All posts in: Kingston House

Putting the Bedroom Back Together

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!

beforewindowinstall

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.

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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.

patching1

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.

casing5

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.

casing1

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.

casing2

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.

casing3

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!

casing4

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.

casingsafter

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.

The Bedroom has a Fourth Window!

bedroomwallbefore

My bedroom has always felt…tricky. It’s a big enough room, but between three doors, three windows, and a radiator, it’s been difficult to land on a layout that feels balanced and comfortable. Two of the four walls are long enough to place a bed, but one option places it sort of uncomfortably snugly between the closet door and the corner, and the other puts it on this wall, above. To center it in the room means it overlaps with the window on the right side, but to throw it off-center still looks unbalanced and…off. Don’t even try to place a bedside table in a way that looks not weird! Forget about it. And this is a full-size bed we’re talking about, mind you, but I have big dreams and aspirations of upgrading to a king because bed is the best place.

I forgot to take any pictures of the room before I moved everything out of it, so just take my word for it. It’s awkward and not in a cute and charming way. My bedroom made me feel inadequate because I couldn’t figure out how to make anything look OK in it. Also probably why I’ve been living with unfinished plaster walls for three years, which look kind of arty in a picture but are really just dusty and derelict in real life.

So anyway, remember how I’m restoring the side of my house? Remember how I’m adding a few windows in the process? Somewhat counter-intuitively, I feel like adding another window to this room already full of windows and doors and other obstructions will actually make the space feel more balanced from both the inside and the outside of the house.

house-thenbrwindowhighlight

Back in 1950, this photo was taken of the outside of my house. That window highlighted in pink isn’t there anymore, and neither is the one directly below it, but having one in that location totally makes the exterior in my opinion. Or at least that side of the house.

After I saw this photo for the first time, I got all excited about these windows, thinking maybe they were just hiding behind some vinyl siding and a sheetrock patch and how cool would it be to find them! So I did the natural thing and made a hole in the living room wall downstairs to see if, perchance, the window itself or any evidence of it were still inside the wall somehow and found…nothing! The whole wall was plaster and lath with no sign of an obvious patch, and behind it was brick and mortar, which is how most of my house is insulated…but really isn’t something that was done past about 1900. This photo is from 1950, so it seemed super unlikely that somebody between 1950 and now would have removed the window, filled the cavity with brick and mortar, nailed up lath, and applied horsehair plaster. Partly because I don’t think anyone would do that given modern methods and materials, let alone the same people who did plenty of other pretty sloppy work on my house during that same period. Added to this was the fact that false windows—where there are shutters on the exterior to balance a facade, but no actual window at all behind them—are actually pretty common here. I didn’t know that until this old photo of my house sauntered into my life and I started paying attention, but once you start looking for them, you really do see them all over the place! It’s a nifty little illusion.

Fast-forward to me planning the whole side-of-house-restoration project, and it occurred to me that making that false window into a real window would actually be really nice in my bedroom for the reasons outlined above, so why not! I’m doing all this other shit, might as well.

ghostwindow

The thing about working with Edwin is that he is a major early bird and I am the total opposite. The man likes to start work around 6:30 in the morning, which is often only a few hours after I’ve gone to bed. Sometimes small things get lost in translation, like when I explained this whole let’s-add-a-window-right-here plan, I didn’t really mean “let’s rip out all of the plaster and lath along this entire wall,” but that’s what happened. Sigh. I think we probably could have framed in the new window while keeping much of the plaster wall still intact, but that ship has now sailed. Spilt milk. Whatcha gonna do.

ANYWAY, when I rolled in at about 9, dude had the wall opened up and had started the brick removal and…what is THAT?! That is unmistakably a window frame, buried in the wall at the location in the old photo, and all of those bricks on the floor had been stuffed into the stud bays. But again…the brick and mortar, the continuous, not-patched plaster and lath, the studs used inside the window jamb matching in size/era to the rest of the framing lumber originally used for the house! IT DON’T MAKE NO SENSE!

It sounds sort of odd, but I still think there was never an actual window here, at least by the time the house had finished construction. Mistakes happen, right? Isn’t it possible that a builder misread the plans, or the architect changed his mind mid-build, or the homeowners came by to check the progress and decided they wanted a little more wall space than all these windows would allow for? It could happen, right? In my head it’s actually a big blow-out fight between the architect (my beautiful, balanced fenestration design!) and the homeowner (where a girl gonna put her chifforobe?!) and ultimately the homeowner won, because that’s how things work, and the architect threw up his hands and left to, I dunno, go smoke opium with a hooker at the local tavern (now my friend John’s house).

I’m sure this is all much more interesting and exciting to me than it is to you since it’s my house and all, but I love this stuff!

bedroomwindowframing

ANYWAY, after Edwin patiently listened to me get all worked up and excited over all this, we went about framing in the new window! I actually decided to move the window over from its original location about 8″, which centers it between the two adjacent windows on the exterior. I thought it would look better both inside and out, but the inside part is going to take a little longer to pay out because I think I’ve hatched a little plan to shift a few walls around upstairs (I know…) which  is a story for a different day. Don’t sweat it.

This was the most deferred gratification part of this process, because we didn’t actually install it until we took the original siding off of this part of the house for the whole clapboard restoration process I made up last year. But this way the rough opening was already prepped and the actual installation was just a matter of placing the window in the hole and attaching the exterior casings, which we now know goes pretty fast.

vinylremoved

Siding removal for this part of the house was an intense day. It started with removing all of the vinyl and the thin layer of foam insulation underneath it. As usual, the original wood siding (which actually looks pretty good in this picture—don’t be fooled!) was in pretty poor condition. With the new window up on top, the new cornerboard at the front, the new false window on the first floor, the condition of the siding, and the desire to install better insulation in the walls, removing it just makes the most sense! Same story, different wall.

sidingremoved

Eek! This is the part where things look so insane and like the house will never be put back together and oh my god, what have I done.

bedroominteriorno-sheathing

Especially from the inside, where my bedroom was feeling a little too bright and airy for my taste.

insulation

We removed all the bricks, installed blocking between the studs, and insulated with 2″ foam. Boom boom boom! As the sun was setting, we started installing sheathing. Edwin was ready to go home but I threw a small tantrum so he stayed and helped me because this is not how I wanted to leave my house overnight. Ha!

sheathing

Once the sheathing is up, it doesn’t look so scary. We’re using 1/4″ plywood as sheathing here—I’ve noted this before, but the original house doesn’t have sheathing at all, so using a standard 1/2″ sheathing would add too much depth to the wall, meaning I’d have to extend the jambs, window casings, and sills for the siding to fit correctly. The sheathing has made the siding process slightly more complicated, but nothing too challenging.

Obviously we sheathed right over the new opening, which was mainly because there wasn’t enough time to install the window that day. It’s easy enough to cut the sheathing out from the interior with a reciprocating saw, and the sheathing installation is a little easier if you don’t have to make a bunch of complicated cuts on the ground to fit an opening.

sheathingwithhole

Boom! Look! A hole!

windowinstalled

ANNNNNNDDDDD, window! Obviously we’ve jumped ahead a little so you can see the new cornerboard on the left, the false window cased out on the bottom (shutters are waiting patiently in the dining room for their hardware, which should be arriving tomorrow!), and the new bedroom window up top! Isn’t that…satisfying?! Clearly there is still a lot of work to be done, but finally seeing the basic shape of things come together feels so huge! She’s come a long way from this…

before

Almost there, house. Almost there.

BREAKING: My Kitchen has a Fireplace!

demo4

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

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

chimney2013

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

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

2chimney2013

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

3chimney2013

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

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

basementfireplace

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

4chimney2015

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

demo1

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

demo2

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

demo3

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

demo4

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

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

clean-out

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

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

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

chimney2016

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

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

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

The Solarium is Gone!

demo1

 

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

roofdemo2

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

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

roofdemo

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

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

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

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

demo5

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

rot

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

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

demo3

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

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

diningroomlight

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

demo2

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

democomplete

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

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

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

rendering

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

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

Found in the Wall!

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

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

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!

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