, the house is condemned. It’s really in bad shape. Feel free to just walk through it, and call me back later if you’re still interested, but it didn’t really seem worth it for me to come over since there isn’t really that much to see.”
“So, you’re not coming? At all?”
“No, no, that’s right, I’m not. Sorry to have misled you. It just doesn’t seem worth it.”
“OK, this is off to a good start. Is there a way for me to get inside?” I guess I expected a hide-a-key.
“Oh, yeah, so if you go up to the front door, and just push on it, you can walk in.”
“So, the door is wide open?”
“Well, there’s a door, but the lock doesn’t work. So yeah, take a walk around, feel free to call me later if you’re still interested.”
It later turned out he lived in California. He was in California. No shit he wasn’t coming. He was in California. Long story. Not worth it.
So that’s pretty much how the first viewing went. Me and Max, walking through this empty vacant condemned house, which was wide open to anyone who decided to walk up to the door and come up with the novel idea of pushing on it. Cool.
To my credit, I was more or less cool with this. To Max’s credit, he was scared shitless and just wanted to leave the whole time. Yin, meet yang.
So this is what we saw on the first floor.
When you walk through the front door, you’re inside this funny little room with the weird cutout niches in the wall. We’ll call it the niche room. It’s a weird space—the whole interior of the house is a little over 15 feet wide, and this room is only 8 feet deep. Everything was apparently carpeted at some point (the tack strips are all still in the floor). The floor is in really rough shape, but hopefully nothing some refinishing can’t take care of! I think they’re fir, but it’s sort of hard to tell.
Here’s the other side of the room. The baseboard radiators have been removed from both this side of the room and the side facing the front, leaving only the aluminum part that mounts to the baseboard that the cover attaches to. It’s OK—it’ll all get scrapped and a brand new heat system will take the place of this mostly-missing one.
That sliver on the right of this photo is the last of those casement windows in the front! There are three large windows that open out to the front yard, which is going to be so nice someday! They let a ton of light in, which is great since the key to making this house feel bright is mostly going to be the light that comes in from the front and the back.
You might be wondering why there are so many enormous holes in the wall? I might be wondering the same thing? I really don’t know. Apparently the previous tenants just totally trashed the house (and then, once evicted, trashed it more and stole half the copper), but to me that doesn’t totally explain the holes? Was it just…fun to be kicking huge holes in the wall?
The holes honestly make things a little easier, since I could see more what was going on during the walk-through. That’s the exterior sheathing you’re seeing beyond the drywall, and outside of that is the clapboard, meaning there is ZERO insulation in this place. It’s also helpful to see so much of the sheathing, since it’s actually in very good shape and doesn’t show signs of water/insect damage. Anyway, all of the drywall (walls & ceiling) are going to get demo’d out and replaced. There’s really no sense in salvaging what’s here, and having everything open will make running new electric and plumbing soooooo much faster and easer. I’m a jerk about saving original plaster walls whenever possible, but I don’t think there are even any left in this house. Drywall is no big deal to tear out, so I’m hoping for a pretty fast demo.
Past the niche room, there’s another room. We’ll call it the garbage room. Same sort of deal: it spans the whole width of the house, but this one is about 11.5 feet deep. My big plan is to remove the wall between the rooms (it’s not load-bearing), which will create the new living room. Since that will leave a very large room (sort of too large for this house, in my opinion), I think that should give me enough space to comfortably carve out space for laundry, a little closet space (there’s very little storage space in the house), and a half-bath. I’m still playing around with schemes to make all of this work in a way that makes sense and doesn’t feel awkward. I have a little bit of time before I really dive into the interior to figure it out.
As the name implies, this room has a lot of garbage in it. Evidently people were throwing trash through the broken window. Whilst in the thick of having mono at the beginning of the month, I stupidly took myself over to the house, boarded up this window, cleaned up all the trash, and then felt like I was going to die and took myself home and slept for four hours. Mono really threw a kink in the beginning of this renovation, but what are you going to do? Sometimes the timing is bad, and sometimes the timing is really bad.
The major ceiling sag situation above the window is right below the downstairs bathroom, so I’m sure there was some impressive leaking happening there to cause that. I’m hoping the damage is mostly cosmetic and won’t have affected anything structurally, but it’s one of those things where I sort of need to hope for the best and expect the worst. Even the worst shouldn’t be such a big deal…might just have to sister in a couple new joists or something.
Here’s the other side of the room! More destruction! I guess whoever removed a bunch of the copper pipes also decided to stack all of the baseboard radiator covers here, which is sort of considerate. It makes my scrapyard run slightly easier, maybe?
You might be noticing by now that the ceilings seem awfully lowwww. That’s because they are! When I first looked through the windows of this place I assumed the ceilings had been dropped at some point, but nope! They’re about 7.5 feet high, which somehow sort of works in this house, in a weird way. I swear, it’ll really just feel quaint and adorable and not like a basement when all is said and done. BELIEVE ME. I can work those low ceilings. I actually like them here.
Moving right along…the dining room!
I love this room. Seriously love it. Look how cute those tiny casement windows are. They are SO cute. The cutest, you could even say.
Like, so, so cute.
Oh, and did you notice? TIN CEILING. In a house that’s had a lot of original detail stripped over the years, I love seeing this ceiling in here. The pattern is so pretty, and it has this nice egg-and-dart detail around the perimeter. Who wouldn’t want that in their fancy dining room? Aside from the peeling paint, it’s in really good condition and should restore nicely.
My favorite part of the dining room, though, is the staircase! It’s SUCH a cute staircase. Yes, there is carpeting clinging to the first couple of risers. Yes, it is very filthy and gross right now. BUT! The rest of that curved bottom step is hanging around somewhere, so I’ll put that back, and then there will only be about 8,000 other things to do to make it so nice! With some paint and refinishing, it’s going to look like a million bucks.
But seriously, the newel post is super cute and the square spindles are super cute and that casement window is so cute and everything about it basically is very cute except the obvious filth and not-cuteness. You’ll see. You’ll see.
Oh, there’s the missing tread! On the floor in the bottom of this picture. Told you it was somewhere.
The dining room is currently pretty open to the kitchen, which I guess is nice? It sort of seems like half-wall was an attempt to do a bar area, but not executed super well…I’m not honestly sure what will happen with that yet. I’m also not very confident that the openings are going to be properly framed, since this wall is definitely load-bearing and that looks like a very not-pro renovation job. But we’ll see when we open it up.
Oh! And there’s a brick chimney behind that pillar thing. I’m not one of those people who always thinks exposing brick is a good plan, but I think it might be nice in this house! Bring in a little character and stuff.
OK, so, the kitchen! Things, uh, don’t improve much in the kitchen. The kitchen is pretty bad.
BUT. The kitchen is about 9 x 15, which is a great size (especially when you think about the size of the house!), and the layout kind of makes itself what with those two sweet casement windows almost-symmetrically placed with space for a stove right in the middle, am I right? This could be SUCH a good kitchen. I’m really a fan of this kitchen. Also, I still have my old kitchen fridge, so that’ll probably go in here (there’s nothing wrong with it), and the cast iron sink we took out of the upstairs kitchen, which is REALLY adorable and will look so cute and save some money, besides.
So basically the kitchen renovation is free is what I’m saying.
It’s so weird looking at these pictures…for some reason I just sort of never noticed how there are like a million paint colors happening in this house? It’s probably the intense smell of animal urine distracting me when I’m actually in it. Anyway, I sort of dig the color of that baseboard. Just saying.
It’s *possible* that there’s been a grapevine growing through this window for a while, allowing some moisture to get into this corner of the kitchen. Maybe. Hard to say.
On the opposite side of the kitchen is an exterior door and another window. The door is missing a mullion and is really damaged…I’m not sure if it’ll be salvageable or easier/better to just find a suitable replacement.
The most upsetting part of the kitchen is the basement access, which is literally a large hole in the floor. When not in use it can be covered by a large, heavy piece of plywood with 2x4s screwed into the bottom. Yikes. Horrors. I think it’s like this because the kitchen is an addition, so originally this stairwell would have been right outside the back of the house.
Honestly, if this were to all get redone, a clever trap door situation might be kind of cool, but unfortunately there’s no way for it to pass building inspection without a banister built around the opening, and that would effectively eat up about half of the kitchen. So that’s not going to work. The plan right now is to install new basement stairs that will run underneath the existing stairwell, and seal this over completely.
I’ll spare you a tour of the basement.
Sooooo, actually looking at and writing about these photos is making me feel mildly insane about this whole thing, just FYI. Like I’m still sane because I do have the wherewithal to look at these photos and feel crazy. That’s how it works, right?
But hear me out: believe it or not, there’s something almost easier about this house than my own house. First of all, it’s smaller, but there’s also less to try to save and restore. All of the walls can come out, which makes new electrical and plumbing fairly easy to run (electricians and plumbers generally bill time + materials, and nothing is a bigger time-suck than trying to fish things through finished plaster walls), then everything can be insulated and put back together. And because this house is so modest and quaint, it sort of demands a sweet and simple renovation—nothing flashy or too fancy materials-wise, which definitely helps keep costs down.