All posts in: House

Look! We Have a Dining Room Again!

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

We’re coming up on a year and a half in this house (insane, yes? not just me? k cool.), and even though I’m super proud of the progress that we’ve made in some ways, I feel like we’ve barely even scratched the surface in others! We started in the kitchen out of necessity, then I moved onto the little office so I could teach myself some stuff before I had the opportunity to mess up the more important spaces, then I dove into the laundry room because we were losing our minds trying to keep up with our filthy lives and our lack of laundry-doing ability.

I’ve been dying to really get into the more major rooms in the house, though! The kitchen and laundry room were kind of an exercise in working what we were working with (and in the laundry room, trying to add back some character and detail to tie it in with the rest of the house), and the little office was, well, small and more of a learning exercise than anything else. For the past several months, we’ve basically been living between the kitchen, the laundry room, and our bedroom, since all the other rooms were either jam-packed with stuff or under construction.

NOT ANYMORE! I don’t even really know where to begin talking about the dining room, other than to say that I love this room and have since the very first time we saw the house. It’s the perfect size, it gets beautiful light, it has a bay window (replete with fancy archway!), original moldings, old doors, old windows, all that good stuff. It’s been mocking me relentlessly. When we first moved here, I was completely delusional and wanted to have it pretty much done by Thanksgiving, which definitely didn’t happen. Then we tore out the ceiling in December, and since then the remodeling/restoration process spiraled into much more than I realized it even could when we toured the house initially. Aside from, you know, getting a new ceiling, there was also the matter of removing a non-original closet and sealing up the doorway, getting exposed heating pipes removed and buried in the wall, swapping the radiator with a different radiator and completely changing its location, re-running a lot of the old electrical work, repairing and skim-coating the walls, stripping down and restoring sections of molding, and finally the easy stuff like caulking and painting and moving furniture in and all that.

But! The hard stuff is DONE. I’m not going to say the room is done, because we literally just got it to the point of functioning like a dining room and I’m positive it will change and evolve as time goes by, but whatever! It’s a real room and worth taking pictures of! So there! Eep!

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Here we are on Day 1! The room was rocking some pretty ugly acoustic ceiling tiles, a bad light fixture, and some very wild walls that I will admit to appreciating without wanting to actually live with. The good thing about these walls is that the pattern is actually painted with a patterned roller over walls that were skim-coated probably 50 years ago, so aside from a section of wall across the room, there wasn’t really any wallpaper to strip!

Anyway, I’m a sucker for this view. The molding work in our house is one of my favorite things about it (I love how the door and window casings miter into the baseboards—I don’t think I’ve ever seen that anywhere else!), and the original doors and hardware still make me so swoony and sappy. The door on the right leads into the front parlor (the future library room) and the door on the left leads to a shallow linen closet that I haven’t touched yet.

ANYWAY. READY?

Me too.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Look guys! It’s a real house and stuff! I’m so super stupid happy about this development. Like so happy.

After the ceilings went up (which I’m soooo glad I hired out, after so much internal debate), I went to WERK repairing and skim-coating the necessary sections of wall. I don’t really have tons of pictures, mainly because it was super boring and I was bouncing back from mono and generally living a lot like a zombie, but it happened? Here’s a really bad photo from the other night that sort of shows what I’m talking about:

process

When all was said and done, I’d say the walls were about 50% joint compound and 50% the old pattern craziness. I tested the walls for lead, and luckily the test was negative, so I gave the pattern a sanding while I was sanding the final skim-coat just so I wouldn’t see the dimension of the pattern through the new paint. Totally worked. Groovy.

I painted all of the skim-coated sections and the new ceiling with drywall primer before painting. I mention this because drywall primer is like $10-13/gallon, and new joint compound and drywall REALLY suck in the first coat of paint, so you don’t want to be wasting your more expensive paint on that first coat. The drywall primer does a good job of sealing everything in and prepping for your actual paint.

SPEAKING OF PAINT! I’m so, so, so happy with the paint color. I kid you not: I have somewhere upwards of 20 light grey paint samples stashed away. I hated everything once I painted samples on the wall. Grey is so hard. I was really after a very pale grey, but one that would never, ever go blue or purple on me. I’ve noticed that I really prefer warm grey colors for old houses, so I needed something that had more of a yellow undertone than blue, but wouldn’t look mayonaisse-y or yellowish. It felt totally impossible.

And then something miraculous happened: I got myself a tester can of a Benjamin Moore color called Soft Chamois, and it is PERFECT. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted, I think. It reads very white in the room, but up against actual white, it’s clearly definitely not white. When I started painting late at night, I had a mini panic-session that involved a lot of “am I painting my walls…tan?” but it dried into this gorgeous neutral that never looks cool and also never looks tan/taupe/yellow/custard-ish/etc. Greys and whites are so hard because what looks great in one space might look completely different and awful in another, so I can’t say that this color is perfect by any means, but it’s perfect here and I’m so glad I found a winner! The trim and ceiling are both painted Benjamin Moore Simply White, which is a fairly bright white that’s a little bit warmer than just pulling the can off the shelf. I love how it offsets with the walls. I’m basically very happy about the whole situation.

For all of the paint, I had it color-matched at Lowe’s to the new Valspar Reserve line, and I can honestly say that it’s the nicest paint I’ve ever used! And that includes Benjamin Moore Aura. It’s about $45/gallon (compared to $65 for BM), and the coverage was INSANE. I didn’t prime any of the crazy bright green pattern, and the Valspar Reserve covered it in one coat and looked flawless in two. I ended up using less than a gallon of paint on the ceiling and only a little over one gallon on the walls. I made sure to clean all of the moldings with TSP substitute before I painted, and it’s already dried really hard and solid and smooth and looks awesome. I’m really impressed with it.

So now that you know about my harrowing struggle of choosing a paint color, more pictures? Let’s do it.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

One of the things that drove me crazy about the drop ceiling was the way the archway clearly did not fit under it, so the situation was remedied with some creative crown molding work and a ton of caulk. It was not good. Trust.

Since the radiators were probably added somewhere around 40 years after the house was built, I didn’t feel bad about changing the location of the one in the dining room. It was very oddly placed between the opening to the bay window and the other window, obscured the moldings of both, and generally cluttered up a wall that already has, well, a lot going on.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Yayyy! One thing I did NOT do was get into the bay window. I’m saving that for another time. There’s some water damage to the windows and moldings in there, and it’s going to be one of those slow jobs that I can deal with another time. So I stuck a Fiddle Leaf Fig in it because that is what I do.

SOMEDAY, the other window in the dining room will look out to the outdoors, but right now it faces into that weird enclosed porch situation on the side of the house. The side porch is really horrible and falling apart and full of tools and stuff, so I hung a cheap vinyl shade on the outside so I wouldn’t have to look at it in the meantime. Fancy!

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Because who DOESN’T love before-and-after shots carefully taken from the same angle, here’s another one! The closet on the right is the one that I removed (the space became part of the pantry). The door and casing were removed entirely (hoarded in the basement, of course, because you never know) and I framed in the doorway and patched it with drywall. Then I skim-coated the entire wall…aside from some missing baseboard molding (again, different project, different day), you’d never know the doorway was ever there!

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

All that work didn’t end up being all that important, I guess, because I went and bought an enormous antique cabinet and stuck it where the door used to be anyhow. But anyway! I swear I did all that hard work and stuff.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

While we’re here, let’s talk about this cabinet! I LOVE it. It’s about 4 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and I found it at a clock shop in Uptown Kingston months and months ago. I casually stalked it for a few months, and then the store owner decided to renovate and clear things out at discounted prices, and sold it to me after some back-and-forth for $450. I’m guessing parts of it are about the age of the house (maybe a little older), but I have a feeling that it used to be part of a longer run of built-ins and various parts have been tacked on over time, like the crown molding and the bead-board backing, and I think the doors might actually be old storm windows…who knows! The point is that it’s here, and we got it into the house, and somehow Max and I managed to hoist the top onto the bottom all by ourselves, and I think it’s somewhat magnificent.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

The interior of the whole thing used to be this custard yellow color, but I don’t play that. When I got it home, I wiped down the inside with TSP substitute, primed it with shellac-base primer, and painted it with two coats of semi-gloss Bedford Grey, which is a Martha Stewart color that I had leftover from painting the frame and rolling cabinet in the laundry room.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

I love how it turned out! Bedford Grey is SUCH a good stand-by kind of color. For now at least, the top pretty much just holds pretty stuff I’ve picked up here and there (mildly obsessed with that green crock, FYI), except that big wine decanter in the bottom left corner that doesn’t fit anywhere else. The drawers hold napkins, placemats, candles, all that kind of stuff, and the bottom has all our tech crap like the printer and modem and airport. And also booze. It also holds booze.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Let’s take a moment to recall how awful the ceilings were. SURE, FINE, they could have been a lot better with a coat of paint, but the best thing was really to take them down, even though it ended up meaning taking the plaster ceiling above it down, too, and truly starting over.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

We can agree that this is way better, right? Like if we agree on nothing else at least we can agree on this one thing.

You never really know how a drywall job has panned out until after you get it painted, and I’m happy to say that these ceilings are terrific! The guys did such a great job. Even though I wish blueboard and plaster veneer had been an option budget-wise, I’m more than OK with this.

The medallion, by the way, looks great. I’m thrilled with the size of it (32 inches!), and I think the design really suits the house without overwhelming the room.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Before I put the medallion in place, I ended up painting it with a mix of watered-down primer and plaster of paris, which I mixed into kind of a soupy paste and slathered on. The mixture helped fill in some of the crevasses and soften the details, so the medallion looks more like real plaster and more like it’s aged along with the house and been painted a bunch of times. I feel a little ridiculous about all of this, but WHATEVER. IT HAPPENED. WE’RE ALL GOING TO HAVE TO LIVE WITH MY FAUX-FINISHING WAYS.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

You might recognize the light fixture from our kitchen renovation! I bought this thing at a thrift store in Sweden for $7 a couple of years ago, and I still love it in all it’s knock-off-y glory. We tried to love it as a kitchen light, but we wound up really needing something that diffused light better and more evenly, so the kitchen got a simple globe light and this went back into the lighting hoard. I LOVE it for the dining room, though. I think it looks adorable and it casts perfect light for dining, especially when it’s dimmed down all romantic-like.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

Max and I found the figure drawing at an antiques store for $40 a while ago. I sort of forgot about him but then I was hunting around for something to hang over the radiator and out he came. Nothing says “Welcome to Gay Gardens!” like a strange naked man on the wall while you’re eating dinner, am I right? I dig it. It was between this or a large oil painting I found, which Max swears is a portrait of Sigourney Weaver. (I tried, Sigourney.)

Those who have followed my slow descent into total madness closely may recall my fondness for the NORDEN table from IKEA. When I mentioned wanting this table, there was SERIOUS dramarama and outcry in the comments about how terrible and cheap and awful this table was, but I like what I like and I found one on Craigslist for $250 and I was like GET IN MY HOUSE, NORDEN.

A word about the NORDEN: it’s a very nice piece of furniture. The size is more than generous, it’s solid wood, it expands, and it’s so simple and versatile that it could work in a million different spaces and look amazing. This table is from 1999 and was used in an office, where I can only assume it took a beating, and it’s still in awesome shape and solid as a rock despite having been disassembled and reassembled multiple times.

will say, though, the design of this table has changed a bit over the years. IKEA has since made the table longer, for starters, but they’ve also changed the top—on the older NORDEN tables, each strip of birch is continuous from one side to the other, but now the top is made of many smaller pieces and looks more like a butcherblock. There’s also something different about the finish…my table is super smooth and the new ones have the slightest texture and feel a little…plastic-y? I don’t know…it’s still a really nice piece of furniture (especially for the price) but I do think the older design is nicer. Luckily the seller had saved the original assembly instructions, so I could figure out how to put the thing together!

Anyway. I have no idea if it’ll stick around forever. But I’m totally happy with it for now and I actually like the way it looks with the chairs, so…that’s that.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

OK, so, the doors! After I’d painted the walls and trim, I felt comfortable pulling the trigger on painting the doors black. I did this in my apartment like 3 years ago, and loved it there, and I already had the black paint, so I went for it! I really live on the edge that way. I used the same color: Onyx by Benjamin Moore, which continues to be my favorite black. It’s very slightly off-black, so not as stark as a true black paint, but it never looks even a little bit navy to me, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine with almost-black colors.

I’m going to be totally honest: I’m not entirely sure about this yet! We hung the doors 2 nights ago, and at first I was like “OMG I HATE IT” and then the next morning I was like “ok, maybe I don’t hate it totally” and then by last night I was kind of into it. I think it’s the white hardware that’s sort of throwing me. The hardware is original and beautiful and non-negotiable, and I knew maybe it was kind of a risk to do something so high-contrast, and…I think I just need to live with it for a while. I call them my Wednesday Addams doors.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

I love this itty bitty mirror. Just saying.

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

|Manhattan Nest Dining Room Makeover|

I think that’s about it! I don’t  know what else to say! I’m so happy to be able to use this space again, and excited that I pretty much just get to futz with it from here on out. The only really major thing left is to refinish the floors (they’re in terrible shape…somehow the pictures make them look a lot better!), but that should really wait until more of the house has been renovated…it’s probably a next spring/summer thing. We’ll get there!

Now onto the next room! I vote library.

First There Were Ceilings, and Then There Were Walls!

header

First thing’s first: MONO UPDATE! Since I know everyone gives as many shits about my health as I do (lately, more shits than usual)—I feel a lot better! The fevers are gone, the sore throat is pretty much gone…I feel alright! Mostly I’m just spending a lot of time being mocked by my unfinished dining room and unfinished library and unfinished entryway and unfinished house and being told by everyone to put down the joint compound and trying really hard to not do a whole lot. This is difficult for me, because I like doing stuff. The whole thing is basically excruciating, since it’s making me turn toward things like my horrendously untended email inbox and sorting through mail and other stuff I hate doing. Luckily, in an act of stunning forethought—prescience, maybe—we got cable about a month ago and I have been settling RIGHT into the fragile Victorian lady lifestyle I was maybe always meant for? If fragile Victorian ladies had HGTV?

I have seen so many people decide to Love It and even more people decide to List It. I have watched Handsome Scott McGillivray transform many an income property. I have literally spent countless hours debating whether those Property Brothers like boys. And that’s just the Canadian stuff! I’ve also re-watched a lot of Rehab Addict and even discovered that Daryl’s Restoration Over-Hall is actually a really engaging show, and I was totally FREAKING OUT during the auction on Flipping the Block. All in just a few week’s time! So I’d say this whole mononucleosis experience has been time well spent. I never knew more about the mass public’s love of “open concept” living than I do now. Nobody likes walls anymore. It’s all been very informative.

ANYWAY, whilst in the thick of my mono-ness, I awoke last Saturday morning at 7:30 AM (which is not so fun when you are a feverish mucus-y disaster FYI, but I soldiered through) because the magical skim-coater wizard man arrived to start working on the hallway walls! I let him in, dragged myself back upstairs, went back to sleep, woke up a few hours later, dragged myself back downstairs to assess the progress, then went back to the warm, safe embrace of Canadian Home and Garden Television. While somebody else fixed my house. It was the most luxe ever, maybe, except for the nausea and stuff.

I tried to explain to the skim-coater that I was sick with Mono, but I’m not sure he totally understood, which made the whole thing feel extra bratty and ridiculous. Like, “here, I have an idea! You do this awful task for hours on end by yourself while I lounge around! If you need me, I’ll be upstairs, lounging.” I was riddled with shame throughout.

In case you need a refresher on the past year, the deal with this hallways was this:

1. When we bought the house, it had a few extra walls and doorways (one that bisected the entryway to create a vestibule, one at the back of the staircase to create the entry to the first floor apartment, and one at the top of the stairs with a door to the second floor apartment that continued down the length of the hallway, wrapping the stair banister). The two doorways at the at the front of the house were also blocked off. All of that came down last summer in various fits of demolition madness. (here, here, and here)

2. Also last summer, I spend days and days stripping wallpaper off all the walls and exposing the bare plaster. BOY WAS THAT A GOOD TIME.

3. In all the intervening months, it didn’t really make sense to fix the hallway walls because we were messing with electrical and plumbing, and I figured since these walls were already in pretty rough shape, it made the most sense to try to contain all of the holes to the hallway. So the walls basically got more and more destroyed as each new electrical path got run, we re-routed heating pipes through the walls, etc. etc. By the end they sort of resembled Swiss cheese. EVERY SINGLE contractor/handyman/electrician/plumber/acquaintance who has walked through my door has informed me that I should just cover the walls in 3/8″ drywall and call it a day, but I never considered that. First of all, it would be too easy, and I like things to be difficult and miserable. Second of all, I want my plaster walls to look like plaster walls! Drywall just isn’t the same. So there.

4. All along, I was planning to fix these walls myself. I spent a long time teaching myself how do major plaster repair and skim coating in the little upstairs office, so I felt like technically I was capable. And if I am technically capable of something, I should do it, right?

WRONG. Sometimes that logic is just bad. After seeing what a bang-up job the skim-coater did on a section of the hallway ceiling, my basic thought process was this:

Me: Wow, look at that ceiling.

Me: Yeah, I bet you could never make it look that good.

Me: Shut up, asshole, I totally could. It would take me many days and be miserable and messy, but I could.

Me: You probably couldn’t. Also, note that it took that guy like two hours to do this. And it’s so smooth. He barely has to sand it or anything. You could never do that.

Me: I’ll show you! I’ll show you when I tackle these walls!

Me: You should see how much it would cost to just hire it out.

Me: Hire it out?? Are you high?? You disgust me. How will I learn? How will I grow? How will I feel the satisfaction of looking at these walls and thinking smugly to myself “you did that, you handsome fox”? Never.

Me: What’s that? I couldn’t hear you from up there on your high horse. Just price it out.

Me: OK, if it’ll shut you up.

So that’s what I did. And the quote was $500. For the entire hallway, upstairs and downstairs.

Now, $500 is good amount of money, don’t get me wrong. But this is a BIG job and skim-coating is one of those things that takes skill and stuff. I was expecting something more like 1-2K, so $500 to have someone come in and do the whole thing in a couple of days AND have it look really good?

I never said I was a role model. I thought it over for like a day and then I was like WHY IN THE WORLD AM I EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS? YOU’RE HIRED.

Because the thing about skim coating? It’s fucking miserable. Especially if you aren’t good at it, it’s just messy and slow and miserable and dirty and just not fun even a little. Then, since I’m not that good at it, I have to rely on a LOT of sanding to get everything smooth. Which is both tiring and also messy. And the space was so big and then the Mono happened and I was just like…UGH. I’d rather do ANYTHING else. Does anyone watch The Leftovers on HBO? A professional skim-coater is basically my personal Wayne. He could take my pain away. I just had to let him and also pay him money.

abovestairs1

Just so you don’t think I’m a total pussy, prior to making this decision, I had actually started working on skim-coating the upstairs hallway, and it was going characteristically slowly and miserably. I started with trying to repair areas of the ceiling and this crazy area in the stairwell. I got into this a little bit back when we got into our box gutter catastrophe, but basically this whole wall of the house has bowed out over time, and since this is about the center of the house, the bow is the worst here. About a foot of the plaster at the top of the wall had totally separated from the lath and was just sort of hanging there, and the whole wall sort of coved inward and just looked super funny and wrong. Also, obviously, the main exterior wall has separated a great deal from the perpendicular wall at the top of the stairs, and the whole thing just looked AWESOME and totally not like a crumbly busted up mess at all.

abovestairs2

Soooo, I started by using my oscillating tool to cut out fairly large chunks of the plaster (basically cutting out everything that had separated from the lath) and replaced the chunks with 1/2” drywall screwed into the lath and studs where possible. Since the big gap between the two walls wasn’t really big enough for a drywall patch (and there wasn’t really anything to screw into), I did a totally wrong thing and used spray-foam insulation, sort of to insulate but mostly as a rigid backer for my reconstructed corner. When the foam was dry, I used a utility knife to cut it back below the surface, and then constructed the corner using fiberglass mesh tape and joint compound (the 45-minute setting type powered kind).

Whatever, it totally worked. Sometimes you just have to do what works.

Then I had to use more fiberglass mesh and joint compound to try to blend the drywall with the plaster and make the corner look good, and all of this standing on a super high ladder super far above the floor and…ugh. This is what I’m talking about. I did this for hours, and it still looked bad, and needed more work, and it was tiring, and…I just hate skim coating.

So anyway. Handing over the reigns to somebody with more experience and more skill to finish off the mess I’d made just felt so GOOD AND RIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL. So sue me. Take away my DIY merit badges. See if I care.

upstairs-hallway-after

I don’t even care, because LOOK AT MY WALLLSSSSS.

No seriously, open your goddamn eyes and look at them. They look like real walls. HALLELUJAH.

I know it’s just some joint compound and the walls aren’t even painted and the ceiling still needs some work (I hired him just to do the walls, so I still have some work to finish up there…) and the doors and the trim look like mayonnaise now, but MY WALLS LOOK LIKE WALLS!!! That corner above the stairs ended up pretty wonky (not as wonky as the picture makes it look), but whateverrrrr. Old house, don’t care.

demopic

Let’s remember what this looked like just a couple weeks ago….

frontdoor

And now!! Words cannot even express, y’all. Not walking into the house and immediately seeing so quite so much craziness is so thrilling.

process

For those interested in the process…I was kind of out of it during this whole event, but I was paying attention somewhat to how things were happening. Basically…

Step 1: All large holes and voids were filled with 1/2 sheetrock, which were screwed to lath or studs. For smaller pieces, he had this special technique of making the piece of sheetrock just the size he needed, then removing the excess rock from the outer edges of the paper, so the paper sort of overlapped the seams. Huh!

Step 2. Despite all of the many holes, these walls were actually in really solid shape with very few large cracks. If I were doing it myself I might have tried embedding large pieces of fiberglass mesh screen at least on parts of the walls, but he just dig out the cracks a little, covered them with fiberglass tape, and skimmed over that. Let’s hope it holds up! Plaster is a fickle mistress and continues to shift and crack over time, so it’s sort of hard to say how this will look in 5-10 years. I hope good.

Step 3. Skim-coating! Interestingly, the pro just used a 6″ knife, a mud pan, and a 10 or 12″ knife for the whole thing—no hawk and trowel nonsense. That’s pretty much exactly what I do…he just did it a lot better and faster and had better control over everything. He also mixed his own joint compound using a mixture of pre-mixed all-purpose joint compound, water, and 45-minute setting-type powdered joint compound. I thought that was interesting…my guess is that mixing in pre-mixed joint compound gave him a bit longer working time and made the final coating a bit easier to sand. The powdered stuff dries REALLY hard, which is nice, but this is fine too. I’m not complaining.

Step 4. Sanding! Since he had so much control and skill during the application, the sanding wasn’t too terrible. Definitely hard, definitely dusty, definitely took him a few hours, but not terrible.

june2013 august2014 september2014

After over a year of feeling like the progress on this house has been sort of slowwww, all of a sudden it’s feeling pretty fast! I couldn’t resist going back to one of the first photos I ever took of this area and comparing it to today…it’s a HUGE difference! Even thought there’s still a very deceptive amount of work to do in this space (even just getting all the moldings ready to be painted is going to be an enormous task! And don’t even get me started on the stairs…), it’s soooo exciting to finally see the house really taking shape into what, I guess, it’s always kind of looked like in my head! I knew she’d clean up nice.

Radiator Shuffle Update!

About a month ago, I posted about shuffling around a few radiators in the house. We removed exposed heating pipes in the dining room that fed a radiator upstairs and moved them onto the other side of the wall in the pantry. Then we moved the hallway radiator onto a wall in the dining room, and then we moved the original dining room radiator onto a different wall in the hallway. And by “we,” I mean my plumbers. The only part I did was boss people around and pretend I didn’t notice them smoking Newports in my basement.

Apparently, I’m a very “while we’re at it, why don’t we just…” type of renovator. I thought we were pretty much done messing with the radiator plumbing, but then I started looking around the house and thinking about how nice it would be to eliminate more of the exposed heating pipes. It’s funny, because it really isn’t something that bothered me before, but if I had to choose between exposed heating pipes and not-exposed heating pipes, I mean, no contest. Sometimes I see before-and-after pictures of historic restorations, and burying the heat pipes is always such a nice touch. I wouldn’t even have been thinking about any of this if our ceilings were intact and all of that, but while everything was wide open anyway? Seemed worthwhile to explore the options.

exposedpipeslibrary

Here’s an oooollllllddddd picture of the exposed heating pipes in the soon-to-be-library downstairs, which feed the radiator in our bedroom upstairs. They ran up through the floor, right in front of the window casings, and up into the ceiling. Not so great, right?

I actually asked my plumber about losing these pipes a while ago, and he basically said that we’d need to run them up the opposite wall (where the faux-fireplace will be) and then across all of the joists, basically meaning we’d need to drill two 1″ (0r 1.25″, maybe?) holes through each of the 14-ish joists, which just sounded like an all-around bad idea. I get twitchy when the electricians have to drill out a new path for a few electrical wires in the basement, and that’s nothing compared to this. Realistically I guess it would probably be OK, but I get really freaked out about messing with major structural elements like that. So I nixed that idea.

This is the kind of thing where it comes in handy to, like, have a brain and sort of know what’s going on with your house, though.

After we knew we were ripping out the ceiling in the hallway in preparation for the new sheetrock to go up, I started thinking about running the pipes up through a wall cavity in the hallway wall and across the ceiling, parallel instead of perpendicular to the joists. I ran the idea by my plumber, and he said it was a good one, and I felt pretty clever, and we decided to do it.

holesinwall

Sorry this picture is so laughably lousy, but basically I had to cut three very large holes in the plaster wall to the left of the door so that they could snake the new pipes up. The new plumbing is 1″ PEX piping, which is a fairly inexpensive and easy to install plastic piping with some flex, which makes it really good for these types of jobs. The hole in the middle was to expose the fire-stop so that they could drill through that.

When I made the holes, I drew them using a pencil and a level so that they’d be perfect(ish) rectangles, and then cut them out using my handy oscillating tool, which is the only thing I really know of that can make such clean cuts in plaster. These holes will get patched over with drywall and then skim-coated, and you should never know they’re there when all is said and done.

exposedpipesfoyer

Once we decided to remove the pipes running up through the library, I sort of became fixated with getting rid of the ones in the entryway, too. One of them covered part of the door casing (that’s the door that leads to the porch) and the other sort of cut that wall in half—there’s another door to the right just out of frame. Again, totally not something I would even be thinking about….but if the ceiling is open and the wall has huge holes in it…it’s kind of now or never, right?

SO. OUT THEY CAME. NO MORE EXPOSED PIPES.

Actually, that’s not totally true. In the back corner of the hallway, there are still two pipes that feed the radiator in the upstairs bathroom. These will eventually get re-routed, too, but that sort of requires me coming up with a renovation plan for the upstairs bathroom, which just feels sooooo far down the line. At the very least, the pipes will get moved inside the downstairs bathroom walls, but it’s also possible we’ll end up doing something entirely different for heat up there. Anyway, they can stay until I figure it out.

pexinwall

LOOK, TECHNOLOGY! So those four plastic pipes are replacing the four exposed ones I just talked about above. In case you are lost and confused. In case you even care. Is this post even worth writing? Whatever. It’s happening.

pexinceiling

Look at that madness! I know this sort of seems like it’s wrong and shouldn’t work the same way, but it does! So whatever!

Before we put the ceilings up, we insulated these first two bays where the pipes run. As I mentioned in the ceiling post, we didn’t want to insulate the whole ceiling, but insulating the exterior wall and around the pipes seemed prudent.

pexthroughfloor

OK, FOLKS. Let this be a lesson to you. Even if you aren’t doing your own electrical/plumbing/whatever, it ALWAYS pays to pay attention and have some basic understanding of how things work. My contractors probably all hate me because I shadow them pretty closely while they’re working, but it’s IMPORTANT. The photo above, for instance, is how they were planning to connect the newly-plumbed radiators. It’s hard to tell what’s going on in the picture maybe, but basically the original elbow-shaped piece is connected to a new reducer (the black piece) to bring the size of the pipe down from the original larger size (I can’t remember the dimension) to the new 1″ size. That reducer is attached to the PEX adaptor (the brass piece). The end of the length of PEX is basically temporarily expanded with a special tool, slipped over the end of this adaptor, and then quickly tightens and forms a water-tight seal.

So basically the plan was that all of this would be exposed above the floor! You’d see all of this, and about an inch or so of PEX wrapping the bottom of the brass part. Above the floor! NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.

reducersolution

Before they could get as far as drilling out the floor and enacting this plan, I asked why we couldn’t just use a 6 or 8 inch pipe of the original size, bring that down through the floor, and then reduce it and transition to PEX below the floor level. The plumbers, adorably, didn’t seem to understand the utility of this plan, but agreed that there was nothing wrong with it aside from them having to go back to the store to pick up some extra parts. So in the end it cost slightly more time and money, but the result is WAY better looking. You’d never know these radiators were messed with! Crisis averted!

pipethroughfloor

Much better, yes? Yes.

I need to pick up escutcheons for all the radiators, but that can wait. Maybe I’ll agonize over that decision, too.

As you might have gathered by this point, another little communication snafu between the plumbers and I is that they HIGHLY recommended reconnecting all of the radiators AND filling the system before the ceilings went up to test for leaks in all of the new plumbing, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I’m glad we did it, since it turned out there were some minor leaks that needed to be fixed. Had I known this was part of the plan, I would have been focused on at least skim coating and painting the spaces behind where the radiators would go in preparation for their install, but I didn’t get a chance to do that. Boo.

The original plan was to try to have the disconnected radiators sandblasted and powder coated and the floors refinished while they were away, which admittedly was a little ambitious, but it looks like that’s not happening! At least this year. I’ve now had two quotes for refinishing the floors and both refinishers have said that sanding around the radiators isn’t an issue at all, so it’s not a huge deal. And as much as I’d like to have the radiators refinished, it can also wait a year or two or three. Maybe at that point we can just spring to have all of the radiators in the house done at once, which would be pretty fancy, so maybe it’s all for the best.

Whatever! I’m just happy that we went for it and buried the exposed heating pipes, some of the radiators are in better locations, and they all still work! All the other stuff isn’t that important. Right now I’m kind of just riding the high of finally having CEILINGS and being *this close* to being able to start painting the dining room and library and putting furniture in and living in, like, a real house! EEP!

All this is a little hard to do, though, when you have…MONO! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, last week I came down with what I thought was some wretched late-summer cold/flu thing, and I did a very uncharacteristic thing and actually visited a doctor, and it turns out I have mono! Like a fucking teenager who kissed too many boys at junior prom. How did this happen? I DON’T KNOW. But it is pissing me off, because I have a lot to do, and it took me four days to write this blog post because I kept falling asleep, and I basically feel like a pile of diseased garbage with internet access. So, forgive me if the pace is a little slow…I’m trying…but I’m also so tired and nauseous and congested and did I mention tired? Like laughably tired. I’m totally worthless.

I have to go nap now.

Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present: CEILINGS!

It’s been a long time coming, so I won’t drag it out: WE HAVE CEILINGS AGAIN! SEE?!?!?!?

diningceilingafter

Backing up *just a touch*, since you know how I like to get into the nitty-gritty of it all…wayyyyy back in December, I got it in my brain that it was high time to see what was going on under the acoustic ceiling tiles in the dining room and front parlor (which we’re calling the library now, I guess!). I don’t even totally recollect my logic with this one…we’d been in the house 6 months, we’d basically JUST gotten heat, I was working on the upstairs office, the laundry room was pretty much next on the list…and for some reason I decided to destroy two relatively functional rooms? And not only that, but remove ceilings in the dead of winter in an uninsulated house? I can’t be accountable for my actions. Going back and reading the posts, apparently I didn’t really know why I did it then, so I especially don’t know now. It just happened.

ceilingbefore

To review: the ceilings both looked basically like this. I was not a fan. The tiles were probably installed in the 1960s or 70s, and then bad crown molding was installed around the edges.

I was HOPING at the time that they’d just been put up over the plaster to add a little heat/sound insulation. I had grand delusions of removing the tiles and finding a pretty plaster ceiling above it, in need of only mild repairs. Hell, there could even be the original ceiling medallions, hiding right up there! Who could know!

missingplaster2

It quickly became clear that the tiles were installed as a quick and easy solution to conceal the original plaster ceilings, which were COMPLETELY trashed. I really wanted to save them, but they were just way too far gone.

The demo of these ceilings was HORRENDOUS. It took days and was so incredibly dusty, and heavy, and generally completely hellish. Even considering the condition of the ceilings, it still felt crappy having to remove so much original material from the house, but we had to do what we had to do.

postdemo

After the demo, things pretty much looked like this. At the time, I was completely delusional about how long it would take to get new ceilings in the rooms. I literally remember telling people that I thought we’d be drywalling in a couple of weeks. All we really had to do was run a little electrical and slap some drywall up. How long could that take? I’d have ceilings in no time!

Man. So untrue. So terribly false. I’m basically the village idiot of Blogland.

First of all, having the ceilings open just seemed to afford more and more opportunities for “invisible” improvements, so what started as just re-running the existing electrical (which was, like, 3 circuits) ended as re-running all the existing electrical as well as adding a bunch of new circuits to feed receptacles and light fixtures and coaxial ports and crap upstairs. We also took the opportunity to do some alterations to the plumbing, which I’m really excited about. Next post! It’s too much to get into all of it right now.

ANYWAY, the whole ordeal seemed to drag on forever. Even though the ceilings were wide open, the walls were not, and there was a lot of fishing wires from the panel in the basement, up through the walls, and across the ceilings, up through the second floor, up those walls, up into the attic, through the attic floor joists, and down into the ceilings upstairs…it was hard work. And since my electrician is both busy and flakey (and cheap, and licensed in Kingston, which is why I keep working with him…), what was really something like a 4-5 day job got spread out over MONTHS. Then we had to get it inspected, which took an additional couple of weeks to schedule…and maybe I added some more things to the plumbing list…it just went on and on.

The plus side of the slowness is that I feel like it really gave me the time to think everything through. So in the end, we’re basically DONE with electrical and plumbing for a while (until the downstairs bathroom rough-in, I guess), which is very exciting. I feel like I really took advantage of the opportunities presented by having no ceilings and I can look back without regrets. I think. I hope.

SO. After months of hemming and hawing over whether I’d attempt to do the ceilings myself (and hearing lots of input on both sides—thank you!), I hired it out. The general consensus seemed to be that this was a job better left to the pros, and since we’re talking about big, important spaces in the house, I REALLY didn’t want to spend weeks trying to DIY this and then end up with bad-looking ceilings, especially after all the work and expense of everything behind the ceilings. Max wisely flat-out refused to be involved, so between all the materials, renting equipment, and at least hiring a second set of hands, it’s not like the DIY option was all that cheap, either.

Part of the serious complication with this job is the joists.  The house is post-and-beam construction, so the wood is hand-milled and irregular. With plaster and lath, a lot of that irregularity can be compensated for by a smooth plaster job. Drywall isn’t really like that, though—it’s rigid but has some flex, meaning that unless we wanted a really wavy ceiling where you’d probably see every joist (and worse, every seam!), it was imperative to level everything out. In the dining room, the archway molding in front of the bay window is only about 2″ below the joists, meaning that dropping the whole ceiling wasn’t really an option. Even if it had been an option, who wants to do that? So the goal was to keep the ceilings as HIGH as possible while still making them as level as possible. Big task. Scary to entrust to a stranger. Scary to DIY. Everything is scary. Hold me.

So I got four quotes, and they were ALL OVER THE PLACE.

1. The guy who swooped in and repaired our box gutters the first time around, Shane, gave me a quote for the dining room and the library. He understood the issue with the joists, and I really liked working with him before, BUT he didn’t seem to have too much drywalling experience, so that kind of scared me. Then he came back with a quote: $3,200. Yikes. Everyone says drywall installation is cheap and fast, so I wasn’t expecting that!

2. Guy #2 I found on Craigslist. He was more of a handyman, but seemed to have experience with drywall. He was also super hot, which is a huge bonus in my book. Unfortunately, he didn’t really understand the issue with the joists, and kept telling me that it should be fine to just shim out a couple small spots and slap the drywall up, which didn’t sit well. His quote for the two rooms: $1,600, including materials. Definitely an improvement, but I didn’t feel like he understood the complexity of the job so I sort of knew I wasn’t going to hire him.

3. Guy #3 was recommended by one of the electricians. Electrician guy told me he was SUPER cheap, had done work in his own house that turned out flawlessly, and he was really friendly and responsive over the phone and showed up when he said he would and all that. I really liked him—he seemed to understand everything I was saying, had good solutions, and was experienced. He assured me before leaving that he’d give me a good price and that he wasn’t the type of guy trying to gut clients. I actually asked him to quote for the two rooms AND the pantry (since it’s small) and skim-coating the old drywall ceiling in the hallway (more on that in a minute). His quote: $7,800. ALMOST EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS. Jesus Christ. NO.

4. Then this guy moved in next door. I introduced myself, and he was really nice, and we’d talk every now and then through the fence. It took me a few weeks to notice that on the side of his truck, there was a decal for his construction business! And it specifically listed drywall as one of his services! So I asked him what he was up to, and if he wanted to come over and give me a quote, and he said yeah, and came over, and took measurements, and talked to me about my concerns, and was generally lovely and confident that he could do a good job. I asked him for the same quote as guy #3 (both rooms, pantry, and downstairs hallway skim-coating), but he said the hallway wasn’t really even worth skim-coating and we should just rip it down and start over. His quote: $1,800 + materials.

I honestly have no real idea how much this should all cost, just to be completely frank. $1,800 still seemed kind of high to me, to be honest, but that was more colored by everyone telling me how cheap drywall installation should be. The whole joist-leveling thing makes the job WAY more complicated, so I’m assuming that was a big factor. It’s not a small job and required several days of work and 2-3 people, so the number actually seemed pretty fair, even if it was higher than I was hoping. Thinking I could maybe save a little bit of money, I asked for another quote for JUST the two rooms, excluding the pantry and hallway, and the price dropped to $1,600 + materials. So for an extra $200, I can have both of those spaces done quickly and by professionals? I mean. OK. And this guy lives next door, which might make things awkward if he does a bad job, but also makes him easy to find and less likely to flake out on me since we see each other almost everyday.

SO. HE WAS HIRED.

ceilinglessfoyer

In preparation for his arrival, I tore down the ceiling in the hallway. This ceiling was already replaced with sheetrock in the early 70s, but it looked TERRIBLE. I don’t really have any pictures detailing that, but I guess this was when drywall was still nailed up instead of screwed into place. There were seams EVERYWHERE because whoever installed it used fairly small pieces of drywall. You could literally see every single nailhead, some of which had been slathered in caulk. There was about a 1-2″ gap between the ceilings and the walls, which had been stuffed with newspapers and paper-taped over. Paper tape doesn’t really adhere to bare plaster, so the tape had all separated over time…the whole thing was just a damn mess. So even though I wasn’t super excited about MORE demo, it was the best option.

ceilinglessfoyer2

The first time drywall was installed on the hallway ceiling, they installed it over the lath (but had removed the plaster). Since the lath isn’t structurally necessary and just added thickness (which was a bummer, because the sheetrock covered the top of the molding around the front door), I opted to remove the lath, too.

What this ceiling taught me is that I never want to hear ANYONE complain about demo’ing drywall. It was literally child’s play compared to plaster demo. The whole thing came down in about an hour and was bagged up and in a Bagster in another hour, and I barely even broke a sweat. The hardest part was taking down the lath and cleaning up all the plaster keys that were hanging out above it, but it wasn’t so bad. Max helped me and we had it knocked out and cleaned up in a couple of hours.

ANYWAY. Then the plumbers did some more stuff with that ceiling opened up, and then it was time for the drywallers to come in! EEEEP!

The drywallers brought in all the drywall first (they overbought by a couple of sheets, but that’s OK…I’ll end up using it elsewhere, I’m sure!), and some 2″x3″x8′ pieces of lumber. Their original plan to level out the joists was to nail 2x3s to a few of the really wacky joists and get on with things.

Once they really got up in the ceiling, though, they realized just how wonky everything was. Some of the joists were off by a good couple of inches, the whole ceiling was sloped, all the joists were bowed in the middle…yikes! So my contractor quickly re-evaluated and went to buy enough 16-foot 2x4s to sister in every joist. When they got back, they ran a laser level to figure out the low point, and then ran the 2x4s *slightly* above that level so that we’d still be able to see the top of the moldings when the drywall went up. They then planed down a couple of really low spots on a couple of joists—it was a negligible amount, so it definitely shouldn’t affect anything structurally or anything like that.

edwin

This is about the point at which I became really glad I hired this out. Yes, it’s a good chunk of change, but I don’t think this is a solution I would have come to by myself, and it literally probably would have taken me weeks and ended up mediocre and I would have been so sad forever. They had the tools and the know-how and enough hands and bodies to get it done.

sisteringjoists

The guys spent almost the entirety of Day 1 working on leveling out the joists, which I was so grateful for! Once the new, straight 2x4s were in place, you could really see how wonky the original beams are—all of the sistering really made all the difference, here. Since I opted to go with a flat fee instead of an hourly rate, I’m so glad they really took the time to do things right.

insulation

I decided to add some R-38 fiberglass insulation just to the exterior walls, basically butting up against the brick nogging. A lot of readers suggested insulating the whole ceiling both for heat and sound, but you actually don’t really want to do that in a single-family home. If the house was still divided into apartments and on two separate heating systems, then yes, but here you actually want the heat to rise in the winter to help heat the upstairs and in the summer so that both floors don’t turn into oversized saunas. There is blown-in cellulose insulation between the upstairs ceiling and the attic floor, which is pretty much exactly how it should be given the house’s current arrangement. If we ever get around to finishing the attic, we’ll likely remove that insulation (that should only be, like, the worst job ever) and insulate the attic walls and ceiling (probably with closed-cell spray foam insulation, because technology).

libraryceilingup

Watching the drywall go up was, like, the most exciting thing EVER. Even before the taping and mudding, the difference in the rooms already felt HUGE. After living in these cavernous, dark spaces for almost nine months, the drywall immediately made everything feel infinitely brighter and taller and more complete. After all that time, I think I sort of forgot how amazing the natural light is in this house. Of course it’s one of the reasons I fell in love with it in the first place, but getting more of an inkling of how it will look all finished and painted and beautiful is super duper thrilling.

foyerceilingmudded

I’m SO glad we decided to spend the extra time and money doing the hallway ceiling. The guys only used 5 separate pieces of sheetrock (instead of, like, 15, as before!), and it’s all level and smooth and very *slightly* higher than it was before, and it just looks great. The guys taped the seams with fiberglass mesh tape and did 3 coats of joint compound before sanding. I think this photo is after coat #2 of joint compound.

topofarch

I spent a lot of time fretting with the contractor over how important it was to be able to see the top of the archway in the dining room after leveling out the joists and installing the drywall. It was a tight squeeze, but it’s ALL THERE, which is all I can really ask for. Considering it’s been covered up with acoustic tiles, crown molding, and a mess of caulk for the past 40-ish years, it feels really good to be able to restore this funny feature. I need to finish stripping the paint and caulk off of it (I’m definitely not stripping all of the molding, but this is too messed up to just paint), but I think it’s going to look amazing once it’s all done! I tried Peel Away 1 on a section of the arch just to see how it worked, and it works well! Cleaning/neutralizing the stripped wood indoors is sort of a huge messy hassle, but it’s one of those things that’s just going to require a little extra time and care. What else is new!

backofhallwaybefore

One area that I’m particularly impressed by is in the back of the hallway. Only this patch of the original plaster remained in the entire space, and because of the way it curves and slopes and seemed very solid overall, I didn’t want to demo it and try to replicate it with drywall if I didn’t have to. On the last day of work, the contractor brought in a different guy to do the final skimming and sanding on the ceilings and sort out this mess. The new drywall sat about 1/2″ above the placer, and you can see how a lot of a previous skim-coating job had failed and fallen off over the years, and I was just crossing my fingers that they could get it to look acceptable.

backofhallwayafter

WELL. HOT. DAMN. This skim-coating guy was a MAGICIAN. He did this in, I don’t know, a couple hours, and it’s FLAWLESS. It’s so, so beautiful. I keep just walking to the back of the hallway to admire it.

This is when I made the most big-boy decision ever.

You guys, this hallway is really big. Over the stairs, the wall extends, like, 20 feet high. I’ve already done the work of demo’ing non-original walls, opening up original doorways, and stripping all of the wallpaper from the plaster. In the intervening months, several new large holes had to be made in the plaster to run the new plumbing and electric stuff, and now the walls need significant patching and repair and then all need to be skim-coated. Since I spent so much time and effort up in the tiny office teaching myself this skill, and I know I’m technically capable of it, it’s always been the plan to do the hallway walls myself.

Well, after seeing the dope-ass job this guy did on my ceiling in a few hours (which definitely would have taken me days, and probably never looked as good), I asked how much it would cost for him to just skim-coat the entire hallway, upstairs and downstairs. The answer was $500. I debated for a couple of days…and then I decided to go for it.

Here’s the thing. Skim-coating is not fun. I’m OK but not great at it. I’m sure it would turn out fine, but it would also take me weeks and be super boring and messy and exhausting, and that’s a LOT of time to dedicate to something so relatively inexpensive to just get someone else to do faster and better than I can. I can think of about a thousand things I’d rather be doing with that time. I don’t overwhelm all that easily, but the list of projects on this house is a bazillion items long and if throwing 500 clams at this hallway gets it paintable and way more complete within, like, the next WEEK (omg, I know), I’m soooo down.

So that’s that. I’m so excited for the skim-coating wizard to come back and work his magic. I’m excited to not have to do it. I’m excited to clean up all of the drywall dust all over the house without feeling like it’s a waste of time because I’ll just be making more dust for weeks on end.

Oh, and WHAT’S THAT NOW? I ordered a ceiling medallion as a test to see if I liked it.

Choosing ceiling medallions, for whatever reason, has been one of the most agonizing parts of this entire renovation/restoration thing I’m doing. I’ve literally been thinking about medallions since before we even closed on the house, and bookmarking various products for over a year. I think it’s so hard because the house does have so many of its original features intact, but the ceiling medallions are long gone and we don’t know what they looked like. I’ve always felt strongly that the medallions need to look appropriate to the house, which means they should be appropriately Greek, elegant, and grand, but also sort of blend in so that what’s essentially a big piece of foam glued to the ceiling doesn’t end up being the stand-out architectural feature, you know?

I did a fair amount of research on what would fit in style-wise with the Greek Revival of it all, which led me in a more ornate direction than I was originally inclined to go. I didn’t want to go crazy with something super intricate and Corinthian, for the aforementioned reason of wanting it to blend in, but I also feared going too simple would end up looking kind of 1920s and all wrong. Finally I just closed my eyes and hit the order button on this guy at Home Depot (which really has an amazing selection of medallions online, but not in the stores) and hoped I wouldn’t hate it when it came. I chose it because I felt like the size would be pretty grand, and it’s kind of middle-ground on the intricacy spectrum, and it has that acanthus leaf motif which is typically Greek Revival.

Even when I opened the box, I kind of wasn’t sold. It seemed like maybe it was too big and maybe just completely wrong. But then I had Max stand on a ladder and hold it up to the ceiling, and I pictured it all caulked and painted and with a light fixture hanging from it, and now I’m ON BOARD with this thing. I need to order two more, which kind of sucks because of COURSE I picked, like, the most expensive piece of foam on the planet, but I think it’s just right.

I think I’m going to paint it with some watered-down joint compound or something before hanging it, to kind of fake some age into it. It looks a little too new and the pattern looks a little too defined to me.

ANYWAY. WOW THIS POST GOT LONG.

Now that the ceilings are done, next up on the agenda is finishing repairing the walls in the dining room and prepping everything for paint!! AND THEN PAINTING. AND THEN MOVING FURNITURE BACK IN. AND THEN CRYING TEARS OF JOY.

It’s all happening!

Hidden Treasure!

You hear those stories—you know the ones, where people are renovating an old house and they open up a wall and find a bag full of cash or bonds or diamonds or human teeth or something else really cool that had been squirreled away decades before by a previous owner. So pervasive is the idea that when people hear that I’m renovating an old house, 9 times out of 10, they’ll crack a joke about something like that happening.

It could totally happen.

But it probably won’t happen.

I’m much more likely to open up a wall and find black mold or termite damage or live electrical wires threatening to start a fire. If every old house came with a glamorous time capsule, something tells me there’d be more of a market for them.

Sad faces.

Anyway.

banistertoday

Remember how I like to kvetch about the super-60s iron banisters that extend between the front columns and the front of the house? In case you don’t, I’ll do it again. They’re super 60s and totally wrong for the house, and I don’t like them.

I mean, sure, the base of the portico looks like a crumbly mess and the house is covered in vinyl siding and the columns themselves are covered in so many layers of paint that they basically look like alligator skins, so maybe these railings shouldn’t be something I think about a whole lot right now.

But I do think about them. A whole lot. Because that’s how I do. Zero in on something dumb and agonize over it forever.

entry

The picture from 1950 shows the portico (which, as several people pointed out, actually looks like has been entirely rebuilt since then!), and instead of these iron railings, there was a chunky wood handrail with chunky wood balusters. It looks way better.

I don’t know for certain if these balusters are original, either. Several commenters also pointed out that originally, the front porch and the portico may have been wide open, which admittedly would probably be pretty glamorous, at least aesthetically speaking.

If I could do anything I wanted, I’d probably go for it…but the problem is that I fear going handrail-less would present something of a safety/liability concern. I actually had a long, long battle with my homeowner’s insurance company about the fact that there weren’t handrails enclosing the front porch, which they saw as a big liability problem. I had to make the case that the porch likely didn’t have handrails originally, and that technically it doesn’t have to—both national and New York state building code doesn’t require handrails on porches that are lower than 30 inches off the ground. Even with this information, the documentation to prove it (you’d think they’d know that?), and my very adamant insistence that I had no intention of complying with their dumb nerdy request, it was still a huge hassle.

So anyway, removing the handrails that are already there? Probably pushing my luck. I don’t want to lose my insurance, because then getting new insurance is super hard, and it was hard enough to find an insurance company that would insure a house under renovation with a Pit Bull. Insurance companies are generally not fans of either of those things, which is totally unfair bullshit, but it is what it is.

On the other hand, I found out that the original builder of my house was in the insurance industry and his son was a lawyer, so maybe the railings were original after all. Or maybe they didn’t care about these things in the mid-19th century. WHO IS TO SAY.

garage

So this one day, I was attempting to clean and organize the long-suffering garage. There’s a lot of stuff that has been left behind across the ceiling joists over the years…garden stakes, sections of downspouts, a bunch of lumber…I’d never even really looked at it very closely, let alone climbed up on a ladder to try to sort through it a little bit. UNTIL THIS DAY.

balusters1

AHHHHH! Hidden up in the very back dark corner was a bundle of old balusters, tied together with what appears to be an old cable cord!

They’re so pretty. Yes, they have some rot and are covered in flaky old paint, but they seem to be in good enough shape that they could be repaired and put back in use at some point. There are 18 of them, which would obviously allocate 9 to each side. In the old picture, it looks like there are many more and they’re more tightly spaced, but I think it would look OK this way, too. And since the portico floor is below 30″ off the ground, I’m going to go ahead and say that means that I don’t have to worry about current building codes that mandate the railings, if you do need them, to be between 36″ and 42″—which would just look ridiculous on my house. Phew! Using these balusters would actually place the handrail a few inches below the existing one, which would look way better with the house. Then we will all pretend that they were there all along if anyone asks, cool? You’re the best.

closeup

If/when I ever get around to this, I’ll probably still try to build as much of the new handrails as I can in the garage and then install them, all clandestine-like, in the dead of night so as not to draw attention. Because I am a paranoid, nervous person, basically.

House
Tagged:
Back to Top