Looking Back (and Forward!) on the Bedroom

First off, thank you guys for all of the feedback on my kitchen renovation post last week! I’ve read all the comments but am still working my way through responding, so bear with me if you’re waiting on a response! I love how much people care about this stuff, and I genuinely appreciate having so much helpful feedback as I pull this plan together. It challenges me to keep playing around and refining and trying different options, and that’s very helpful at this stage! I’m sure I’ll be changing things up until the moment I actually do them (and then probably after—let’s be honest here), so we’re totally still in the playing around phase. Fun times!

ANYWAY. I’ve been working on finishing my bedroom. We know this, right? I’m sitting in it right now (what’s a desk?) and there’s still a fairly long hit-list of little things to wrap up, but even now it’s functional and comfortable and I just love it! It’s a wonderful room. But even though I know exactly how it all went down, I’ve still been thinking a lot about what the hell took so long. It feels like I’ve been working forever on this room. Just a few weeks ago I was standing around, surveying the mess, and genuinely wondering if this bedroom would ever be a space I could actually to sleep in. It’s always darkest before the dawn, I guess.

There’s this yet-unnamed phenomenon that I’ve experienced with each room in my house, where it feels like the renovated space betrays the wild and wooly and exceedingly messy process of getting it there. What’s that thing they say, about the start of a relationship being the most exciting part? That’s how I feel about rooms in my house, I think. Every un-renovated space feels like some sexy stranger, like an acquaintance I can’t wait to get to know better. I see all of the good—the possibilities! the potential!—and very little of the bad. But then I really dive in. And if I’ve done my job well, by the time I’m done I’ve spent so long overturning each stone, investigating every flaw, pouring some level of TLC into every single feature, that it all becomes old hat. That old romantic spark gets replaced with familiarity, and by the end it all feels kind of ordinary.

Not to be too self-congratulatory, but I think maybe that’s how it should feel. Despite the many, many hours of work that I’ve put into this space, even forget what it really took when I look around the almost-complete room. I sit there trying to reconstruct the whole long process and all the moving parts in my mind to justify the amount of time I feel I’ve spent on it, because it kind of looks like I just painted the walls, ceiling, and trim and put up a new light fixture, and it’s hard to not feel like something is terribly wrong if it really takes me almost four years to get around to that relatively small amount of work.

But that’s the illusion, not the reality. Cognitively, I know this. I was there! I did the work! And even though that feeling can almost be deflating, I try to look at it as an indicator of success in this mission of restora-vating an old house. The room doesn’t look or feel like it underwent a big renovation—rather, it pretty much just looks how I think it should. It doesn’t look like it endured years of neglect and mistreatment only to be revived and altered by some lunatic blogger guy. It kind of just looks like it’s been nicely maintained over the years, and just got a fresh paint job. When you work really hard on something, I think there’s a natural inclination to want that work to be evident in the final result, but I’ve learned that the best kind of work when it comes to old houses is the kind that you hardly notice when all is said and done.

So what am I going on about? Well, let’s take a trip. Through TIME.

closingpick

It’s May 31, 2013, and I had just done a final walk-through and signed the most daunting set of papers I’ve ever signed because they granted me the legal ownership of an entire fucking house. I’m 23 and have no idea what the hell I’ve just done, but it’s all very exciting. Here’s the bedroom, which at this point is the most bedroom-y room of the second floor apartment. The same second floor apartment that’s had its electrical panel disconnected, so there are no working lights or outlets. The best thing about the second floor is that its attending hot water heater in the basement works, which is more than I can say for the first floor. It still has no working toilet—that doesn’t get fixed until a few days later.

The grainy-ness of this photo isn’t helping my case, but right off the bat the bedroom had some issues beyond a light and easy refresh. The walls had been painted many, many times over possibly multiple layers of old wallpaper, which was now separating from the original plaster beneath, and would fall off in small chips or larger pieces with little provocation. That cheap little sconce next to the closet door was the only light source in the room, the baseboards sustained a tangle of old phone lines and jacks, and I think the entire room had 3 electrical outlets. Which actually isn’t bad, considering some of my other rooms.

caulkmess

Every part of this room needed some attention that wasn’t necessarily immediately obvious from a quick glance, but became more evident upon closer inspection. It looks like the whole wallpaper-separating-from-the-plaster thing had been a long-term problem, “fixed” with generous smearings of caulk and, in many places, some combination of caulk, masking tape, joint compound, and what appears to be cement.

wallstripping1

Oh hi, Max and Mekko! By late October of that year, Max had hosted one of his friends for a weekend and they went rogue and started stripping the paint and wallpaper off the original plaster. I’d been good about just leaving everything alone up until this point, but seeing them making such a big mess armed with only a couple spackle knives immediately weakened my resolve and I joined in the fun. “Don’t start this unless you intend to finish it!” I remember telling him and the friend, which even I can admit is pretty rich coming from me.

corner1

Naturally that friend, that night, and the booze involved with it came and went, and left a little less than half the room stripped down to the plaster. And that’s how it sat for the next several months, because my house-related work was still reserved for more pressing projects and Max was over it.

wallstripping2

By March of 2014, I’d had enough of the half-stripped walls and resolved to make some progress on the bedroom again.

It’s tempting for me to think of this as a project that got way too spread out over way too much time, which maybe is the case, but it’s not like I was sitting around in between! This is 10 months into home ownership, and I’d renovated the kitchen, the laundry room, and had just wrapped up work on the little office. We’d had the roof replaced (which ended up being very time-consuming on my part due to the issues with the box gutters—trying to fix them myself and then dealing with 3 or 4 roofing contractors to finally get it resolved), some necessary plumbing/heating work including a boiler replacement, and the two electrical panels upgraded to one large one. We’d worked to restore the original single-family layout of the house, opening up blocked doorways and demolishing non-original walls. I’d demo’d the fixtures and cabinets out of the upstairs kitchen, done some major clean-up work in the backyard, stripped wallpaper from the hallway walls, demo’d out the living room and dining room ceilings, removed a non-original closet from the dining room, moved a bunch of radiators around, built a fence, planted a garden, watched all the asphalt get removed from the backyard and a large shallow pond develop in its stead, done most of the demo in the downstairs bathroom, replaced the countertops from the earlier kitchen renovation, did round 1 of restoration on the front doors, and saw Beyonce in concert. All of this felt like such a slow slog at the time, but going over my photos and writing it down here actually makes me feel pretty good about the pace. We were also splitting time between Brooklyn and Kingston at this point, so it was a pretty busy period in my life.

wallstripping3

ANYWAY. Stripping the walls was basically a two-part process that entailed an initial scraping and then going back with a vinegar-water mixture to get that sticky brown paper underlayment stuff off the plaster. Messy but not particularly difficult.

radiatorpipes

During the great radiator shuffle/exposed pipe removal effort, these exposed heat pipes in the living room—which ran right in front of the window moldings!—got removed and exchanged for new Pex lines that run up the wall that divides the living room from the hall and across along the ceiling joists. The bedroom radiator’s location didn’t change but that’s the kind of “invisible” work that affected more than one space, including the bedroom. This was done while the living room ceiling was completely demo’d.

electrical

Also while the ceilings downstairs were removed, it was a good time to run some new electrical to the bedroom. We added two outlets, a cable jack, a central ceiling fixture with a light switch next to the door (how fancy and modern!), and replaced the wiring that powered the existing outlets, including one line that ran through an unsightly conduit on the exterior of the house from the basement to the second floor. That conduit got removed this past summer, so I’m giving myself a retroactive pat on the back for good planning.

The electrical is actually my biggest regret about the bedroom. This house was built before electricity, but when electrical outlets were originally added, they put them in the baseboards rather than on the walls. I had thought that this no longer satisfied modern electrical code, and I think in some places maybe it doesn’t, but my electrician assured me that it actually was permissible here if it was something I wanted to do for consistency. I opted to go with the modern convention—placing them on the wall, about a foot from the floor—and now I really wish I hadn’t! I love the baseboard outlets in old houses and, as long as I’m legally allowed, would like to stick with that and relocate outlets to the baseboards where possible moving forward. In most cases it’s very easy to do myself, so not a huge deal.

mekko

God, that dog color-coordinated really well into that phase of the bedroom. Maybe I shoulda left it!

Then, once again, the bedroom sat totally on the back burner while other projects both in and out of my own house took over my life. If you’ve ever retrofitted old plaster walls with new electrical, you know it’s difficult/impossible to get the box installed very cleanly without the surrounding plaster sustaining some damage. So there I slept, in this room with the mostly raw plaster walls, portions of it crumbling and creating a small but very noticeably endless supply of dust (terrific for allergies!), one of those small plastic utility lights mounted to the new ceiling box with a single exposed bulb. Talk about a retreat!

So anyway. That went on for about 2 and a half years.

windowframing1

The bedroom still didn’t feel all that pressing until it just got totally blown up this summer, when I up and decided to add an additional window to the room. It’s a decision I stand by, but also one that I didn’t totally appreciate the ramifications of until the room had been reduced to THIS mess:

gutted1

If you’ve been following along in recent weeks and months, you know the rest. I installed the window, sheathed and re-sided that elevation of the house, insulated the wall, put up new drywall, patched in some of the hardwood flooring, replicated the original window casing to trim out the new window, repaired and skim-coated the three remaining walls, restored the original window in the photo above, spent hours prepping all of the original moldings for caulk and paint, and—finally—got to the point of actually PAINTING.

And it’s still not done! But now the list feels much more manageable and less pressing. The doors need to be painted and the hardware restored. Two windows need to be restored. One window just needs paint. The other window just needs a sash lock. The dresser needs new knobs. The bed needs a mattress (hey, a full-size mattress fits on a queen size frame, just not very nicely!). I have to patch and paint the hole in the wall where the sconce was, because now the electric has been completely and safely removed. I need to figure out window treatments and get them ordered and installed, and then spend the next few years moving furniture around and in and out until it stops feeling like a nice thrift store display up in here.

So. Ya know. Still some doing.

And THAT, my friends, is why this shit takes forever! But progress still feels good.


99 Comments

  1. This kind of reflection is soooo important to appreciate all the work it’s taken to get to whatever point stimulates the reflection, so thanks as always, Daniel, for bringing us up to speed on what slowed you down and inspiring us in our own dithering, bloated, confusing in-process projects. Can’t wait to see the first iteration of the “designed” room! (Moving furniture around never stops for some of us, right?)

    Somebody taught you well about doing things properly. Daniel’s Mom, I’m looking at you…

    • Thanks Charlotte! It is important, and I don’t do it enough! With a project (this house) this big, it’s so easy to slip into feeling totally overwhelmed and like nothing is getting done—even in the face of major progress—because the to-do list is just so incredibly long that it’s hard to feel like you’re making a dent! But it really is getting there. And yes, I do think it’s being done properly, which is all I really want…I don’t care if it takes me 30 years, but I will care if it’s half-assed!

      And no, the furniture moving never stops! That’s the fun part! I can’t imagine living in a space that’s too static. It’s just not me!

    • I don’t know why you’d be looking at me? Although, I think I’ve heard myself say don’t start something unless you intend to finish it. I’m pretty sure he was channeling his mother then. I do have to say, however, this son of mine used to rearrange his furniture constantly. I alllowed my children great privacy in dealing with their rooms but at one point he had one of those crazy bunk bed sets that you can take apart and put back together a zillion ways. Pretty sure he did that and more. Living with little Daniel, always an adventure.

      • Did you forget the whole “all I ever ask is for you to do your best”??? Jeez, Mom! Take some credit!

        (thank you for putting up with my bedroom! But now it helps when you need to, say, design a condo!)

  2. This all really all brings the expression “a labour of love” to a whole new level. And the greatest love stories do start with a “sexy stranger” moment…

    En vrac:
    A good restoration is like plastic surgery, you shouldn’t be able to tell whether anything was done.
    Max looks cold in that picture.
    Strictly a matter of opinion, but I prefer my outlets to live on the wall!

    • Haha, the plastic surgery analogy is on my mind constantly!!! And it sounds easy, but when it comes down to it…sometimes the changes seem so small and subtle that they might seem like a waste of time, you know? I know people (including myself sometimes!) that end up not doing renovations because they feel like the impact won’t be big or apparent enough to justify the amount of work and/or the expense. I know some of the things I do seem crazy, but I really do feel like it’s that kind of work that makes the house less prone to mistreatment down the road! If I do a good job now, somebody in the future is more likely to maintain it than rip it all out and do something really awful. At least that’s what I like to tell myself. :)

      And yes, it’s total personal preference! But I do think baseboard outlets are really nice looking in an old house, where those sorts of modern things can end up looking out of place or too conspicuous. I guess baseboard outlets are still somewhat common in upscale new construction, but many people opt out because you have to bend sooooo farrrrrr downnnnn to access them…but it is literally a 6″ difference, and never feels like anything even approaching a burden. But I know, it seems weird!

  3. Loved looking back over your bedroom progress. I would have liked to see a pic of how it looks now….

    • We’re getting there, haha! I’m kind of…I dunno, self-conscious? A bedroom is such a personal space and it still looks kinda janky, so I want to get a few more loose ends tied up before showing a bunch of pictures of it and then feeling uncomfy. I hope that makes some sense!

      • Yes that totally makes sense. I hate sharing stuff online. I’m happy to snoop at other people’s lives and/or houses though! I guess I’ll just have to be patient… We have the same light fitting our bedroom btw.

      • Bubble twins! They’re so nice in bedrooms!!

  4. I’m seriously amazed by you!!!! The amount of work I’ve done on my house in the year and half since I bought it is……. really really really sad by comparison. Haha. Very cool to look back over the whole process!

    • Yes, but this is also a part of what I do for a living, so PLEASE don’t beat yourself up!! That includes a few of those projects being partially sponsored, which absolutely helps. It’s still a ton of work and a huge financial strain, totally exhausting, all of it, but truthfully I often find myself amazed by people for whom renovating houses, their own or others, is totally a nights-and-weekends endeavor. That takes a ton of stamina that I’m not sure I have. It’s difficult stuff—you gotta go at a pace that works for you and your lifestyle, plain and simple!

  5. Oh my Gooooooood it has been so much longer than I thought. Looking at all those hyperlinks…you’ve done so much! Still think the best thing in the room is the recreated molding, that attention to detail really makes the difference. What a fun retrospective.

  6. Pat yourself on the back for amazing progress and knowing that every hour you spend is an hour closer to the finished product. I long ago abandoned the idea that I’d do one room at a time, threw away the notion of strict deadlines, and started taking pride and what I have an can accomplish – not unrealistic goals for what I should be doing. I also find that looking back helps me have a better sense of how to move forward.

    And for neatly cutting plaster: A Rotozip tool with a masonry bit set to the depth of the plaster, then switch to a wood bit to the depth of the lath. Trace the box first, and if you want to be extra neat, drill the corners first with an electric drill and hold up a straight edge to guide you as you use the Rotozip.

    • YES Jakob!! The room-by-room approach is practical but only to a very limited extent, and only if you’re living in it (which I actually DO wholeheartedly recommend—it gives you a perspective to make much better decisions, I think), and deadlines are just a way to feel horrible about yourself! I think it comes from realizing that every project—and every process involved–is so much more involved and time-consuming than you can really think of beforehand. I guess that’s kinda where the whole “twice as long and twice as expensive” cliché comes from. But yes, I think it’s essential to think of progress as any step—large or small—forward. If that means cleaning up, yes!

      Ah, maybe it’s the masonry tool part that I’m missing from the equation? I’ve had better luck with an oscillating saw (this guy\), and I think for me it’s a more versatile tool since I don’t do a lot of drywall work. I think either option requires some patching on a raw 150 year old plaster wall, though!

      • “One room at a time” seems reasonable – to anyone who’s never worked on a house! Like, of course you did the bedroom electric when the ceiling below was opened up. I did two baths at Gay Gardens/Dirty Old Queen (Anne) at the same time because, well, one was right over the other, it only made sense. I’ve left the 50s vinyl tiles on my mail floor for now because why would I redo hardwoods only to traipse all over them en route to tackling other rooms? It’s a process, but not as linear as most would think.

        Did you remove all your siding with the oscillating tool? I need to salvage and re-use some lap siding like you did, and prying only seems to break it.

      • Haha, two bathrooms at once! At first I was like THIS GUY IS CRAY and then I was like…I’d be in exactly the same boat if I wanted to change the layout of my upstairs bath. Luckily there’s really no other arrangement, so basically all the plumbing is being redone while the downstairs bath is opened up (mine are also stacked), but a real renovation for upstairs can come later and hopefully be much easier and less costly. And YES, the floors!!! Mine (my stairs in particular) drive me insane but refinishing before the house is pretty done just seems like a horrible idea…it’s just too messy!

        I think due to the age of my house and the nails securing the siding, it’s much easier to remove than it might be with more modern and/or shanked siding nails! On the side of the house I worked on this summer, we had a lot of broken boards because a lot of the siding had been reinforced with new nails next to the old ones at some point and they were much more difficult to remove. Careful and slow prying helps, but you’ll get some breakage. I try to reserve whatever parts of the boards are still OK for shorter runs, and then I’ve ended up buying new 16′ siding boards to supplement for the longer runs. The new stuff isn’t the same, but once it’s all up and painted it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference. I hope that helps!

  7. You really have gotten an amazing amount of work done on the house! I clicked back on the link where you started painting,and that grey just blows me away every single time. It’s going to look awesome when you’re finally done!

    • Thanks Erin! I love that color, too. The worst thing about it is that I find it really hard to get an accurate picture of!!

  8. This just hits way too close to home, Daniel! People look at my finished rooms and are underwhelmed by what look like pretty, but ordinary, Victorian rooms. Noooooo! That ordinary flat ceiling took months, damn it! And staying in my guest room is like squatting, and there are holes in the hallway, and one bathroom is still sponge painted fuchsia. Today is my 9th anniversary of owning this house, and I actually believed that it would take me six months to whip it into shape. It’s embarrassing how wrong I was!

    • Haha, I hear you! Particularly about the ceilings!! I was never under the 6 month illusion (although somehow Max was), but part of me would have expected to be a bit further along at this point. Such is life!

  9. Aaawww, I was hoping for a complete bedroom reveal.. *cries*

    But I get it, in any long process you tend to forget a lot of things when you recap it in your head, instead of giving yourself full credit for all the things that have been accomplished. So going over it in detail and really thinking about ALL of it is important.

    Also, desks are overrated. I live in my bed! Laptop on my belly and one dog by my knees and one dog acting as an armrest. What could be better than that?

    • Sorry!!! It’s coming. I just want to get a few more things wrapped up…

      I’d never leave my bed if I could, I think! Bed is the best place!

      • Ofc you do, if you didn’t it would be like putting on ALL the makeup except the mascara. Finishing touches are important.

        But you got my hopes up, I expected full makeup and only got primer and foundation. :P

  10. bitch where are some progress pics? But congrats tho

  11. Hi Daniel,
    I’ve always thought that a renovation needed to use the inaccurate — to me — idea of “trauma”: i.e. “Did this horrible event really happen to me at all? Did I really have to do all of those things? I’m not sure that I did.. Maybe it has always been like this…”

    Brave of you for putting your renovations out for public thought, by the way. Though useful I’m sure. This makes me ask: since you have ripped everything out of your kitchen, have you thought of moving the kitchen to large sunroom/living room on the other side of the house? I ask because then there would be loads of space, not only for an island and a stove, but also a table, maybe even a sofa. Just a thought.

    • Yes, it’s like childbirth I think! Not that I’d have any idea, but that same thing of going through a MISERABLE but limited experience and then deciding to do it all over again. Ha!

      Definitely (definitely!) not moving the kitchen, sorry! That room was—as far as I can tell—built to be a really grand living space, and that’s exactly how I want it to be once it’s renovated! I’ve seen that kind of thing work nicely in a brownstone, but in this kind of house I think it would just feel super unnatural and out of scale. It is a big room, but it also has four windows (which either go to the floor or have paneling beneath that does), two doors, two radiators, and a fireplace…it’s a great room to float furniture, but I think would actually be really challenging as a kitchen due to the lack of wall space!

  12. When I first met some friends of my husband’s, we had dinner at their home, and I noticed the wallpaper was stripped everywhere. That was 2002. They just sold the house last week, and the walls/stripped wallpaper hadn’t budged. (And I found out the walls had been like that for 10 years before I had met them, but not in a cooly decrepit Chateau Gudanes way, just DIY on hold, with Muzak). Just sayin’ some people start projects they never finish.
    I’ve been reading since your Brooklyn days and am in awe of your renovation chops. Congrats! Can’t wait to see more of the kitchen.
    BTW, did you already convert the vintage bed to queen size? I will have to look at the archives when I get to my computer.

    • Ha, I often get worried I’ll be like those friends! My hallway, upstairs and down, has been skim-coated for…3 years? Once with a burst of energy I actually primed, and that’s it. Indecision on color, and it’s a HUGE space even though it’s not a room. Plus, it’s the main artery of the house, so the walls and moldings continue to get banged and nicked and dented, and I don’t care as much since I don’t think of it as a completed space at all. I’ll get to it someday!

      And no, I bought a new queen size bed! The vintage deco one in a couple of these pictures is actually a standard full so no need to mess with it. I’ll most likely just use it as a guest bed elsewhere. :)

  13. Hi Daniel – first time commenter, but longtime readerI’ve been enjoyed your blog for years.

    I am also the proud owner of an old home – one with layers of wallpaper on plaster that has then been painted over. So my questions:
    Can you help with a step by step of how you got the wallpaper off?
    And were you worried about lead paint / how did you protect yourself?

    Thanks,
    Mary

    • Hey Mary! Here’s a good place to start. It all somewhat depends on how well adhered the bottom later of wallpaper is to the original plaster. In many cases it’s more a matter of time, elbow grease, and scraping than anything else!

      There’s quite a bit of water involved (don’t fear too much water! Plaster walls can take it!! Just protect your floors), which goes a long way toward containing any dust, lead or otherwise. If you want to be extra cautious, where a mask or respirator, and clean-up with a HEPA-equipped vacuum. There are lots of resources online for lead-safe renovation practices, too. :)

  14. I am so glad that you reflected on this project and wrote this post. I started reading about your bedroom right around the time that the open wall was one party away from a crime scene or a tragic afterschool special about safety. I had no idea what it looked like before. :D It has come a long way!

    Our old house has four rooms that are in rough condition like your room was. Actually, we have already fixed two of them, but we have two left. We also have three more rooms with wallpaper to strip. Ugh…Looking back on each project is sometimes the only thing that motivates me to keep moving forward. I know how the house is going to look if I just keep working.

    • Yep! Any little bit is progress! I have two other bedrooms in similar condition to this one, and one that’s down to the studs, so I hear you!!

  15. Oh good lord. After reading about all that you’ve done (especially in that 10 month span) I’m exhausted and need to take a nap!

  16. After reading this post, I feel grateful for my friends who are DIY-enthusiasts or at least realists. I’ve just finished a large scale renovation on an 19th century cottage (interiors only, none of this structural stuff you take on – kudos!) and when they come round to the house and I point out which bits I did (mostly painting) and which bits the builder did (let’s be honest, everything else), they’re really supportive.
    “Wow, that must have taken a lot of time.”
    “Oh my god, I can just imagine the prep work before you even get paint on the walls.”
    “Ugh, I remember the last time I painted. Never again. Hats off to you. I get the professionals in now.”
    And the super supportive ones will get up close to the wall and stroke it and say “wow, that’s a professional level of finish” and that really makes my heart sing. Probably a load of tosh, but I lap it up! They know what I want to hear!

    Daniel, I think you need a cheer squad to reassure you it is a tonne of work (your cheer squad is probably all the commenters here!!) and it is NEVER “just a lick of paint.” People who think that’s all that is involved have never done DIY on an old house as you point out in the post.

    As a final note, I second the other commenter who wants “interior porn” shots. I would love to see what more of the rooms look like when they’re dressed a little. The progress shots are interesting, but I’d love to see the finished (or nearly finished) product because you’ve got such great taste. I know you said in your reply that you’re self conscious, but could you do some vignette shots so we only see a pretty corner of the room? Just a suggestion/plea!

    • Yes, here’s the cheer squad! Friends and loved ones can handle a little tiny bit of my crazy, but the blog is where I gotta get it all out! It’s challenging doing this solo…not that I’m ALWAYS working alone, but I wouldn’t have necessarily chosen to take this on without a partner in the picture. But that’s how it happened, so I’m that much more grateful for the community of people on here who’ve got my back! :)

      (There are no pretty corners yet!! There’s…a lamp? There’s…a dresser? There’s….a bed with a clearly under-sized mattress? Believe me, I’m anxious to show it, too!)

      • Bwahahaha “there’s a lamp.” Daniel, you amazing unicorn, you show us the lamp when you’re good and ready.

  17. hey, Daniel–
    thanks for the recap and progress update.
    similarly: what’s going on with Bluestone? and did you ever finish that little place down the street from you?
    thanks!

    • Hey M—We’re getting there, we really are! They’re just both such long stories that I feel like getting into it in comments or social media would just lead to more confusion and questions so I’ve been working on some blog posts. Keep an eye out! :)

  18. You are so absolutely correct in that no one else can truly appreciate the level of work, sweat, and agony put into the renovation of these old houses. The end result makes it look easy. No one can see the choking dust, the endless buckets of plaster hauled down stairs and out to the dumpster, the gallons of water used to steam off wallpaper, the circular discussions on how to best tackle a project, the groaning and grunting under the weight of a forest of 2x4s, and the tubs of icy hot for sore, aching muscles. It just looks like a great room. And that’s kind of the point, and yet in some ways, it’s deflating, and satisfying.

    After 7 years, I can look back and remember fondly all the hard work, and yet it’s kind of distant too. I hope you get the feeling of immense pride that I do when I see how we’ve taken an aging beauty and cleaned her up, done some serious surgery, and she stands tall and proud now. We are hoping to be able to put her on the market in the next 18 months and I want to put together a photo book with all the history that I can find and that I have of the house for the next owners. I want someone to love every inch of it that I do and appreciate how special it is. It’s a false hope, I know that having loved previous houses and watch them fall into disrepair. But I cling to it nonetheless.

    You have done a remarkable job and I love that you allow us all to share the journey with you.

    • That’s so nice, Tamisha! You guys have done a wonderful job with that house and you should feel very proud! I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for buyers that will love the house like you do!!

  19. Congratulations!! I really appreciate that you do quality work. It’s one of those things that people who care will notice. And even if people don’t actively look at your bomb ass patch, caulk and paint job, good details make the room waaay nicer, which subconsciously people do notice. We have gorgeous oak batten in our dining room that of course the troglodytes who lived here previously didn’t bother to tape off before painting the plaster that’s in between, so when we wanted to repaint, we spent HOURS upon HOURS prying the boards up a nick, scraping old paint off the sides, gently sanding away splinters and restaining little bits where the finish had pulled off. It was tedious, but it makes me unreasonably happy to have done right by the house!! Buuut…. we’re never allowed to repaint this room :)
    Also, I feel ya on things taking forever. I finally painted (just painted!) our bathroom this weekend after living in the house for almost 4 years, and I cannot believe the difference. Why didn’t I do this forever ago? But of course there were more pressing problems at the time. Good on you for reflecting on your progress! You’re doing the things!!

    • Aw, your oak paneling story is music to my ears! That’s great. Ya done good!

      I’m thinking about a kind of whirlwind bathroom refresh, because I just CANNOT TAKE IT ANYMORE. I can’t do a full reno but something’s gotta give here…my bathroom is so horrific. I really think with maybe 10 days I can make it kinda nice, and then yes—kick myself for not doing it before!

      • Yas!! Do it! Our vanity looks like something taken out of a motel where people are still allowed to smoke and use ice picks instead of their hands (I honestly can’t figure out how a normal person would use it as hard as it’s been used) but it just didn’t make sense to pull it out and replace it when we’re planning on adding tile and new floors eventually, which can’t go in until we completely deconstruct the “vintage” 90’s shower surround aka walls and plumbing, so a new coat of paint and a nice light fixture it was!! I painted it a navy that I LOVE (BM Gentleman’s Gray), which everyone said would be too dark, but I secretly knew they were wrong because I was inspired by your Brooklyn bathroom :) The contrast makes my fixtures look so. much. better. You spend time in your bathroom every day, so it makes a huge difference even just to NOT hate it. I’m not sure what your kitchen timeline is, but it really may make sense to find a smallish solution that will make you feel happy and like sometimes things in your life are nice. Oh, and your boo thang will probably appreciate it too :)

      • Haha! That sounds great. I’m rocking super peeling/falling apart plaster walls, and wainscoting and shower surround made out of the same formica that was on the countertops when I bought the house! It’s…creative…and definitely not suited to the task. So nasty. And the caulk! Don’t even get me started. And the floor! Old (hideous) vinyl tiles that are all separated from the subfloor, some of them broken…there’s more but I’ll stop. I’m a little concerned about sharing before pictures because people will think I’m the nastiest person alive. Maybe I am.

      • My two cents, can you reuse a piece of your kitchen floor in the bathroom for a temporary fix? I assume you’re changing the kitchen flooring based on your drawings. It would likely feel much better on your feet and look 100x better.

      • Not the actual floor, not, but I have leftover VCT still in the basement! The bathroom has an existing plywood subfloor that I think would be fine to go over, especially if it doesn’t need to last years and years. So that’s probably what I’ll do!

  20. Dang, I forgot how much work you’d already done, Daniel. Bravo! Also, selfish question here: what exactly did you end up doing with those “fixed” sections of wall? The ones that were “patched” with masking tape, joint compound, cement and whatever else was lying around? It turns out the same person must have fixed our walls and I stare at those spots daily wondering how to make them better.
    Also, I think that Mekko prefers to be the focal point of a room, not color coordinate with it, although she does look good with that bed frame.

    • Not selfish, this is what we do here! So, those sections of wall have generally been fixed in conjunction with a whole wall skim-coat. The first step of that is stripping down to the bare plaster, since almost all of my walls are paint over very old wallpaper that’s not difficult to peel off with scrapers. I’ll be putting up a post on plaster repair very soon (you’re ahead of the game!), but my basic strategy has been copious use of plaster washers over the raw plaster (one about every foot or so, down the length of every stud in the room….you need a lot, but they’re cheap!). So the caulk stuff is generally scraped off by this point, but for remaining cracks and weird bulges from bad repair, you gotta scrape that mess out. Cover with fiberglass mesh tape (or window screening works great for large sections) and fill with joint compound—I like Durabond’s 90-minute set time powdered stuff that you mix yourself. Once that’s dry, you can process with your skim-coating as usual! Plaster does continue to move and crack with the natural movements of the house, but this is the method I’ve found most effective for long-term repairs or walls that are in rough shape like mine. I hope that helps!

      • I must be picking up on your subtle foreshadowing…I ask about molding, you have a post about molding. I ask about plaster repair, you have a post about plaster repair coming. Thanks for the general idea – can’t wait for the post!

  21. That bedroom saga is pretty amazing, especially when you consider that it has rarely been your major focus at any given time over the last several years!

    Your brief mention of your backyard asphalt removal and subsequent pond/puddle caught my attention. My Husband and pulled out the above ground pool we inherited from our home’s previous owners as soon as we were able but then winter came before we did any repairs to the yard. You can probably imagine that we are now the proud owners of a mud hole/pond of our own. One that our dog has become increasingly interested in wading through. So we’re determined to fill it in as soon as possible but I wondered if you had advice based on what you did to solve your problem. Did fill do the trick or did you find you needed to do something more complicated to prevent water from continuing to gather in the former low spots?

    • Thanks Libby!

      And yes, I never gathered the strength to post about it, but I will, just because it’s so insane…fill. Fill fill fill. Not last summer but the one before, I hauled 60,000 pounds of fill dirt into my yard, shoveled and leveled by hand. It was about as fun as it sounds. But it solved the problem, and now the backyard is pretty flat without a pond! I found that my county has a composting program where I could pay $35 for about 2,000 pounds, so that’s what I did. One load at a time. It was maybe the most awful thing I’ve ever done.

      (It’s ABSOLUTELY worth paying for if you can. Landscaping companies often do this, and they have dump trucks for much bigger loads and backhoes for spreading everything out nicely.)

      • Landscaper here. I second what Daniel said about getting a giant bulk delivery if you have the room to dump it. It makes things SO much easier, and the delivery ends up being so much cheaper time and fuel-wise at the end (and your vehicle’s suspension will thank you). You can calculate how much you’ll need to order by multiplying the area in square feet by the depth in inches and then dividing by 324, which will give you yards (everything bulk that isn’t stone tends to be measured in yards).

        I just want to caution to make sure you get good soil for at least the top 3 feet. Don’t let anyone talk you into “sandy loam.” In the biz we call that stuff “red death” because nothing wants to grow in it but invasive weeds. Make sure you’re getting actual topsoil or a good custom soil blend for your area that’s specifically for growing plants (I’ve found rose mixes tend to be the best if you plan to garden, but they’re also the most expensive). Talk to your local ag extension office and they’ll probably have good recommendations.

      • Thank you, Lori! I’ll just add real fast that YES a giant bulk delivery is definitely the way to go, and if you can, either have the company or someone else spread and level it with a bobcat so you’re not stuck doing it by hand. It SUCKS and they can do it fast.

        (here’s a simple handy calculator to figure out your yardage, just in case!) http://www.croswellenterprises.com/soilcalculator.htm

  22. We had a full mattress on a queen sized bed! It was great. You can use the moat for books or random crap and then cover it with the duvet when you make the bed and no one is any the wiser!

    • Ha! I can see how it would be kind of nice, actually, but the whole point of getting a bigger bed was to have a bigger bed!

  23. I need a nap after reading that post! What is it about looking at what you’ve accomplished versus what is still left to be done? Super cool stuff Daniel.

  24. Thanks you for sharing your story. I don’t know really why but I felt better with my never finished house. And I am looking forward to see the result in your bedroom.

    • Houses are never finished! Ever! Anyone who tells you their house doesn’t need work is probably lying or incorrect. :)

  25. You really have done a stunning amount of work with such little help!

    Regarding the feeling of how little payoff there is when it is all done and looks like it has always been that way – we live in a historic neighborhood, and when house-hunting, saw literally 100 houses before finding the right one here. Houses in all state of repair or disrepair. And yes, plenty have that look you described, of being nicely maintained for most of their lives. But I will always remember one house we saw. It had been totally DONE, and done right. Which was really rare. Most houses had been maintained or neglected or gutted/modernized. But one that had been totally restored, and restored so well was different. And you could just tell. There wasn’t a crack in the plaster anywhere, there wasn’t a single spot of chipped paint on a baseboard, it was 6,000 sq ft of flawless. It was all just so NEW… but then original. That baseboard was original, it had just been stripped and repainted. Every inch of it. The air conditioning worked beautifully in the way that only a completely redone system can, the hot water came instantly in the way that modern tankless allows. Everything perfect, fresh, spotless, and still old, historic, and classic. This was the only house that sparked an instant bidding war, and we were looking in a price range of houses where there were a lot of wealthy buyers with deep pockets ready to remodel on their own.

    Anyway, my point is, a house that has been carefully restored really does stand out. It is not just you seeing the work behind those walls. Your visitors can too!

  26. I hear your concern about the frig location and not losing counterspace, but I think you will rue a decision to put the frig in a different room. Since you are re-vamping the laundry room and powder room anyway, why not re-arrange the floor plan of those spaces slightly so that you can make the frig open into the kitchen. Basically, you’ll make a doorless closet for the frig next to the china cabinet and the frig will open into the kitchen but not be sticking out into the kitchen.

    • I just don’t like that option, I’m sorry! To me it sounds like a really nice solution for a new house, but having that kind of cut-out niche in a house this old (especially right in the middle of a wall, pretty much) I think will look really odd and out of place. I’m still playing around with the whole mudroom/pantry/whatever space—I think I’m getting closer to something that I’m guessing everyone will like a little better, but my renovation plan is never going to satisfy everyone. Great thing is, it doesn’t have to! :)

  27. Your house is so lucky to have you.

  28. I loved walking through this with you. You’ve done so much. And it’s funny how a well-done project somehow recedes in your mind once it’s finished. So you kind of stop noticing it.

    I’d actually enjoy seeing a tour of the undone rooms (frex. what’s happening with that big living room that used to be divided in two but is apparently not anymore?) And I’d love to read your thoughts about what you are going to do with them. Not big design goals so much as thinking about how you’ll use them, where they figure on your ToDo list, and how your ideas have changed as you’ve lived in the house etc.

    • I’ve been thinking about a series of posts like that, room by room? We’re coming up on four years so it feels like high time that we get re-acquainted with this place!!

      (I actually haven’t taken out the partition in that big room yet—that was a graphics mistake! Whoops! It’s pretty much just a very fancy storage room, holding stuff for everywhere else. It’s such an amazing space but also such a low priority, just from a practical standpoint!)

  29. What I need to know is what did you wear to see the Queen Bey?!? I still can’t get over the open wall… so worth it. You’re amazing. And I love the Mekko pics!

    • Barclay Center! It was only a couple of days after she dropped the (MASTERPIECE, FLAWLESS) surprise album so it was extra exciting. There’s no way she’s human. Just unfuckingbelievable.

  30. did you ever think of turning the fridge to face the kitchen? and moving the hutch into the corner near the window or into the ‘mud room’?
    you mention you’re going in the face of the kitchen triangle but if you’ve ever cooked in a kitchen that doesn’t have a triangle in some sense. or has the fridge in another room. it gets really old really fast. and i am speaking from experience… 3rd floor attic apartment in grad school… but hey experience…

    another idea would be to put all your refrigeration in the kitchen island…. there are some great used commercial kitchen islands with refs. on the bowery for fairly decent prices. get the kind with drawers. they even come as ref/freezer versions.

    • Yes, it’s been covered extensively. It’s just not for me! To me utilizing the pantry space for a fridge feels traditional and right for this house, but a fridge “niche” kind of solution seems super unnatural. I get the slight practical upside, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one!

  31. I’ve often thought that my ongoing old house experience has paralleled yours but on a slightly smaller scale. I bought a 1920s English cottage style house in western MA in September 2013 and it had many of the same issues as yours. Gross carpet pre-1970 (with horsehair padding!) covered the oak floors, plus berber carpet in kitchen and bathrooms — all removed less than 24 hours after closing. The plaster walls had a heavy stamped texture (I think original) that was failing all over the place due to cracking and moisture. I had two short sections of wood gutters that hadn’t been maintained, rotted, and had allowed a squirrel family to gnaw through and nest (took 5 months to finally get them all out) — which I only realized the day after closing when I met them. My bedroom is still in very similar condition to your before with an old skim coat failing and some water damage around the windows. All the bedrooms only had one sconce for lighting and had a little lamp switch to turn them on.

    On the plus side the house has great flow, no wasted space, and basically all the original features. The PO had purchased the house with her husband in 1948 and she passed away at 93, still living in the home.

    I’ve replaced a toilet myself; skim coated 3 downstairs rooms, the staircase and upstairs hall perfectly smooth. Laid wood-look vinyl plank floors in the kitchen and bathroom until I can decide if the fir floor is salvageable. New gas steam boiler after getting rid of the oil tank. Some new electrical for lights, light switches (modern convenience!) and more and grounded outlets. I’ve started working on rehabbing the wood windows, per instructions from the Historic District old house forum. Last summer saw a big bump in life quality by finishing the walls in the living room and having all the oak floors upstairs and downstairs refinished (I think my favorite transformation — so nice to have floors that are mop-able and actually get clean).

    I very much enjoy following along with your progress and it helps keep me motivated with my own.

    • Twins! Isn’t it hilarious that having lights on switches and grounded outlets feels like such a huge thing?? It’s like going from living in a cave to a spaceship.

      Consider me WILDLY jealous of your refinished floors! I can’t wait for that day to come for my own. They’re a mess.

      Good luck with the window restorations, and all the other projects!! :)

  32. I’m getting such a kick reading all the kitchen sink comments. Who looks out the window while they’re washing anyway – you’re looking at the dishes you are cleaning :)
    That said, I’ve always had a window over my sink – first time looking into the neighbors kitchen. When I remodeled the first thing I did was move the sink to look out over the backyard.
    Stay tru to yourself –
    You’ll probably spend more time at the stove than the sink, it will be nice to have the light & the glimpses of nature while you’re standing there, bored, stirring that pot so it doesn’t boil over :)

  33. It still blows my mind to see that picture of the wall completely open to the outside. It reminds me of one of those nightmares where you’re walking around in public without pants. It’s really looking wonderful. I’m so impressed with the reproduced moldings on the new window.

    • Yeah, it’s one of those images that kinda doesn’t leave you! Some part of my brain still sees it when I walk into that room, even though realistically it was only open like that for a couple of hours before sheathing went up. That was definitely one of those “oh good god, what have I done” moments, even though rationally I knew it was all OK. (and thank you!)

  34. All you do is amazing – don’t ever feel down on your self about the pace or any thing – you are in a very long marathon and we are all loving watching from the dust free sidelines.
    First thing is I bet you could get one of those online ship directly to you house mattresses that comes folded like origami to fit through your mail slot to sponcer a post – free mattress means more money for home Reno – we will read anything you write no objections here about sponsorship posts :)

    Second since the comments have veered off toward your kitchen I will add we have a bit of a wacky but very functional kitchen in our old house and basically no budget so no fancy counter depth fridge for us. but we realized who is to say what counter depth has to be so in our kitchen we just made our counters deeper on the “fridge wall” so the front of the fridge is flush at no real extra expense – the cabinets underneath don’t touch the wall at the back but it doesn’t matter because you can’t see that far. It also makes for an even nicer work surface in my opinion because it’s deeper- more space to chop and be messy and not feel crowded, which has become an unexpected before us. This change in depth is particularly easy if you are doing stone or any counter that is not a premade laminated top.
    If you where wondering The wackyness comes in more when you look at it and realize none of the cabinets match – which is totally my fault but also having zero budget because I kinda just stalked Craig’s list for bottom cabinets in the sizes and drawers I wanted. So it’s super functional but looks a bit like an odd showroom where you see all the different models on offer at the same time. – eventually we will paint them all the same color but it went way down on the priority list once I could actually use the kitchen.

    • Fingers crossed for a free mattress! It would certainly be nice! I’ll be doing the online mattress thing either way, but hey…I’m not gonna turn it down…

      That’s really smart! I think in my situation, it’s more about the fridge just taking up so much space in the room, when it could be neatly tucked away just a couple more feet away. I’m fully aware that this seems crazy and idiotic to plenty of people, but, well, they’re not invited to my kitchen-warming party! Haha. But that’s a great solution in the right space, for sure.

      (I love your photography! So talented.)

      • Awww you are making me blush thanks for checking out my photos. Also anytime you have that kitchen warming party I’d be there with bells on ;)

      • Well if there are bells involved, by all means! Come one come all!

        (I love the estate sale series especially! Seriously, great work!!)

  35. Your comparison of your renovating projects to the progress of a relationship is right one, but you left out the last part: where the relationship has matured to the point where it feels so damned comfortable and pleasant that you cannot imagine life any other way. I think that is what your house will feel like when every room and the exterior and the yard have (more or less) reached your vision of what they should be. Then the house will feel so comfortable and pleasant that you cannot imagine living anywhere else. (Or maybe not. Maybe you are the type who needs to shake things up when they get too comfortable. Whichever you are, enjoy the journey!)

    • Aw, right on! I love that! I often already feel like my house and I are pretty hand in glove, so I really look forward to the day when I can focus a little less on fixing it and a little more on enjoying it! I do like to shake things up but I really cannot imagine leaving this house in any foreseeable future unless I’m dragged from it by force, haha.

  36. So if you need a mattress, I highly recommend Leesa which is delivered to you in a box and then expands when it’s out of the box. Super comfy! Excellent pricing! And easier to get up the stairs!
    I love mine.

    • Yes that’s what I’m thinking! My BF has a Leesa (I’d read about them so I made him do it, hahaha) and it’s been WONDERFUL. I keep being tempted to try another one of those mattress in a box companies (there are so so many now, and you can go a little cheaper) but it’s like…what am I trying to achieve? I don’t think I could be happier with anything than I am with Leesa!

  37. Daniel, whatever happened to Bluestone Cottage?

    • We’ll be getting back to it very soon! It’s a long and harrowing story that kinda really needs more explanation than I can provide here, but at least it’s something to look forward to? :/

  38. I’ve recently picked up blogging to express my joys of DIY, and I was in the market tonight to find some good blogs to follow and learn from. I found this one through a google search and the Huffington Post and picked yours out immediately based on the style. I’m glad I stumbled my way here! I really enjoyed reading about your process of before and after, of reflection, and even of the regrets. The bedroom looks so frightening and exciting at the same time! I think I would have loved a space like this to make my own. Thanks so much for sharing. I look forward to reading more!

  39. that is a very impressive list of work done. you forgot to add you were busy fighting off mono and lyme disease. Those things can certainly slow stuff way down.

    • Yes they sure can! I actually ended up never having Lyme but I did have mono—two different fucking types, which I didn’t even know was possible—about exactly a year apart. UGH. The first bout wasn’t so bad—I felt mostly recovered in only a few weeks—but I think I’m still recovering from the second. It’s been almost two years(!) and I feel like I’m JUST starting to get my energy back. It’s been a tough pill to swallow that my body is much more limited in terms of energy and stamina than it used to be, and definitely a lifestyle adjustment that I’m still trying to figure out, I guess. :/

      (Happy Monday!! hahahhahaha)

  40. Daniel!

    Hello. I love your blog and I’m excited to write to you, especially since I’m on your side. Besties! My husband and I bought a converted 1910 Polish social club/dance hall in Unionville, CT in October. Things used to get pretty rowdy here, we actually have 2 locked cells in the basement. Like, jail cells. If these walls could talk!!! (they’d speak polish and we wouldn’t understand)! But anyway, the house basically looks like a long white school house, with a kitchen in the back. Our fridge is in a separate pantry from our kitchen and we love it. I agree with you fridges aren’t cute and they don’t need to be a focal point in a kitchen. And it’s maybe 4 feet away from where a designer would think one ideal, so like you said, ain’t no thing!!!! Keep up the good work, I love it! -Hils

    • Your project sounds so awesome!! Locked cells in the basement!! That’s amazing(ly terrifying and cool). Yay for the pantry fridge! I agree—it’s so close to where anybody else would want to put it, I don’t really see what the big deal is!

  41. At the risk of oversharing on the blog of someone I’ve never met, what you wrote about the process of working on your room reminds me of how I feel about my ten years of therapy. SO MUCH WORK and blood and sweat and tears and time and money, just to get to . . . normal.

    Or course, normal is good and necessary and worth it. But to someone who’s never had to work to get there, normal just looks so ordinary and unremarkable.

  42. All I could think while I was reading this was that I can’t even motivate myself to vacuum my floors! You are doing God’s work renovating this house. Well done, YOU!!

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