All posts in: Kingston House

BREAKING: My Kitchen has a Fireplace!


I decided to just tear the band-aid off and fully demo my kitchen. I’m not positive that this was the smartest idea but given that the pantry was already torn out, two of four walls were down to the studs, the ceiling was gone, and the floor was some mix of original tongue-and-groove subfloor in some places, a first layer of plywood subfloor in other places, and a second layer of plywood subfloor with my black VCT flooring in other places, it felt stupid to be holding onto what was left! Which was really just a wall with some cabinets and a kitchen sink.

So now I really don’t have a kitchen, but whatever! At least now I can easily-ish and efficiently-ish level out the subfloor and put in a new floor, run my new plumbing, electric, and gas (YES, GAS! SEE YA, 40 year old electric stove!), insulate, and start putting things back together. I don’t honestly know how far I can stretch my dollars so a real finished kitchen with fancy things like permanent countertops might still be a ways away, but I’m hopeful that I can at least at least get the foundation in place and achieve something usable in the near-ish future. I’m dealing with a lot of -ish right now because I don’t totally know how this is all going to play out. At least I have plenty of time to plan? Which sounds absurd since I’ve been mentally planning this kitchen renovation for over three years. It still changes on a nearly daily basis.


Now here’s a throwback! This is my kitchen after living in my house for about 2 days. Note the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! That always struck me as funny since the entirety of that wallpapered part is, in fact, a plastered-over brick chimney. When I bought the house, this chimney was being used to very unsafely vent a hot water heater, but now the chimney doesn’t do anything.

One thing I’ve known and continue to know for sure is that the layout of this space is completely changing. The stove will no longer sit on this wall where there’s very little room for any prep space adjacent to it. The sink is moving, all the cabinets are moving, even the exterior door is moving! I’ll share full plans ASAP when I can pull a sketchup together.


Anyway, first order of business was tearing off the vinyl wallpaper and taking out the drop ceiling. Behind it was this color-blocked plaster which I actually kind of loved the look of, leaving aside how nasty it was.


After lots of paint and stuff, things started to look more like this! See that round hole in the chimney up toward the ceiling? That’s a vent hole for a wood stove, which is how I always assumed this room was originally heated. This house was built before radiators, so the original heat sources would have been in fireplaces and wood stoves.

This is how I was planning to leave things until a bigger kitchen renovation down the road when I could expose the brick, but then I got subway-tile-happy. I thought I’d be working with this kitchen longer than I did (I was expecting it to be about 5-10 years, but the whole side-of-house-restoration and its effect on the kitchen have bumped this priority up significantly!), so at the time doing the extra subway tile seemed like a nice way to enhance this space in the short term. It was. I liked it. No regrets.


I’m sorry to say I don’t have a good picture of it, but here’s what’s happening directly below, in the basement. See how there’s a whole fireplace (which is actually quite beautiful) down here? I thought this indicated that this room in the basement was probably the original kitchen—which could still be true, as there are also remnants of an early plumbing system). Fireplace in the basement, wood or coal stove in the kitchen, and possibly another one in the room above it was what I always imagined.


All of this is to say that I felt pretty certain that the only thing behind my subway tile and the plaster would be a solid brick wall, which I always planned to expose during the eventual kitchen renovation. I had this idea that maybe I’d try to preserve my subway tile and expose just the brick above it (and probably paint it), and I also had this idea that I’d place a longer, lower radiator across the width of the chimney, which I hoped would look great and heat the room better.


Trying to preserve the subway tile was kind of not worth it because the chimney had been furred out on one side so that the kitchen sink would fit snugly in that space, and it definitely wasn’t the best tiling job in the world to begin with, and I did want to see what the whole chimney looked like before committing to keeping half of it tiled, and…who cares, tear it all down.


This is what my 27th birthday looked like last week! My life is so cute.


But look, brick! The plaster came off the brick REALLY very easily using just a hammer and a pry bar. The key is to take your time because old bricks will break if you get impatient and start hammering away too hard. The hardest part is just hauling the debris out of the house, because plaster is super heavy stuff! I’ve brought about 2,500 pounds of plaster to the dump just in the past two weeks.


So I’m chipping away at plaster and tile and all of a sudden I see THIS! WHATTTTTTT. That’s pretty unmistakably the curved top of an actual firebox!! I was amazed. I was stunned. I’d long accepted that all I was uncovering was an old and probably pretty brick wall with a hole in it for a wood stove. I literally had to take a break to get my breathing under control.


Before long…OH HELLO! Obviously the whole thing was bricked over at some point, I guess when they switched to the wood stove set-up, abandoned the fireplace, and plastered the chimney? I don’t really know a ton about this so I have some research to do.


You can see this in the third photo of this post, but there was this funny cut-out in the plaster toward the floor, lined with metal and with this flimsy metal cover. I took the cover off exactly once when I was  painting this wall, saw a dark pit of despair with a bunch of dirt and leaves and stuff, and put the cover back on and tiled around it because I didn’t know what else to do! I figure it’s basically a clean-out for anything that might come down though the chimney or soot from the wood stove.


Now that I could see that it was part of a whole firebox, I removed the metal lining and started tearing out brick!


Inside was pretty nasty! The old soot and stuff was packed in a few feet high, along with some broken glass (??), a bunch of leaves, brick fragments…nothing fun, just yucky.


But now! LOOK! LOOK! LOOOOOOOK! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m VERY excited about this discovery. One of my big goals with the kitchen is to make it look and feel more in keeping with the original details found in most of the rest of the house, so being able to uncover this fabulous existing feature is SUPER motivating.

As to what I’ll actually do with it, I don’t know yet! I’ll definitely be adding a hearth stone in front of it (not sure what…I guess conceivably it could either be a slab of something, continuation of the brick, or tile?). The firebox is only a foot deep, so in terms of making it at all functional, I think gas logs might be the way to go here. I’ll call a chimney person to see what can/should be done in terms of a cap at the top of the chimney, probably a new liner, I guess some kind of damper to keep the heat from all escaping out the flue…like I said, research time! I’m just still so shocked and excited that it’s even there that my mind can’t process all this activity at once.

My kitchen is going to be the best kitchen, folks. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

The Solarium is Gone!



So this is exciting: I think I’m done tearing additions off this house! Forever! Tearing off entire structures like the mudroom last year and the second floor bay window this year is, as you might imagine, kind of a big deal. The payoff of restoring at least a close resemblance of the original construction is super exciting, even when it technically means sacrificing a little square footage, but the process can be a little…intense. Which is to say, I’m glad I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore. We already demo’d the interior of the one-time solarium down to the studs, so it was time to actually get this non-original thing off my house once and for all!


This started with the roof, which was a total mess. I intentionally didn’t have this roof redone when the rest of the roof was replaced almost 3 years ago because I was pretty sure I’d be taking this addition down soon enough. “Soon enough” ended up being a little longer than I thought it would be, so for three years this thing has been hanging off the side of my house, leaking every time it rained (despite efforts here and there to patch certain areas) and looking super nasty.

While the tear-off was going on, a neighbor strolled over and told me that the previous owner would go out onto this roof every single year and smear on a new layer of tar, so this is literally FORTY YEARS of tar-build up that we had to remove! In some areas it was about 3″ thick and EXTREMELY heavy, even when broken into small pieces. Poor house. I gotcha.


The rusty stuff you’re seeing underneath was what was left of the original metal roofing. It’s so corroded that it basically fell apart like an old newspaper.

Underneath that you can see what’s left of the roof sheathing, some of the framing, and the original box gutters. If you need a toothpick or something to jump-start your compost pile, I guess this might be good? But as a roof it was not so good.

On top of it all, you can see Edwin striking one of his sexy poses.


In credit to all the rot, the roof came down fairly quickly and easily. Look! Sky! Cool.


If you can decipher a little of what’s going on with the framing here, you can tell that it’s not so good. The window framing is far from sound, and the entire roof structure was being held up by some short lengths of very rotted 2×4 studs, resting on a horizontal 2×4  stud, and the roof rafters were being supported by…


THIS. Part of the reason I really wanted to get this done NOW was because I feared that the amount of weight in tar, combined with a heavy snow-load might result in this thing literally collapsing. Which would turn its demolishing from an exciting decision I made during a semi-convenient time of year into a huge nightmare.

This is also part of why just tearing this non-original component off the house entirely made a lot more sense than trying to restore it. Bad roof, bad foundation, bad walls, no original windows left…if it had even been possible to salvage, it would have demanded a ton of serious structural work and money and that just never seemed remotely worth it.


We removed almost the entire cornice in one enormous piece which I dragged into the backyard. We’ll harvest various trim pieces and corbels from it in order to build the cornice on the new formerly-missing third side of that first floor bay window! Because the solarium was added onto the bay window, the cornice on the other side and front of the bay remained totally intact! Yay! We do still have to do some roof framing and put a new roof on the bay window, so don’t be fooled! Lots of work ahead.

We took down the walls section by section, using some quick temporary bracing to keep it all from just collapsing onto the sidewalk or back onto the house.


My dining room is looking pretty torn apart obviously, but even with just the solarium’s roof removed, the newfound amount of LIGHT in this space—which has always been fairly dark—was thrilling. I’m still shocked every time I walk in there by how bright it is now that the window faces the outdoors instead of into the super yucky solarium. It’s a really dramatic change in real life. It’s hard to get the same sense in the kitchen because it basically no longer has walls or a ceiling so the light gets swallowed up, but I’m sure it’ll be one VERY bright space when it’s put back together.


The entire demo from start to finish only took about 4 or 5 hours, and we even had the truck loaded and off to the dump before they closed at 3 PM. Teamwork!


So…EEK! This is the first time I was actually able to get a good sense of how the house would look with the solarium torn off. The new kitchen windows were making me nervous without being able to really see them in relation to the rest of the house and the dormer window above them.

I’m getting used to them. They’re 4.5 feet tall, and they look so little! I think the real problem is that I just don’t like that dormer window (it just feels so out of scale with that back part of the house, and the shed roof and the fact that it’s flush with the exterior wall and interrupts the cornice is kinda just all wrong). I wish the new kitchen windows were closer in size to the rest of the first floor windows on the front section of the house, but it felt like the most natural solution was to match the header height of the other windows (so the tops would all align) and shorten them because this is, after all, a kitchen and I need to be practical and be able to fit a countertop under the bottom of the windows. Ya dig? I think it would be nice to put window boxes below those two kitchen windows, too…both to visually elongate them and because, ya know, herbs and stuff!

Honestly, once everything is put back together and painted and done, I’m sure I won’t even be thinking about this anymore. It’s FINE. The front part of the house is the real showpiece here, anyway, and that’s going to look goooooood.


LOL LOL here is a half-hearted attempt to Photoshop the previous picture into a better idea of where things are headed, so we can all stay motivated. You don’t have to pretend that it’s very effective or convincing but WHATEVER, at least you can see where the windows go and stuff. The real thing will be significantly better looking, I promise.

It’s starting to get cold, which is freaking me out. Pls pray.

Found in the Wall!

One of the cool things about living in an old house is the constant possibility that you might find something left behind—intentionally or not—by a previous occupant. Open up a wall and you might see century-old bank bonds or a pile of cash or gold bricks or a diamond ring or…ya know. We’ve seen the news stories. Some asshole goes a-renovatin’ and finds some shit worth more than the house itself.

Well, I’ve done a fair amount of renovating, and my house is a hidden-treasure-failure. I found a couple of plastic combs behind the wall in the downstairs bathroom. A matchbook in the attic. A business card for a hat shop in the entryway ceiling. Several mummified mice. Until recently, I think probably the coolest thing I found was half of a shutter hinge below the solarium. BFD.


You know how on the first floor of my house, there’s this amazing panel detail below all of the windows? The incredible moldings were one of the big reasons I fell so in love with my house. So beautiful! It makes me feel bad about putting furniture and stuff in any of my rooms because I always feel like nothing I own is prettier than the house itself and therefore I should just leave it empty.


One of the cool things about taking so much of the house apart and putting it back together again—which is really what the exterior restoration requires—is getting to see what’s behind my walls without tearing out the plaster and moldings on the interior. This is the backside of one of those below-the-window-panels, which I spent a while staring at and trying to figure out how to reconstruct for the new dining room window. This picture doesn’t really show much, but the craftsmanship here! The whole thing is mortise-and-tenon’d together at the corners and there are flathead screws holding things together from the inside and…I don’t know, it’s all very cool to me. In an age when strips of MDF held onto drywall with liquid nails qualifies as board-and-batten walls, I always like seeing this kind of thing.

SO ANYWAY, I was staring at this and looked down, and right there, tucked between the stud and the backside of the panel was a little piece of paper! It’s somewhere between the size of a business card and a postcard, beautifully preserved, and sitting right there waiting to be discovered!


How cool! Here’s the front of the card. Look at that building! I actually first assumed that this building stood in Kingston (we also have a Broadway and Cedar Street, and they intersect at a corner!) and immediately got sad about all the incredible buildings lost to urban renewal efforts and whatnot, but a quick google searched turned up that this was actually the Equitable Life Assurance Building in Manhattan, which I guess stood at a record-breaking height when it was finished in 1870 and was the first office building to feature passenger elevators. Like many other “fireproof” buildings built in lower Manhattan around that time, turns it out was not that fireproof and burned down in 1912. Look at that!


And on the back my eyes immediately settled on the text at the bottom, because that’s the name of the original owner of my house!* I knew from census records and stuff that he was an insurance salesman (among other things—it sounds like he was a real man-about-town and total badass), but there’s something kind of different about holding his 150 year old business card (is that what we call this?) in my hand. So fun. In case you’re curious, that $726,399.94 in 1870 translates to about $12,700,000 in 2016.

*this could be false. Almost every person who knows a lot about old houses tells me the construction of the original section at least of my house appears to be more circa 1830s, and looks like it got a couple of additions and maybe a big aesthetic overhaul in the 1860s or so. The 1905 obituary of the owner whose name appears on this card notes that he built the house “forty years ago,” which brings us to 1865, but maybe “built” refers more to a major renovation? It is, after all, an obituary in the local paper, not a real estate record. I need a time machine or somebody who’s really good at research.



Remember this view? It’s the new window installed on the missing third side of the bay window on the first floor. Great, cool.


Remember this view? It’s the opposite end of the solarium, where under some wood paneling was clear evidence of another window down at this end. The sashes are long gone and the jamb is pretty hacked up, but it’s definitely a window jamb.

When I found that hidden window, I measured it…and it seemed like just the size of the one that would have been on the third side of the bay window, where I’ve now put a window back. Which lead me to wonder…was this window moved here from the bay window when the solarium was built? I think it’s totally possible. Why throw out a perfectly good window when you’re adding more windows? Huh.


Fast-forward to solarium demo of a few weeks ago, and after removing all the brick and mortar nogging…look there, below the window jamb! Doesn’t that kind of look like the backside of the panel detail I was talking about earlier? That’s neither siding nor sheathing, so I got all excited.


Because don’t forget, the bay window has that detail on the inside and the outside.


It didn’t take me long to head to the exterior and rip off the vinyl on this wall. I was expecting to see a big sheet of plywood where the window used to be, but I actually found…wood clapboard? Huh! I guess this window was removed longer ago than I thought.

Said it before and I’ll say it forever…check that mold out. THAT IS WHAT IS UNDER VINYL SIDING. Moisture and rot and yuck yuck yuck that is terrible for your house. Luckily the clapboard actually wasn’t rotted here, but I’m sure in a few years or so you’d start to see that. Which of course can then affect sheathing, and framing, and the backside of your walls, and vinyl siding ought to be illegal.


Anyway. Then I took the clapboard off board-by-board, like I do, and that’s when I found the plywood. OK. Starting to make some sense.


AND THEN UNDER THE PLYWOOD LOOK LOOK LOOK! That right there is the same panel detail found on the other two sides of the bay window that I’m restoring, in really pretty great condition from being covered up all these years. SO EXCITING. Hopefully I can just move the entire thing back to its rightful position under that new window, and that will be one big step closer to making that once-beautiful bay window whole again. That thing is trimmed out with a lot of fancy moldings, some of which will probably still need to be replicated, but having this one thing taken care of by the house is just so cool, at least to me. I love those super rare times when things might actually be easier than you imagined they’d be.


See ya, Second Floor Bay Window Thing!

If you read my post last week, you already know that I’m in the process of slowly destroying my house. Fun times! In some ways, it would have been very nice to have had the money to do all of this when I bought the house three years ago, but of course three years ago I wouldn’t have had the same plan I have now and would probably have screwed everything up and regretted it forever, so it’s all good. I probably would have also been TOTALLY overwhelmed and intimidated by a project like this and spent the whole time freaking out and panicking and feeling miserable, but now it’s all pretty familiar. It’s fun. It’s exciting. There’s something to be said for taking your time, I guess!


As mentioned, this big old side-of-house-restoration involves 4 major spaces: my kitchen, my dining room, the second floor bedroom above the dining room (where the bump-out/bay window/”tumor” lives), and my bedroom at the front of the house. That’s inside, of course, which is to say nothing of the enormous exterior overhaul that really has to take precedence! It’s almost mid-August and I’ve gotten myself into enough pickles to know that winter’s a-comin’ and I gotta get this shit done!

ANYWAY. Aside from basically totally dismantling the dining room of all my furniture and pretty things so everything doesn’t get totally destroyed, the work is fairly minor in there, and we already kind of saw it on the window post a few weeks ago. Here’s the window installed from what will soon be the exterior, though! There seems to be a lot of confusion about which parts of the house are staying and which parts are going…I’m trying my best to explain, but you might just have to wait and see if you’re still confused! The wall to the LEFT in the photo above is the old exterior wall of the solarium, which will be eliminated. The wall to the RIGHT is the wall of the house which obviously stays. The ladder is sitting in what will be part of my side yard. More space to plant! Kinda make sense?


Meanwhile…it was time to start taking care of this room on the second floor! This is the decent-sized bedroom where the bump-out is, which I think I’ve only showed once right after I bought the house because I’ve done almost nothing to it except tear off about 1/3rd of the ceiling tiles which revealed a bunch of furring strips nailed to an extremely damaged plaster ceiling. Not terribly surprising. I know that bump-out seems like a fabulous design opportunity but it was in such poor condition, not original to the house, and resting entirely on top of the very structurally unsound former-solarium, so it’s gotta go. Bye!


Demo always starts somewhat slowly, with the careful removal of moldings and anything salvageable. The drywall is down here, so you can see where there used to be windows on either side of this thing, now covered over by OSB sheathing. Those one-over-one windows will not be getting reused, but the old wavy glass in them is valuable for me as I have to repair broken panes in the original windows around the house! Cutting glass isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds (score and snap kind of deal) so they’ll definitely get used.


Underneath the casing around the bump-out was what I’m assuming is the original wallpaper for this room, nicely preserved! In person, those yellow parts are metallic gold, and actually still very shiny! Such a cool pattern, right?


After that, we cut the floor flush with the rest of the house! That was just a matter of snapping a chalk line and running a circular saw down the line, with the blade set at 3/4″ which is the thickness of this floor. The flooring from the bump-out, of course, was then carefully removed for reuse later (little patches I have to do where radiator pipes used to be, maybe the downstairs bathroom…no reason to toss it!).


One very exciting moment in all of this was removing the ceiling of the bump-out, under which you can see…the original cornice! Some parts like the crown molding, the corbels, and the frieze were removed when this was built, but the main structure (which is also my box gutter!) is intact, which is just fab news. Hopefully this means that patching in and reconstructing this section of the original cornice are also significantly easier than I’d anticipated. Yay!!


Then it was time to frame the new window, which…look! I hope this is all starting to make sense. See how nicely it lines up with the adjacent window in my little office?


Once that was more or less done, Edwin offered the suggestion that we just go ahead and demo the ceiling in this room. The plaster is really beyond repair (those furring strips are held up by about a million nails, and removing them takes the plaster along with them), and it has to happen anyway, and…fuck it, let’s just get it done. Plaster demo sucks so while I have help and muscle on my side, I’ll pay for a few extra hours to just get it over with.


Hot holy damn. In preparation for doing this, we carefully removed the attic floor boards and shoveled out as much of the old blown-in cellulose insulation as we could, because having ALL of it raining down on us while the ceiling got demolished sounded like the worst idea ever.



But after adding sheathing on the exterior and cleaning up, the room is starting to take its new shape. It seems counter-intuitive but returning the room to its rightful proportion makes it feel so much less awkward and honestly more spacious. Of course that could also be an effect of my new (temporary) 16-ish foot ceiling height since you can now see all the way up to my roof sheathing in the attic. Everything is crazy.


On the exterior…here’s how things stood earlier that day, I believe. All of the clapboard on the back section has been removed and 1/4″ sheathing put up. Adding and removing windows and additions and stuff means there would be a LOT of clapboard patching, so I think it really is easier and ultimately better to just remove it all, give it the spa treatment, and put it back up. That way there won’t be any obvious patchwork. You can kind of see the original boards going back up in the lower right corner!


Not going to lie, demo on this thing was pretty stressful! The structure was iffy at best so there was a lot of head-scratching about the safest way to go about it.


Oh Edwin. Always giving me bedroom eyes. We removed the sills that came with the windows and replaced them with cedar that we milled from 4×4 posts to match the dimensions of the originals.


Much like interior demo, everything that can be saved gets saved! Don’t forget I now have to patch in the cornice, so having those corbels and various pieces of trim work intact should make it much easier.


I climbed onto the roof and ran a circular saw through the rubber lining on the box gutters and the roof sheathing. Then I got my ass down because NO THANK YOU.


Roof, gone! Holy moly.


Here’s where we started off again, for comparison’s sake…


And here’s where we’re at! Oh my! I’m hoping to patch the cornice this weekend and probably remove some more siding, so hopefully weather cooperates and I can get it done. I know at this stage this hardly looks like an improvement, but there’s still a ways to go here, so bear with me! It’s gonna look great. Remember that there will be another window between the first two on the top, which I think it going to be really transformative. I’m so excited to get that one in! And there will be a false window below that (directly to the left of the bay window in this picture), which I’m weirdly EXTREMELY excited about. I’m picking up the (purely ornamental) shutters for it today!! Adding a real window there is not an option because there’s a pesky wall in the way, but that’s fine. I like my walls.

Also, check it out! I sorta last-minute decided to drop a corner board between the larger original section of the house and the smaller kitchen addition on the back. I was worried that this would look totally weird, but it felt like the right way to subtly articulate the two structures and let the original section of the house maintain its correct proportions. I really like how it’s looking, though! The top where it meets the frieze will get trimmed out with some fancy molding, and I think once the solarium addition comes down and everything else gets done, it’s going to look just right.

After looking at a lot of local examples and lots of debate, I think adding wider corner boards to this house is the right move. The original corner boards are only 4″ and these are a whopping 12″ (which looks tiny now that it’s up, but it’s huge!). It’s been posed that the original house might have been built closer to 1830 or so as a late federal-style, which got a Greek Revival/Italianate kind of overhaul in the 1860s, so I’m guessing when they added the cornice and the portico and the columns (and probably the first floor bay window, which I’m keeping), they didn’t want to re-side the house so they left the original corner boards…which I think makes the house look a little top-heavy with that huge elaborate cornice! Kinda cool, right? So even though they aren’t original, I think wider corner boards will go a long way toward really manifesting the intention of that (possible) 1860s renovation.

Fun? Not fun? I’m having fun.


The Wreckage: Part 1

Remember that time a few weeks ago when I decided to restore that side of my house? Well. Having figured out the first huge hurdle of finding the right windows to complement the adjacent original windows that I’m keeping, and then ordering said windows, and then bringing them home…it was time to actually start doing stuff. I enlisted the help of my contractor/neighbor/best buddy, Edwin, and we Got. To. Werk.

I think I spent so much time thinking about how to tackle the exterior that I didn’t totally consider the havoc all of this would wreak on the interior of my house. And hollllyyyyy shit. I’m used to tackling most things myself and have never paid for help with demolition on my own house, so the pace with which things have proceeded is a little alarming! It feels good and bad at the same time, and very weird to have this level of destruction three years into living in what I’d come to regard as a fairly comfortable home. It’s a lot to go down within the space of a week or so.

This whole project involves a lot of spaces that I was fairly successfully using as functional rooms. Moving from the back to the front of the house:

  1. The kitchen: remove doorway to solarium-thing, add two windows on that wall.
  2. “Middle bedroom”: remove the bumped-out bay window and replace it with a single window flush with the original exterior wall of the house.
  3. Dining room: restore the missing third side of the bay window and remove the old awkward addition currently extending from it.
  4. My bedroom: add a window where there was once a “false” window.

Want to see how stuff is looking? Let’s start in my kitchen. Well. Used-to-be-my-kitchen.


This was my kitchen when I bought the house. Yikes! Apparently I never took a photo from this angle again because that doorway out to the solarium-turned-weird-enclosed-skinny-long-leaky-space-thing soon got covered with a ugly curtain and then a big sheet of unfinished drywall in an attempt to insulate the kitchen a little from the frigid solarium-turned-weird-enclosed-skinny-long-leaky-space-thing in the winter. You’ll have to imagine how pretty that was.


Then I did kind of a slapdash renovation of the kitchen that you may or may not recall, which was really just a way to make this kitchen cute and functional for a few years. I tried to do everything SUPER cheap and low-impact until a bigger overhaul down the line, since neither the layout nor the finishes in this kitchen were anything worth keeping in the long haul.

It was a pretty good kitchen. It did the job. Whatever. I ain’t crying over it.


Then this whole side-of-house restoration plan started getting really real really fast, and part of that involves removing this doorway and placing two new windows on this wall. Remember, the windows will be on the exterior wall of the house because that addition beyond the doorway is going away! So out came the casing and old door jamb with that cute transom window, and down to the basement it all went because I don’t throw shit like that away.

That aspirational box of Swiffer pads. Sigh.


One window is going sort of in the region above that radiator, but the other one falls on the wall that divides the kitchen and the pantry, which is what the cabinets in this picture and the fridge are sitting on. The pantry space was at one time a secondary stairwell, converted in the 1930s to two closets (one in the kitchen, one in the dining room), then converted to a single long skinny space for a pantry off the kitchen by me…but the plan has always been to just lose the wall entirely and use the space to create a bigger, better, totally rearranged kitchen that I will never touch again. Until I do.


Bye-bye, cabinets. Scoot over, fridge.


Speaking of the pantry, hello pantry! Good bye, pantry! You’re dead to me.


That was a pretty great pantry. Don’t worry guys, I’ll make another better pantry. We had a nice 18 months, that pantry and I.


Bye bye, wall. Bye bye, sloped part of the ceiling where the stairs used to be. Bye bye, kitchen ceiling (two layers of drywall over furring strips over a very damaged original plaster ceiling).


CAN YOU SEE IT NOW? Good lord. What have I done to my life.


I know it’s not so easy to tell from photos, but losing that wall and getting a bigger kitchen is going to make a HUGE difference. I think I’m gaining less than three feet, but they’re an important three feet. Trust.


Like all of the other walls, this one is filled with brick and mortar insulation that I’ve been removing as I work my way around the house to replace with new insulation. It’s a big heavy dusty hassle but it really does seem like the best thing for the house long term.


Annnndddd, window! Hello, window! Welcome to my mess.


Anddddddd, second window! Hello, second window! Looking good, guys. I’m having a hard time even imagining how much light the kitchen is going to get once the addition comes down, but I think it’s going to be mildly heavenly even amongst the destruction.

So the NEW kitchen will have a stove situated between these windows with counterspace on either side, maybe a sink somewhere in there…I have a plan, I swear. In the short-term, I’ll just put the old cabinets back and live with some kind of janky-ass mess wherein I can still prepare a semi-decent meal. It’ll be great. Don’t worry. I got this.

By the way, the reason the windows aren’t centered on the wall is that I’m trying to make the existing dormer in the room above this look right, so this is where these landed. If you take the space between these new windows and draw a line up the center, you’ll find yourself at the center of that dormer. I think (hope! pray!) that it all looks natural and not weird, but it’s very hard to judge with the addition still hanging off the side of the house and throwing everything off! Here’s hoping, because now it’s done and I’d like to not redo it.

Also! YES, those are original studs now serving as king and jack studs for the new windows—the only new stuff are the headers (they didn’t believe in headers in the mid-1800s…if you wanted a window, you cut a hole!). I know the old wood looks all messed up and rotty but I swear…run it through a planer once and it looks better than brand new. I consider my framing lumber both beautiful and time-tested, so I like to put it right back where it belongs! Even if it’d probably make a sick coffee table or bench.


From the exterior, we’ve now gone from this, above…


To this…


To this…


To this!

Don’t fear, all of that original clapboard was carefully removed, de-nailed, run through a planer, ripped on a table saw, sanded, bad ends cut off, primed on both sides, and I’m in the process of putting it all back up! It’s sort of a process but it’s always so worth it to me when I’m able to reuse as much original material as possible—you really can’t buy this stuff new, it saves a ton of money, and it’s what belongs on the house. Can’t beat that!

I’ve adjusted the process a bit from when I did this to the back of my house last year, including priming the clapboard before putting it up and adding sheathing and weatherwrap between the studs and the siding. The sheathing is a little deceptive—typically you’d use 1/2″ plywood or OSB but I didn’t want to mess with trying to extend the original window casings/sills (which are nailed right to the studs, along with the original clapboard) to compensate for the thickness of sheathing, so I’m using thin 1/4″ ply instead. We also added blocking between the studs which is required by modern code for spans over 8 feet, which should help keep things nice and rigid for years and years to come.


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