All posts in: Kingston House

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.

bayinside

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.

panelbackside

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!

hanoverfront

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!

hanoverback

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.

SO THAT HAPPENED AND IT WAS EXCITING FOR ME BECAUSE THAT IS THE KIND OF THING I LIKE. NOW HERE IS ANOTHER THING I LIKE.

baywindowframed

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

windowframe

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.

backsideofpaneleddetail

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.

demo7

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

clapboardcoveredwindow

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.

paneldetailcovered

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.

paneldetailexposed

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.

Yay!

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!

baywindowframed

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?

middlebedroombefore

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!

bumpoutdemo

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.

wallpaperboarder

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?

floorcutting

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!).

cornicevestige

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!!

framedbumpoutwindow2

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?

preceilingdemo

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.

middlebedroomceilingdemo

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.

ISN’T IT GORGEOUS?! Yikes.

framedbumpoutwindow

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.

demo1

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!

demo2

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.

demo3

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.

demo4

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.

demo5

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.

demo6

Roof, gone! Holy moly.

Side1

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

demo7

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.

originalkitchen

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.

fridgewallafter

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.

kitchendemo1

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.

kitchendemo2

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.

kitchendemo3

Bye-bye, cabinets. Scoot over, fridge.

pantrybefore

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

pantrydemo

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.

kitchendemo4

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).

kitchendemo7

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

kitchendemo8

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.

kitchendemo5

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.

kitchendemo6

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

kitchenwindows

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.

mekko

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

windowframe

To this…

demo1

To this…

kitchenwindowsexteriorview

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.

Onward!

Matching my Historic Windows!

If you read my last post about restoring the side elevation of my house, you probably picked up on the fact that I’m in need of a few new windows to properly execute my plan of removing non-original additions and restoring the original architecture. The actual framing and installation of a new window is all pretty simple, even on an old house, but actually finding the right windows at a price point I could afford was a much bigger challenge.

“Why not just replace your original windows? Aren’t they drafty and outmoded and horrible anyway?” is what you might be thinking. This is not a conversation you want to start with me because you will never get out of it. Here is kind of my pitch for old windows, though, because I can’t not.

anatomy

Almost every single window on my house is original to the time it was built, and I could not be more grateful for that fact. They’re beautifully crafted out of old-growth lumber that—decently maintained—lasts literal hundreds of years. Old windows are normally fairly easily restored and repaired, and when combined with a storm window, comparably energy-efficient to a new window in good working order…the difference being that a new window’s life-expectancy is only about 15-20 years.

In climates with harsh winters especially (like where I live!), people very often replace their original windows with new, thinking that they’ll be increasing their energy efficiency. And while that’s moderately true (again, depending on the quality and condition of the replacement!), windows are EXPENSIVE motherfuckers and so the cost of buying new windows (not to mention having them installed) typically ends up costing far more money than you’re saving on utility bills throughout the life of those windows…a cost you then have to incur AGAIN in a couple decades when those new windows inevitably fail. New windows are difficult or often impossible to repair yourself, too. If a neighborhood kid hits a baseball through one of my window panes, all I have to do is spend about $10 on a new piece of glass and a couple hours removing the broken pane and installing the new one. When a new window breaks, you’re usually looking at a completely new sash, which has to be ordered, and then installed by a service tech, and if the company has stopped making that model, you might need a new window altogether. Just because of some broken glass! The window industry has been very effective with marketing new windows to consumers, but when compared to an original wood sash, I don’t think the replacement argument holds up to any kind of scrutiny. And EVEN if we accept that the energy-efficiency argument is true, think about the amount of waste generated by the production of the new windows, the disposal of the old windows, and then the continued disposal of the new windows every couple of decades in perpetuity. That’s a lot of shit in the landfill!

All of this is to say nothing of the actual preservation of a historic structure, which new windows have a funny way of destroying. The first way this happens is when consumers change the style: as a very general rule, the older the house, the more divided the lite pattern is on the window. I primarily have six-over-six windows, which means there are six window panes on the top sash and six on the bottom, divided by wood muntins. That pattern is typical of this style of architecture and is how the house was intended to look, but matching that lite pattern on a decent quality new window significantly drives up costs. So very often consumers switch to one-over-one windows with no lite pattern to keep costs down, and then the house looks totally different and almost always much worse. The second way this happens is because replacement windows generally come with their own jambs to fit within the existing window frame (not all—there are things called “sash kits” that allow your to reuse your existing jamb, assuming it’s very square), so even at a custom size, you’re losing an inch or two of the sash opening because you have to accommodate the new jamb. Which leads me to the third way windows get messed up—custom sizes. Almost all window retailers do offer the option for replacements to be fabricated at custom sizes, but it costs more than a standardized stock size…which often doesn’t jive with the dimensions of an old window. As a result, consumers decrease the size of their windows to accommodate a stock size, and then their house looks all wrong because chances are that the original size is scaled appropriately to the house.

The fourth issue is materials, which is both an issue from the inside and the outside. There are a lot of options out there, but in general you’re looking at:

  1. Cheapest: vinyl interior, vinyl exterior. Vinyl, as far as I’m concerned, is the work of the devil and will have the same place in history as plastic 70s paneling and asbestos siding. Vinyl expands and contracts with heat, dries out, becomes brittle, breaks, bends, warps…I really dislike vinyl, as you can probably deduce. It’s cheap and fast and bad.
  2. More expensive: Wood interior, vinyl-clad exterior. These can actually be pretty fine, especially if you’re trying to restore the original appearance of a structure where the original windows were already removed. Most companies offer a few color options, too, and somehow black vinyl looks LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than white vinyl and is very often appropriate for an old house (and handsome on a new house!). I wish more people considered black sashes.
  3. Most expensive, I think?: Wood interior, aluminum-clad exterior. These are spendy but far more durable than their vinyl/vinyl counterparts, and typically look the best.

The major thing in common with nearly all new windows is that the glass is insulated—meaning that there are actually two panes of glass separated by about a 1/4″, which essentially serves the same function as a storm window would on an old window. Windows, of course, will always allow for more heat loss and transfer than a solid insulated wall, but insulated windows do serve a benefit. Of course, they come with their own problems…if one of the panes is faulty or broken, you sometimes see condensation building up between the two panes, and again, the repair is much more difficult and costly than an old wood sash.

The means by which windows are insulated—and the divided lite pattern is executed—also has a big range of options and prices. These are things you’ve all probably seen out in the wild. I think I have this right:

Cheapest: No division at all, one-over-one sashes.

snap-ongrilles

More expensive: snap-on grilles, which is exactly what it sounds like. The grilles are either wood or vinyl, and snap on the interior, exterior, or sometimes both. The appearance is usually very flat and kinda sad, especially if the grilles are only on the interior (ugly from outside) or the exterior (ugly from inside).

btnglassgrilles

More expensive: integrated grilles. This is when there’s a (usually plastic) grille between the two panes of glass. I really don’t understand the appeal because they look bad and fake from both the interior and exterior. I guess the benefit is that they’re a little easier to clean.

SDL

Most expensive: Simulated Divided Light. There ARE some really nice options here, again, especially if you’re trying to restore windows that are already gone. One of my favorite makeovers of all time—Steve’s house at An Urban Cottage—used Marvin’s Ultimate Double-Hung windows which are wood interior, aluminum-clad exterior, with simulated divided light, and I think we can all agree that they look great. This is done by putting a grill on the interior and the exterior, with slim bars between the insulated glass, too, aligned with the grilles. They’re a nice way to approximate an original appearance. They’re still one big piece of glass separated slightly from another big piece of glass, and the divided lite pattern is purely aesthetic, but they can look very nice. Of course, they’re costly! The photo above is, I think, is cheaper Jeld-Wen window, but you get the idea. That’s the interior you’re looking at, and you’ll see below that the muntin profile is kind of a bummer compared to my original windows.

Before I shut up: if you’re considering replacing your original windows because the restoration seems daunting (since we’ve already debunked the financial and environmental benefit) or too time-consuming, quote out hiring out the reglazing! It may be less expensive than new windows, particularly if you’re paying to have them installed. And better for your house!

And! If you might want to give the restoration a try on your own, there are some great resources online! A small sampling:

Here and There
Old House Online
This Old House
Probably my favorite, Alex of Old Town Home’s Window Restoration Series

SO! With all these different products out there, you might think finding a suitable match for my old windows wouldn’t be too difficult! But it was! Of course it was. If I’m doing it, it’s a pain in the ass. That’s the rule.

First I thought to myself, “self, buy yourself some of those nice Marvin Ultimate Double-Hungs and call it a day!” but then two things happened: I saw one up close, and I got a quote. It IS a very nice window, but remember that I’m installing my new windows adjacent to original windows, and they look different enough that I thought it the new ones would stick out like sore thumbs. Then the price came in at around $1,500 for ONE window, and I need/want several, and that’s a lotta money. That led me to looking at similar simulated divided lite new windows that were also quite nice but cheaper brands. Windsor seemed to have the nicest product but all the aesthetic issue with the Marvin also applied to the Windsor windows. I think the price came in at about $650 per window, which was better but still a ton of money for something that isn’t even really what I want.

I looked into having windows custom-made, which would have been TOTALLY BALLER because I could have specified the muntin profile, the sill dimensions, the stops, the width of the stiles and rails…but that looked like about a $1,500/window endeavor, too, and again…just too much money for me. I also tried to just source old sashes, figuring I could probably figure out how to make the jambs and everything myself. If I’d needed one window that might have been possible, but I need several and the sizes have to be VERY specific, so that seemed like a total long shot and incredibly impractical.

THEN SOMETHING GREAT HAPPENED. There’s this store about half an hour from my house called The Door Jamb, and they are THE BEST. It’s a family-owned small business and they know everything about windows and doors. They have an enormous stock of windows and doors that are overstock and stuff (but all brand new), so if you can be a little flexible on sizes, they’re a great company to do business with. They can ALSO order new windows and doors (and shutters and storms!) from several retailers, which you’d think would price out more expensive than the big-box stores but I’ve always found them to be far less expensive which makes me love them even more.

So I’m in the store and I see what looks like an old window sash, but is clearly new. It’s single-glaze, with a muntin profile that looks mighty familiar, and even the glass is held in with glazing putty on the exterior…just like my old windows! So naturally I freaked out and got really excited and had to know what this thing was that I’ve been looking for all my life…or at least for the last year or so.

“They call it a barn sash.”

“Why?”

“It’s single-glaze, so nobody would put that on a house.”

“I would. All my windows are already single-glaze. Do they make it in a double-hung?”

“I think so.”

“Can they do custom sizes?”

“Yes.”

“GIMME.”

Brosco

The windows are by Brosco, which seems like a really great company from what I can deduce online, which admittedly is not a lot. But here is what I can report!

  1. One way they measure the windows is by the sash opening—that is, the size of the actual opening of the window rather than the size of the opening you need in your surrounding framing to fit the window into the wall. This made ordering VASTLY easier since trying to work backwards to a sash opening (which is really what I need to match—the rough opening will be new framing so it doesn’t matter so much) from a rough-opening dimension would have been tricky without the actual window in hand.
  2. After quoting out so many different options, I was DELIGHTED to find out that my windows would come in at about $350 per window…roughly half what the other options were going to cost! And VASTLY closer to what I was really looking for all along.
  3. All my sizes were stock with Brosco! This was somewhat unbelievable to me. I might be off by a fraction of an inch, but they’re pretty damn close and I can live with that! It seems like custom sizes roughly doubles the cost, so this was a hugely lucky break.

Let’s compare, shall we?!

stilesoldwindow

Here is the stile, rail, stops, and sash cord of one of my original windows. Old double-hung windows are typically weighted—there is a metal weight concealed behind the casing on either side of the sash, so when you open the window, the weights counterbalance the weight of the sash and allow the window to remain open. Those Marvin Ultimate Double-Hungs seem to be the only window on the market where you can actually get something very close to this, although they use metal chain rather than rope and I’m unclear on whether it does anything other than look good.

stilesinterioroldwindow

This is the same(ish) angle of one of the new Brosco windows! So the pullies and weights have been eliminated for a modern balance system, but otherwise? It’s SO super similar. I’m looking at the proportions of rails and stiles and the profile of the way the wood is routed around the glass and it’s almost identical. I think I can fairly easily tack on a couple of “stops” that will make it look almost identical. The modern balance system is kind of a bummer, but once everything is painted, you’d have to be looking REALLY close to deduce original from not.

glazingexteriororiginal

Outside, here’s an old gunked-up muntin for your viewing pleasure.

glazingexteriorbrosco

And on the Brosco! It looks different but it’s actually very much the same—this just doesn’t have 150 years of paint and old glazing putty on it. The glazing job is so clean on these!

muntinsoldwindow

This is the interior muntin profile of an original window, which I thought I’d never match without going completely custom.

muntinsnewwindow

Brosco, baby, you get me. I don’t even think it’s close, I think it’s…identical?? How gorgeous is THAT? This is the kind of stuff that is like make-you-weep-amazing when you’re trying to restore an old house. I’m sure 99% of everyone has stopped reading at this point, haha.

SO ANYWAY. I bought a few for all of the locations we talked about last week, and Edwin and I have been hard at work installing them! It’s, like, the most exciting.

framing

That’s where that closet door use to be in my dining room bay window! We’ve demolished a lot of the old solarium, but are leaving the main structure intact as long as we can to keep the house from being exposed longer than it needs to be. I can insulate and put up a lot of siding and stuff before we have to totally rip it off, so that’s the plan!

We framed the rough opening a little bigger than necessary to give me some wiggle room to make things as aligned as possible with the originals.

bayinstalled

LOOOOOOOOK! Isn’t that really really good?? I’m so thrilled, and I think with a couple minor tweaks I can make the new windows match even closer. Even right now, though, I’m just SO THRILLED I can’t even express! Replicating my millwork on the interior is sure to be another big challenge, but it’s not as though that needs to get finished with the same pressure that putting the exterior back together does. It’s going to be crazy how much light the dining room will have now!

Now I have to think about storm windows! Part of the thing with getting single-glaze windows that doesn’t bother me at all is that they’ll match the originals, so whether that means sticking an aluminum storm on the outside, or getting interior storms, or maybe trying to make my own wood storms (yikes!), at least everything will be uniform and the new windows won’t scream that they’re new work from either the inside or the outside.

Does anyone have interior storm windows? How do you like them? I love the idea but admittedly hesitate because I feel like my crappy aluminum triple-tracks, while unattractive, do protect the original windows from the elements. I’d remove and spray-paint the frames black which does DRASTICALLY improve their appearance, but they’re never going to be particularly attractive. I have a few months to think about it before it starts getting cold, so I’d love to hear thoughts on the topic!

Restoring the Side of My House!

Please excuse me if I’m a little overly excited in this post, but it’s only because I’m actually overly excited about some crazy stuff going on at my house. You might have noticed that it’s been a little while since I’ve posted about my own house, which is really just a reflection of nothing too exciting going on there. I finally primed the walls and ceiling in my hallway? I did some stuff in the backyard? I…got a dishwasher? My life has pretty much been Olivebridge Cottage 24/7 (slew of posts about that forthcoming), but after wrapping up restoring the back elevation of my house back in December, the renovation progress has more or less stalled.

WELL. I AM BACK IN ACTION AND IT FEELS SO RIGHT. Here’s what’s going down.

Side1

Here’s a picture of the side of my house in all its glory. My house is on a street corner, so arguably this is actually the most visible side, since the other side is more obscured by other houses and trees and stuff, and you don’t see the front unless you’re, well, in front of the house, give or take a hundred feet or so.

It’s pretty bad, right? Clearly I have what borders on an unhealthy affection for my house, but this side is a damn mess. What’s supposed to be all elegant neoclassical architecture is a vinyl-siding-clad imbalanced mishmash of weirdness that I have been scheming of a way to take care of for over three years. Things were improved quite a bit with the elimination of the “mudroom” addition on the back of the house, but that didn’t do anything to address the rest of what’s going on here.

house-then

Taking a trip back in time, here is the sole, prized photo I have of my house from 1950. As you can see, things were a little different back then. The house was about 85 years young, and looking a lot better than it does now. That part that sticks out on the side on the first floor is a long, narrow space that was almost entirely windows…I suppose sort of my house’s version of a solarium! I originally thought this was at one time an open-air porch and fleetingly thought I’d restore it as such, but I’m 99.9% positive that this is how it looked when it was originally built.

And that bump-out bay window on the second floor! It was pretty in its day, and I’m sure a fun feature to have inside the house. It had two big two-over-two double-hung windows on either side, and two smaller one-over-one windows facing the street.

side2

Even back then I can’t say I think it looks particularly right, but it sure is more attractive than it is today! The windows on the sides were lost at some point, with the openings covered over with plywood and the whole thing wrapped in vinyl siding and…now it looks like a tumor. I feel similarly about the long former-solarium—with all that glass replaced by those three crappy vinyl windows at some point, it’s just a sad sagging thing tacked onto the side of an otherwise pretty good-looking house…if I do say so myself.

bayinside

Inside, things are similarly awkward. This bay window is in my dining room, and I think it’s more or less without question that there was a third window where that door is when this thing was built. I actually think the bay window was itself an early addition, onto which the solarium was later added, and then the bump-out upstairs added at some point after that. The doorway appears to have been added in the 1930s, based on the framing and wall material (which is this wood composite garbage stuff called beaverboard).

The side-porch-solarium-thing has been a real concern of mine since buying the house. Unlike the robust bluestone foundation of the rest of the house, this thing sits on a few cinderblock piers that appear to have pushed themselves outwards over the years. If you return to the first photo in this post, you can see a pretty significant sag in the roofline of the solarium, which seems to be partially an effect of rot and partially an effect of the way those three shitty windows were framed and installed. The header that spans that length of this thing is very old, very rotted, and lacking almost any support…that’s not good! It seems to have sagged more since I bought the house, too, but that could just be my imagination.

The bump-out above, of course, is resting entirely on the top of this thing, which is also not good. Putting a really heavy part of a house on top of something with barely enough structural support already is probably not the safest thing. It’s all mildly horrifying.

You might see where I’m going with this. The dining room bay window is solid and old and beautiful, but the rest of it? Trying to fix this stuff would essentially mean rebuilding it, and then…what? That’s a lot of major expense to try to salvage some non-original features that I’m not hugely fond of to begin with, you know? Emphasis on the “non-original” part. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself, because the solarium-ish and the bump-out are old. Just not original to the house. I feel a lot of weird guilt about not being able to restore this stuff to how it looked when it was built, but then I remember that restoring the house is much more important to me and I feel a bit better.

Still, it’s a sticky subject! How do you decide how to handle stuff that’s really old but not original? I’m guessing a lot of owners of old homes have crossed this bridge a few times. For example, my house has beautiful fir hardwood flooring that was probably installed in the 1930s. Do I tear it all out to reveal the original wide-plank pine subfloor? I’d say no, but only because I prefer living with the smoother and tougher “upgraded” flooring. And sometimes I justify decisions like this with thinking that changes like that are also part of the history of the house in their own right, and perhaps that’s reason enough to maintain them. And, admittedly, these non-original additions do have their place in both the history of the house and the trajectory of local architecture. According to the Architectural History and Guide of Kingston:

August 7, 1874: The Daily Freeman describes “a new architectural fancy,” the “rage uptown” for bay windows. “No man of property can consider himself in style unless a bay window has been added to the house.” Upper-story bay windows were said to be especially fashionable as a sign of wealth, and looked well when “studded with flowers” or, even better, “an attractive lady.”

The only thing that makes sense to me is dealing with everything on a case-by-case basis. If this stuff were in better condition and more practical to salvage, or original to the house, I’d restore them. But that’s not the case, and the alternative of restoring this elevation of the house to a closer resemblance of its original architectural intent is hardly a bad thing, either.

Side1

So see if you can follow. This is the plan.

Look at those first two windows on the far left. That’s what things are supposed to look like. Slightly bigger window on the first floor, aligned center with a slightly smaller window on the second floor. The sizing is significant, since placing smaller windows on the second floor was meant to make the house look taller and bigger. Greek revival loves drama, and if my house looks enormous, that’s by design. It’s a little over 2,000 square feet, so nothing to shake a stick at, but it’s hardly the mansion it looks like!

Moving toward the back: in the 1950 photo, the house had two false windows next to these windows at the front corner, which I LOVE! It just tickles me! They look like regular windows that are shuttered closed, but they’re purely decorative and there is nothing behind those shutters. This is actually pretty common around here, but somewhat rare to see intact. I want to restore that, but I might actually make the second floor one into a real window and just do the shutter trick downstairs.

The bay window on the first floor stays, and has its third side restored with another window. Trying to match and replicate all of that woodwork is going to be a big task (inside and out!), but I’m kind of excited for the challenge!

Remember, to the right of the bay window on the first floor, there’s that other dining room window that faces out to the solarium thing. The solarium thing is demolished, and that window is an exterior window again. My dining room will get so much more light!

Aligned center above that window where the bump-out currently is goes a new 6-over-6 double hung, matched in size to the adjacent windows on the second floor. The cornice gets patched back in (hopefully just reusing everything I can from the parts that are coming down), the vinyl is removed, the siding (hopefully all salvaged) gets re-installed, this house gets painted…BOOM. If I have any money remaining, which is unlikely, I’d dieeeeeeeeeeee to outfit all my windows with shutters, but that part might have to wait. Doing shutters the right way is a pretty spendy endeavor.

On the far right, on the first floor under the dormer, I’d like to add two windows in my kitchen. Which means my kitchen is about to get kind of destroyed. Oops! But I kind of feel like…let’s just tear the bandaid off and get it done. My kitchen was never meant to last forever, and I really don’t feel all that precious about it.

I don’t like that second floor dormer above the kitchen, but I don’t really know what to do about it. I’d still like windows in that room, but potentially the dormer could be reconfigured. I just feel like the scale/location/shed roof on it is all wrong. Anyone have any ideas?

ANYWAY. Cool. Let’s do this thing!

When I bought the house, that door in the bay window led to a very small triangular closet, which was separated from the rest of the space with a slim wall (just some lengths of beadboard tacked to a couple horizontal supports on the floor and ceiling), which you see below. The beadboard was then covered in wood paneling—that cheap 70s kind, nothing nice.

interior1

The rest of the space was accessible from the kitchen and looked like this! I started tearing layers out of this space so long ago that I actually forgot what it looked like until I was editing photos for this post. There was a drop ceiling, wood paneling, linoleum floor, some very moldy drywall on the window wall due to the very leaky roof…blech!

BUT! Notice how there’s a window back there, on the right side? That’s the other window in my dining room, which was very clearly at one point a window that looked outside. The thing that was remarkable about this window, though, is that its trim was never covered with the vinyl/aluminum combo that’s on the rest of the house, so I have a well-preserved example of the original sill size and casings and stuff to model everything else after.

demo5

At some point I got pry-bar happy and took down the wood paneling, and was delighted to find the original clapboard below in excellent condition. If only the whole house was like that!

dogs

I had the realllllly long baseboard radiator removed during the great radiator shuffle. Shortly thereafter, I removed the layers of flooring. This linoleum was stuck to plywood, which was attached to a bunch of shims to level out the floor. Below that was the original tongue-and-groove, which rakes downward toward the street.

windowframe

Check it out! At the other end of the solarium, there was another window! I actually think it’s possible that this window was moved here from the side of the bay window and re-installed here. The sashes and parts of the frame are long gone, but you can see how it looked at one time.

Notice the brick-filled wall cavities, too—my whole house is basically like that! Broken, defective, and weak bricks and mortar were used as an early form of insulation and pest-proofing, called nogging. It has an R-value of less than 1 and is not structural, so I’m removing it piecemeal as I work my way around the house and replacing it with modern insulation that will hopefully help increase my energy efficiency. Removing nogging is an extremely dusty and heavy pain in the ass, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

interior2

I also removed the drywall on the street-facing window wall, which was moldy and yucky, and this is pretty much how things sat for a couple years! UNTIL NOW!

demo4

The other night, I started tackling more of the demo again! I always try to demo slowly and deliberately, saving anything I can—especially stuff like moldings that are much easier to reuse than try to replicate!

demo02

By the next morning, I had this!

demo01

I took up the old floor board-by-board (to reuse for what, I have no idea!), and underneath was surprised to discover…a 4″ thick or so layer of mortar! OOF. This is when my main squeeze Edwin started working with me, and we shoveled it out and hauled it out of the house bucket by bucket. Super fun, as you can imagine.

foundation

Underneath the layer of mortar were these really wide boards attached to the joists. It’s interesting that the joists run from side to side instead of back-to-front…those are some REALLY long joists! We had to cut them in half just to get them out, but the old wood is so pretty that I’m determined to do something with them.

Here you can kind of see the foundation below. Told ya, just a couple of cinderblocks! I wonder if they have footings or anything. We’ll soon find out!

demo1

Demo, demo, and more demo! It’s so crazy how much material went into these houses. This is part of why demolishing old houses is such a tragedy—the sheer volume of stuff that ends up in a landfill is almost unimaginable, which is another reason I try to salvage as much as possible. Renovations always generate enough waste as it is!

demo2

With the floor, the mortar, the subfloor, and the joists removed, we have….the original exterior wall of my house, looking pretty damn good! The rim joist is enormous and in excellent condition, and the foundation is in amazing shape from being protected all these years! And look at the basement window! Light comes in through it now!

Oh, and what’s that back there? A window? A NEW WINDOW? I have so much to share about window shopping that it’s gonna have to be another post, but I can happily report that I think I’ve found a very good solution for matching 150 year old original windows with new, if you’re in a similar predicament. I’m totally opposed to replacing my original windows for a number of reasons, but trying to find a decent match was no easy feat!

SO ANYWAY! This week, my house feels like it is getting torn to shreds, and the copious amounts of dust and disorder that I haven’t experienced since demo’ing a couple plaster ceilings a few years ago is back with a vengeance.

I couldn’t be happier about it. Progress once again. Feels good.

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