So, you might have heard that we had an election here in these United States. And now it’s a month later, and I still don’t know how to compose a sentence to follow that one.
As you can probably imagine, the result of said election was the opposite of what I wanted. Incidentally it was also the opposite of what the majority of voting Americans wanted, but unlike every other modern democracy on earth, we leave the election for the highest office in the land to a severely outmoded system wherein the loser can still win and…well, it sucks. And I’m not going to be ashamed to admit that it’s been really, really tough. There are so many people who are likely to experience much, much more severe ramifications to their lives and rights than I am as a result of this election, but that doesn’t exactly make it easier when those people are my friends, family, and neighbors. Watching the transition unfold over the past few weeks has been horrific, and it’s just the beginning. Is it even the beginning yet? So many people are so afraid. I’m so afraid. The whole thing has cast such a heavy shadow over…everything.
Whichever side of the aisle you fall on, we’re taught to meet this kind of challenge with action instead of resignation. We’re told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep fighting for what’s right, and retool the tragedy of our defeat into motivation to be better—better activists, better volunteers, better donors, better Americans. And that’s very useful and pragmatic advice, because shutting down and wallowing doesn’t actually accomplish anything except for maybe providing some passing relief from feeling horrible about everything. Right?
That doesn’t mean I don’t want to shut down and wallow, though. Not all the time, and not for the next four years, and not at the expense of trying to do what I can to affect positive change moving forward, but you know what? Sometimes, you just need to do what you need to do to get yourself through. Sometimes, it’s OK to disconnect, curl up, and—in the words of one commenter on this blog—make yourself into a blanket burrito. This is, at least, what I’ve been telling myself to manage my guilt about my relative lack of action over the past month. When overnight you feel you’ve become a stranger in your own country, when previously-settled battles for your own rights and the rights of those you love are suddenly reignited, and enormous hurdles are erected in front of so many things that had long felt attainable, I think Blanket Burrito Time serves its own kind of function. To reflect, regroup, get your bearings, and gather your strength. To put things in context and perspective. To allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel, because relentlessly trying to push away panic and distress and sadness is also not the most effective strategy for dealing with panic and distress and sadness. Being silent is not the same thing as being silenced.
It might sound like I’m reaching here, but even renovating my own house has taken on a new kind of…vibe. With a long-term, labor-intensive and expensive project like my house, I’ve always found it motivating to keep some kind of picture in my mind of what living here will be like when much of the major work is completed. I don’t really think in elaborate fantasies—they’re more like snapshots. Hosting Thanksgiving dinner in my dining room. Making breakfast on Saturday mornings in my renovated kitchen. Hosting a damn garden party and picking perfect little tomatoes off the vine. Showing a houseguest into a bedroom that I don’t have to apologize for.
I’ve realized that central to all of these someday-snapshots is the presence of other people. Entertaining friends. Hosting family. Welcoming strangers. Right now, though, all I really want is a space for me. I still want those other things, too, but blanket burrito-ing surrounded by construction mess sucks. It feels extra sad. I want a bedroom. I want to go to sleep and wake up in a space that feels safe and clean and warm and cozy and nice, which isn’t really something I’ve ever had in this house and hasn’t before felt like such a huge priority. Now it does. So I’ve been trying to really make it happen!
You might recall that my bedroom looked like THIS a couple of months ago, having gotten pretty torn apart during the whole side-of-house-restoration-project. The plan for this room pretty much started and ended with adding another window, but then I got a little more than I bargained for in losing a whole wall of plaster. I’ve had to focus a lot of time on trying to wrap the exterior project up, but otherwise I’ve been in here as much as possible. My plan, sad as it was, was to just hang some sheetrock and move my furniture back in and keep living in this room as a utilitarian, un-renovated space while I worked in other areas of the house, but that was before having a nice setting for Blanket Burrito Time felt like such a big deal. I kept sort of adding things to the list until—whoops! I’m just renovating the whole room.
Of course, nothing is ever easy! One thing I didn’t really account for in adding the fourth window is that the panel molding under the windows doesn’t come as far out into the room as the baseboard that used to be on this wall. I’m not sure why this seems like such a hard thing to explain, but basically if I had left the flooring as-is, I would have had a large gap between the end of the floorboards and the window moldings, and that would not be nice.
The easiest solution to this would have been ripping off the ends of the boards in the area in question to create a clean line, and then putting another floor board in perpendicular to the rest of the flooring, just to fill the gap. It would have been fine but it also would have been an obvious patch, and the whole point is to have this window not look like it was added in 2016! Feathering in boards is much more time-consuming, but once these floors are eventually refinished, it should be pretty seamless.
(I also kinda-sorta considered just removing all the flooring, which definitely isn’t original to the house, and going down to the original wide-plank pine subfloor, but that seemed insane? This glimpse of the pine subfloor is beautiful but the wood is also pretty soft, damaged from the second layer of flooring, has wide gaps between the boards that collect dust and crap…the more modern hardwood is one of the few “upgrades” to my house that I’m actually totally thankful for and OK with, even though it all needs to be refinished down the line.)
The span between the outer edges of the window casings is almost four feet, so that’s the area of flooring I had to extend so the boards would run right up to the wall and under the casing. I’ve had to feather in new floorboards in other areas of the house where radiator pipes used to be and stuff, and I think the most effective tool is an oscillating tool fitted with a wood blade (I have this one, highly recommend!). It’s made specifically for plunge cuts, so I start by making the short cut across the board, following a pencil line, and then the longer cut down the length of the board’s edge, cutting through the tongue. From there it’s fairly easy to pry a floorboard up. I particularly like the oscillating saw because the blade is thin enough that the removed board can still be reinstalled—using a circular saw, you’d lose 1/8″ off the width of the board from the saw blade. I just eyeball where the new butt joints should land—the goal is to keep the new cuts looking random and staggered.
Once I had all my cuts made and boards removed, I took the nails out and lined up all the removed boards in order of height. That way, I could more efficiently re-install them in new locations by selecting the shortest board possible to finish off each run. This way, my only waste was a small pile of off-cuts that were typically a couple inches long or less. With the tongues removed, it’s generally pretty easy to finagle the boards into place and secure them by face-nailing a few 2″ finish nails on each board. Boom! I think I only needed two boards for the longest runs, which I sourced from a bucket in my basement.
Once the floor was all put back together, I began working on the casing! IT. TOOK. A. LONG. TIME. If you scroll up to the first photo in this post and look at the original casing, you can see that it’s fairly elaborate. To my knowledge exactly none of the components are widely available (although it’s possible I could have found decent matches at a millwork place with a large catalog, but $$$), so I got pretty friendly with my router and table saw!
This isn’t my first rodeo trimming out a window or having to get a little creative to produce a period-style molding, but prior attempts have been in places like the laundry room where I was aiming to get close to the profiles of the remaining original moldings in the adjacent kitchen. In a space like that you can be a little more lenient, but since this new window is in a room with three original windows and three original doors, all with their moldings intact, I was aiming for perfection. Otherwise it would look amateurish and stupid and make me so angry. We’d all be so disappointed and sad and I could never show my face again.
Here you can get a sense of how the patched in flooring turned out, by the way.
Just to make trying to reverse-engineer a complicated antique molding extra special and fun, the window itself is slightly different than the originals and so is the framing supporting its installation. For instance, the new window sashes slide up and down on a modern balance system, so there aren’t any stop moldings to keep the sashes on track. The stops are pretty integral to the overall look of my moldings, though, so I had to make some purely decorative ones to tack on in front of the plastic balance system.
That panel part under the window was especially difficult, because there was framing in the way of making the panel as recessed as it’s supposed to be. To compensate, I kind of framed out a miniature wall and used a super thin piece of plywood for the backing, and then had to create some large rabbets in the surrounding molding to fit over the framing but still be appropriately recessed and level and plumb.
I realize this really neither instructive nor easy to understand what the hell I’m even talking about. I guess my point here is that this kind of thing is a lot of work, but doable! If you think of a normal no-nonsense window, you basically have a sill, an apron below it, and a piece of molding on each side and the top—5 pieces molding total. By my count, this has 30! But with enough head-scratching and patience (and shims), I kinda think I nailed it!
Check it out! Can you even tell which is the new one?! I’m kidding—of course it needs a lot of primer and patching and caulk and paint, but still! I feel like it looks really legit.
My favorite part is that aside from three lengths of cheap pine lattice boards from Lowe’s, everything else is salvaged! I love the challenge and gratification of finding the right piece of scrap, milling it to size, and giving it a purpose while simultaneously de-cluttering my hoard. I know it’s only fun to me, but this window molding is now kind of like a scrapbook of renovation projects past…there’s leftover material from Olivebridge, the backing of a kitchen cabinet, a bed slat, pieces of molding from the doorways into the now-demoed solarium, the jamb from the (now-demoed) door from the (now-demoed) upstairs kitchen out to the (now-demoed) fire escape…I get a kick out of it, anyway. Cheap thrills! I need more excitement in my life.
Also, drywall! You might be asking yourself why the sheetrock is in so many small pieces, and I have a decent reason! I had this idea, which was maybe a good one and maybe wasn’t, that I’d put up two layers of 1/2″ drywall, one right on top of the other. This first layer in the photo above was—you guessed it—scraps from the living and dining room ceilings (indeed I have been holding onto offcuts of drywall for over two years!), and a second layer with full-sized sheets will go over top. INSANE, RIGHT? The goal here is to achieve a close approximation of the original plaster wall that was here—I find that a normal 1/2″ drywall installation looks too flat and perfect and feels/sounds hollow when compared with a solid plaster wall, so I’m hoping that a full 1″ thickness plus a skim-coat over the entire thing will give me the look/feel I’m going for. I know that seems unbelievably nit-picky and stupid, but hey! That’s never stopped me before.