My Roof Might Kill Me.

When we closed on our house, I bought this book called Renovating Old Houses because I figured it would be chock-full of interesting and valid information that would come in handy as a new renovator of an old house. Reading through the book later on, I was quickly filled with an all-consuming sense of dread: what the hell have I done. While informative, the book basically chronicles everything that can go wrong in an old house——which is to say, everything. Everything can go wrong in an old house. If it isn’t the foundation, it’s the roof, and if it isn’t the roof, then it’s the framing. The electrical will probably start a fire, the plaster will fall apart, and——of course——the asbestos will kill you eventually. I read through about half of it before I felt that it would be better for my mental health if I gave the book a little break for a while to recover from my house-hypochondria. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just see all the beautiful old things——instead, only a collection of problems, or potential problems, and a future full of regret and failure.

Old houses are difficult beasts by definition. They were built at a time before standardization, and before modern construction methods. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

roofold roofold3 roofold2

We knew the roof was a problem before we bought the house, and intended to have it replaced in the near future. It wasn’t until we started living there that the “near future” became somewhat pressing. I came to be one of those people who dreaded sudden shifts in weather——each new rainstorm bringing slow (and…not slow) leaks of water into various areas of my home. We did our best to do some temporary patching, but we knew the roof needed to be replaced ASAP. Because of the way our home was built——a main section with various additions over time——we have a few different types of roofing. The main pitched roof was clad metal shingles (probably installed in the 1920s?), and all of the low-slope or flat sections were covered in sheet metal, covered up over the years by rolled asphalt roofing or gallons of tar. Metal roofing is really beautiful and extremely long-lasting, but unfortunately when it isn’t properly maintained (painted every few years, that kind of thing), it tends to corrode. It corrodes further when the repair method is covering leaking sections (or the whole thing!) with loads of tar——it works well for a while, but is a very temporary solution until the tar cracks and buckles and separates from the substrate (and further corrodes the metal). This “temporary” repair method has probably been used on our house for…oh, 50 years. Not awesome.

Eventually we found a roofing contractor (long story, not worth it) who came in at a reasonable price (and offered financing options), and we scheduled the work. Things were going super well, like so:

Roofattic

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that our whole house is insulated with brick and mortar? Well. It is.

roofing

roofbeforeafter

And then they weren’t.

The problem is our house.

Remember that thing I said about old houses being difficult and complicated? Well. Unlike modern homes, our house is outfitted with a built-in gutter system called box gutters, which is part of the whole structure of the roof. I made a simplified technical drawing to illustrate. Excuse my chicken-scratch.

diagram1

Basically this means that the gutter itself is built into the cornice of our house, as opposed to the  regular aluminum gutters that contemporary homes have. The gutter structure is built out of wood and then lined with metal (or sometimes rubber, if it’s been redone recently). The problem with this elegant solution to water drainage is that a lot can go wrong over time——the house settles, a leak develops in the metal lining, or if you’re like us, both! Both awful things have happened, meaning that water leaked into the gutter system for a really long time and caused a whole mess of rot.

I was aware that this could be a problem, but every roofing contractor who looked at our house (not just the ones we hired) proclaimed our box gutters A-OK and good candidates for a quick re-lining job.

HA. HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. *bursts into tears*

I’m the sort of annoying homeowner who lingers around whenever work is being done on my house, so when I climbed up onto the roof to check on the progress, I immediately saw some problems. The original tar-covered metal lining had been partially torn off, and underneath was a horror show——nothing but remnants of the original gutter structure remained, mostly comprised of completely rotted little splinters of wood.

rot

And it wasn’t just this gutter (although——hopefully——this is the worst). It was all the gutters that they’d exposed. Luckily at this point they’d only torn off half the areas of roofing (and gutter lining), so I immediately told everyone to stop what they were doing so we could assess the situation before opening up more cans of worms. Good move, Kanter.

Basically what happened to this gutter can be explained by this second (exaggerated for dramatic effect) technical drawing I composed for your viewing pleasure.

diagram2

The box gutter SHOULD  slope within the cornice down to a terminal at the end, where water is then released onto the ground via a downspout. But on our house, over the course of 150 years, not only did the gutter lining develop leaks, but the entire wall of the house (and the cornice) bowed out, causing the cornice to settle with a slope at both ends toward the center. Water began to leak through the gutter lining, and then settle in the middle, rotting some of the wood of the cornice and continuing to eat away at the gutter structure. Just terrific.

To make things even more fun and exciting, this kind of repair is beyond what our roofing contractor could address——it’s really carpentry, at this point, and a fairly specialized type of repair. So basically they covered all the exposed gutters with ice & water barrier and told us we needed to fix it ourselves or hire someone who could, and it needs to happen within the next month or so, before there’s massive amounts of cold and rain and SNOW to ruin our house/life.

The whole thing was absolutely devastating, honestly, and I don’t say that about a lot of things. I panicked. I went to the hardware store and bought some tools and supplies and wood. Then I got on the roof and basically didn’t get off for three days. It was cold. I might have been sick, both physically and in the head. It was awful. I wanted to be dead, but I thought maybe I could fix it myself and really, really didn’t want to deal with contractors or pay contractors lots of money to do something that my pea-brain thought I could maybe conceivably handle myself.

meonroof

I really tried.

EFFORT

At various points I thought I was doing super well and maybe I was an amazing carpenter/roofing prodigy, but Sunday night basically ended with me shivering on my roof, head in my hands, trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to come to terms with the fact that this is just beyond what I’m capable of dealing with by myself, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. I don’t really, actually know what I’m doing. I don’t think this repair is exactly rocket science, but it’s dumb for me to think I can do it correctly without any real knowledge of how to do it correctly. I’m not sure I can possibly make things worse, but I also don’t want to do it all wrong, cause further damage, or need to have it all redone in the next few years because I was too stubborn to hire somebody the first time around.
  2. I have no time for this. There are a lot of exposed gutters right now, and I’m under no illusions that upcoming rain/snow aren’t going to make all of this SO much worse. I need this to be fixed quickly, and doing it myself is not going to make it go quickly.
  3. There’s a problem of scale at work here. I’m one person, and even if I knew how and had the time, I can’t fix this many linear feet of gutter, half of it while balanced precariously on a ladder.

I’m not the sort of person who cries in moments of self-pity and dejection, but if I were, I would be. I know I try to keep things light and fun and happy around these parts (and I debated even writing this post), but honestly? This feels awful. I feel like I’ve destroyed my house. I know it’s just a dumb cornice and some dumb gutters, but this all feels overwhelming and insurmountable and sad.

We’ve had a couple of contractors out over the last few days who are familiar with rebuilding box gutters, though, and I think things are looking up. One of them in particular I LOVED, and his quote was actually relatively affordable, so hopefully he’ll be able to shuffle his schedule around and I’ll be writing a big update a couple of weeks from now about how he is amazing and solved all of our problems and I didn’t even have to sell my organs or anything AND my house has wonderful and reliable drainage that I’ll never have to touch again.

Hopefully. Fingers crossed, big time.

OK. Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing that ever happened during your renovation? Ready, go.

Fun and Funky Thoughts on Asbestos!

There’s a funny little subject that old home owners tend to be loathe to talk about, even among themselves. They’ll sit around for hours and laugh and laugh about uninsulated walls and crumbling plaster and that time they found live electrical wire poking out of the laundry room floor, just hanging out, ready to burn the house down. “Oh, look at us!” they say to each other, “just a couple of goofy lunatics, fixing things up again!”

But——save for the darkly humored and truly sick——their voices invariably drop to a near whisper when a particular subject comes up, their eyes shifting around suspiciously, lest someone might overhear. “Poor suckers——didn’t realize before they went to contract that the whole house was covered in it. Can’t replace the siding, can’t rip off the roof, heat pipes in the basement, popcorn ceilings——asbestos, man…that’s not something you want to mess around with.”

asbestos

Yeah. Asbestos. Or as I like to call ours, the Best Asbestos, because it’s more fun to say. Pretty much all old houses have asbestos somewhere, and there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about it, so long as it’s in stable condition (not flaking and falling apart) and goes undisturbed. The problem is when people start messing with it——unnecessarily ripping it off of heat pipes or crushing it up and throwing it around like confetti. Fact: When disturbed, asbestos-containing materials often release asbestos fibers. Asbestos fibers can be up to 10,000 times thinner than a human hair (so basically they’re invisible, and I think we can all agree that invisible threats are way freaky), and, when inhaled, they like to embed themselves in human lungs and wait around for 30 years or so and then be like—”hey! I’ve been here a while. About time I caused some lung cancer or incurable Mesothelioma and killed you dead!”

Oh, asbestos. Super duper rude, you know?

More facts: Asbestos can be in all sorts of things! That’s what makes it so adorable——it just wants to be at every party, and it doesn’t understand why nobody wants it. There was a time when everyone thought asbestos was super fun and groovy because it helped keep things from catching on fire, but then everyone realized in the 80s that the people who worked with it for years were all dying, and maybe it wasn’t so great after all. Now nobody wants it in their basement or their insulation or their flooring or their popcorn ceilings or their siding or really anywhere at all. It’s like the kid that pooped in the swimming pool, except nobody ever forgave him.

There are a couple of things to be done in an asbestos-related pickle. The best option is usually to do nothing at all. Humans and their asbestos can peacefully coexist for years, as long as everyone just leaves everyone else alone. The second best option is usually encasement, where the asbestos is covered up and ignored forever. Popcorn ceilings might just be covered with a new thin layer of drywall instead of scraped clean, or new flooring might be put right on top of asbestos-containing linoleum tiles. There isn’t anything wrong with this, except for when, many years later, somebody wants to run new electrical wiring or heating ducts or whatever, and they unwittingly disturb hidden asbestos-containing materials. Whoopsie! The Internet tends to agree that a little casual asbestos inhalation from time to time is not so great, but answers vary considerably as to how not-so-great it is. I, myself, prefer to believe that small levels of accidental exposure can’t be all that bad (I feel this way about all sorts of things, for the record: most varieties of drugs, trans fats, sorority girls, Lady Gaga), but who’s to say! Plenty of people think just a little bit basically amounts to a death sentence. Set a timer for 30 years, and try to forget that you’re basically a ticking bomb.

So it’s best to be careful, just in case, when dealing with these things. This is why my ceilings caused me a lot of dread. Have we talked about my ceilings? Well—out of the several rooms in my house, three of the largest ones came with not-so-adorable acoustic-tiled ceilings. There are a lot of different types of these ceilings, but basically they were probably installed to deaden noise, kind of insulate for heat, maybe hide electrical wiring or moderate to severe damage to the original plaster ceilings. It’s all one big exciting mystery, but the fact is that we have them and I would really like to not have them. The rooms all look like maybe they could be really pretty nice with some paint and general fixing, but then it’s like: BLAM—dem ceilings tho. A fresh coat of paint would help a little, but really they just need to take a hike.

The rooms in question include:

The front parlor/future library room:

parlor

These pictures are craptacular and from our first viewing of the house, but it could be so cute and so nice, right? I mean, it has that cute little chandelier and a CORNER RADIATOR!

ceiling2

Except for this…Ugh. Ceiling. Why you gotta be all?

Then there’s the dining room.

diningroom

All those cute doors and nice moldings and that crazy arched bay window area. It’s like charm on charm on charm, 24/7.

ceiling4

ceiling3

Oh right, except that mess of a ceiling. This is the room I’m most worried about, since there’s a pretty significant sag over by the bay area, which I guess was “repaired” with some clear caulk. Fancy!

Then there’s that room I always call the “middle bedroom” upstairs, which might become a master bedroom sitting/TV room kind of place. This room needs a whole mess of work (the bump-out bay window thing is a crazy disaster zone of missing windows and unpainted drywall and weird and mysterious fixes), but the thing I hate most?

middle-room

ceiling1

You guessed it. More acoustic tiles. The ceilings in the upstairs of our house are lower than downstairs, so this one feels particularly sad and oppressive instead of just all around very…blech.

These ceilings were one of the first things I noticed when we looked at the house for the first time. I remember asking our home inspector about them, and the conversation was basically like this:

Home Inspector: Really, this is a pretty great house. Solid foundation, great features!
Daniel: I know! Do you think those ceiling tiles contain asbestos, though? I’ve read they can contain asbestos.
Home Inspector: No, definitely not. I’m 99% sure they don’t.
Daniel: Oh, that’s great! What makes you so convinced? Ones that look basically exactly like these usually contain asbestos, and it’s not like the house isn’t more than old enough. Sorry to sound like a worry-wart, but am I missing some kind of non-asbestos identifying feature?
Home Inspector: Well, when you put it that way, if you’re really worried about it, I guess it’s best to have them tested because you really can’t tell about these things just by looking.

I didn’t further shame him by pushing the point about why he was so sure, but yeah—home inspector dude didn’t really know what he was saying. Which convinced me that, without question, our ceilings were most definitely chock-full of the stuff, which was a bridge we’d just have to cross some other time. We decided to forego the asbestos test that we could have written into our contingencies: partly because we were already offering a rock-bottom price, and further negotiating for asbestos abatement was not going to be a winning strategy, but mostly because we didn’t really want to add another item to the growing list of super valid and legitimate reasons we should probably definitely not buy this house.

We’ve been waiting the last few weeks to get some electrical work done in the entryway/hallway, so things have kind of reached a stand-still in there, since I don’t want to start repairing plaster until we’re done messing it up and making holes for new wiring. Naturally, my attention quickly shifted to wanting to destroy another area of my home, since that’s what I seem to like doing these days. I seem to have reached a weird breaking point with these three ceilings (particularly the dining room, since that’s the room we’re really using the most and it still looks terrible), and I want them gone yesterday. So instead of doing the truly reckless thing of just tearing them down in the middle of the night, or the slightly more reasonable thing of hermetically sealing the room and myself and going about a little DIY asbestos abatement (which is legal in the state of New York, but may not be in your state…), I decided to go ahead and be a grown-up and have those ceilings tested. I’m really very proud of this display of restraint and consideration for my own health and the health of those around me.

testing

So I went around with a spray bottle in one hand and a chisel in the other and took little samples of each of the ceilings. I immediately put them in baggies, and I immediately labeled the baggies. Then I printed and filled out a form and wrote a check and sent my samples to MACS Lab in California, where a team of scientists/magicians would analyze the samples and tell me if removing my ceilings would or would not cause me to die later in life. I watched a lot of CSI during my teenage-hood, so I have a general sense of how this whole montage looks. A dark, dramatically underlit lab full of beautiful people. Microscopes. Slides. Centrifuges. Computers with fancy graphics that either flash ASBESTOS in red or NOT ASBESTOS in green with the molecular breakdown of my mystery ceilings rotating, semi-translucent in the background. That’s definitely how it works.

Have you ever sent anything through the actual mail before? Let me tell you, the amount of waiting involved is AGONIZING. I waited for, literally—and I kid you not—DAYS to find out. I told a friend and neighbor what I was doing, and he was horrified that I even wanted to know at all. I told him my credibility in the home design/renovation blogosphere would be ruined if I didn’t take asbestos seriously, and then he stopped talking to me altogether.

ANYWAYS.

Then an email showed up in my inbox with the results. My blood pressure went up. I kind of knew what was coming, but I opened it anyway, since I’d payed a whole $35 per sample to get this terrible news, and I figured I should stop delaying coming up with a plan.

NO. ASBESTOS.

NONE. NOT EVEN A LITTLE. I read over the form a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Unfortunately it looks like I am not legally allowed to reproduce the form here (fair), so you’ll just have to believe me. It was amazing, like that time I found Mariah Carey’s instagram account. I sent a series of overly-excited tweets about the matter.

Now I obviously cannot WAIT to rip down these ceilings. I dream about it at night and during the day. It will make everything approximately 400,000 times better to have flat, beautiful ceilings. It fills me with hope and happiness to know this is a possibility that won’t cost me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, or my life.

Of course, this quickly brought with it a whole set of very serious and important questions and decisions. Namely:

1. What is under the acoustic tiles? These tiles were nailed onto furring strips, which are secured to the original ceilings (not glued!). From what I can tell from when I made holes to take the samples, the original plaster ceilings are still right up there, waiting to be uncovered! All of these ceilings are in the oldest section of the house, so they’re probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 years old. A lot can happen to plaster ceilings over that amount of time, so I’m certainly not expecting them to be perfect—lots of sagging and maybe missing pieces and whatever damage that I assume caused them to be covered up in the first place.

2. How do I make the ceilings beautiful again? I really want to save as much of the original plaster as possible, and fill in where necessary with new drywall. Alex at Old Town Home has a great post about repairing plaster ceilings with a magical-sounding product called plaster buttons (or plaster washers), which help bring sagging plaster back into position. I already bought 200 of them, so I guess I’m basically a plaster ceiling repair professional.

3. Medallions? Crown molding? Old houses usually have super beautiful plaster ceiling medallions in the middle of the ceilings surrounding a light fixture. I think my ceilings would look incomplete without them, and I want to add that extra level of super amazing fabulousness, at least to the downstairs rooms. House of Antique Hardware has some really great options——a bit of an investment, but worth it. Once everything is caulked up and painted, they look just like the real thing. I’ve thought a lot about adding crown molding, too, but I think I’ll pass——it would cost a ton of money to do it right (small crown molding with the huge moldings around the doors and baseboards is going to look extra-crappy), and I don’t think it’s necessary. If I feel like we need to add it later on, we can always do that!

www-1.47parkavenue.co.uk

Whenever I think about amazing ceilings, I think about 47 Park Avenue. Aside from the very extreme British fabulousness of everything Michael does to his amazing house, I am obsessed with having ceilings like his. Also, vintage Venini chandeliers, but that’s besides the point.

I thought that we needed to choose simpler ceiling medallions because our moldings don’t have all the ornate flair of Victorian finishes, but after gathering some inspiration (this picture, namely), I feel like maybe that isn’t the case? Maybe I need to track down really elaborate ceiling medallions to go with the really elaborate chandeliers that I will someday own? I’m not sure. I guess it’s a while off.

So. Lessons:

1. Things that look like asbestos might not be asbestos. Get them tested! It’s cheap and easy.

2. My ceilings are going to be amazing! I trust we can all sleep better tonight knowing this.

3. I would sell my soul for that chandelier.

Replacing Broken Window Panes with Salvaged Glass!

“You know,” our neighbor said on our fourth day in the house, “you ought to put in smaller windows.” Max and I had been out working on cleaning up the yard, and he and his friend had walked over to introduce themselves and dispense some free renovation advice.

“Smaller windows?” I asked.

“Yeah, for heat,” agreed his friend. He leaned in over the fence and dropped his voice. “Here’s what you do. Rip out those old windows and replace them with some smaller ones. But don’t throw those away——put them on eBay. Make sure you put something about how they’re from historic Kingston. Some sucker will love that. I bet you could get a few hundred bucks a pop.”

“Yeah, historic Kingston,” the neighbor agreed, “don’t forget that part. And say how it was the first capital of New York. People are into that stuff.”

“I’ll definitely consider it,” I told them, suddenly overcome with the desire to embrace each one of our newly-acquired 150 year-old windows and whisper softly to them, reassuring them that they were safe with me.

“I’m sure you got a lot of work to do on that place, but you’re gonna want to do it before winter sets in.”

“I’ll try to squeeze it in,” I said, looking back at the house, trying to think of a way to redirect their attention. “Right after, uh, we take care of this lawn. Grass, you know??”

It probably took these well-intentioned gentlemen roughly 0.0 seconds after meeting us to deduce that homosexuals had bought the vacant house down the street, but they’d failed to put two and two together. Homosexuals love old windows. They love old moldings and doors and floors and walls, too. I, for one, would do all sorts of things before I’d tear my old windows out, including but not limited to going bankrupt from heating costs and freezing to death in my sleep.

Admittedly, friendly neighbor might have a point, kind of. Advances in window technology over the past century have made windows more energy-efficient—what with double and triple insulated panes and more airtight seals. And smaller windows mean more solid wall, which means less heat loss. Hell, maybe just get rid of the windows altogether! Who needs ‘em, am I right?

But not only are old windows almost always more beautiful, they can also be pretty efficient when well-maintained (especially with decent storm windows). Even windows in terrible condition can usually be restored in a few simple steps and with a few inexpensive products. And while new production windows (vinyl, aluminum-clad, or wood) normally fail and have to be replaced after a couple decades, old wood windows can literally last centuries. My buddy Anna gives me a lot of hope when it comes to fixing up my old windows.

We have a lot of windows in this house (somewhere around 30…I’m too afraid to count), and all of them need some love. But that’s OK, because they’re super cool six-over-six double-hung sash windows that are original to the house, and almost every pane of glass is original and wavy and incredibly beautiful. The glazing on the exterior of most of them is in various states of disrepair, paint on the interior is chipping and falling off, we have broken sash cords, cords that have been replaced with chains, sash locks covered in too many layers of paint, top sashes painted or nailed closed, areas of rotted wood, broken panes…pretty much anything that can go wrong on an old window can be found somewhere in our house. Something tells me I’m going to be a pro at restoring old windows by the time we’re done renovating…50 years from now. Luckily we have storm windows on almost every window, so keeping those closed should help a little with the draftiness and offer some protection from the elements to slow further deterioration until I can really address things more comprehensively.

brokenwindows

Just to scratch the surface, though, it was really important to me to replace two shattered panes of glass. The one on the left was sadly broken a couple weeks ago (we’re guessing by some asshole neighborhood kid…ugh), and the one on the right has been broken since before we even saw the house for the first time. Aside from the the obvious concern of having gaping holes in our home when winter is just around the corner, it’s also just our responsibility as homeowners to stay on top of this stuff. It isn’t good for our house or the neighborhood to have obvious signs of disrepair and neglect on the exterior of our house, even if we’re working our butts off on the inside.

tools

Here’s my arsenal of tools!

1. A straight-edge for cutting glass. You can obviously have your glass cut for you (Lowes does it), but I wanted to try it out for myself and I had some glass on hand. This straight-edge is actually a metal transition strip for flooring because I’m disorganized.

2. A carpenter triangle, to ensure that the straight-edge isn’t set at an angle.

3. Window glazing putty. In the past, I’ve used the type that comes in a plastic tub, but I decided to try this kind out. The plastic tub kind has a play-doh-like consistency, whereas this stuff is much more liquidy. I found the other type easier to work with, honestly, but neither are super-difficult.

4. (not pictured) A heatgun for softening old glazing putty.

5. Measuring tape or ruler.

6. Glazing points, which hold the glass in place.

7. A razor blade.

8. Glass-cutting tool.

9. Glazing tool.

heatgun

To get the old glass out, I used a heat gun on the lowest setting to soften the old glazing, and my glazing tool to slowly peel it off. It’s tempting to turn the temperature up, but not only could that create lead vapors if dealing with lead-based paint, you also run the risk of overheating and cracking the glass further. This is obviously something you want to avoid if you’re just trying to redo the glazing and save the existing glass!

My pictures of the actual glazing process are horrendous (this project was particularly hard to take pictures of in-process…the lighting was a mess, and Max was busy!), but Alex at Old Town Home has a terrific run-down explaining how it’s all done. I stupidly skipped priming my sashes before applying new putty, but because the glazing on all of the windows really needs to be redone at some point anyway, I’m not going to sweat it right now. When I have the time to restore the windows for real I’ll fix it, but for now I’m just glad the glass is fixed!

newglazing

For the first window (the bottom corner pane of one of the big living room windows…boo-hoo), I thought I’d be super clever and reuse glass that I’d saved from the vestibule wall “windows.” It totally worked and looks totally fine and the dogs are clearly OK with it, but…

newpane

See that? See how the surrounding three panes of glass are all wavy and look like a Dalí painting, and the new one is super crisp and clear?

Screw you, dumb neighborhood kid.

I didn’t think it would bother me. I’m generally OK with new repairs looking like new repairs, but this is an instance when I don’t feel OK with that. It bothers me. I mean, it’s better than being broken, and I’m sure I’m probably the one person out of a thousand who will ever walk in this room and notice that one pane out of 54 in the entire room doesn’t bend the light and the view the same way that the others do, but still. I want my old beautiful glass back.

Before moving on to broken window pane #2, I was complaining about this with my friend John (whose AMAZING house tour is on Design*Sponge today!) over text message. John is a beautiful, wonderful person with terrific style who has been renovating his nearby 1723 (!!) home for the past five or six years, so I knew he would sympathize. Not only did he sympathize, but he offered to let me dig around his old window hoard in his basement to salvage some old glass! Because what self-respecting old-home renovator doesn’t keep old windows around for  a rainy day or a neighbor in need?

sparewindow

BOOM, old window. I see old windows like this ALL THE TIME at junk stores and architectural salvage types of places for practically nothing, but I’ve never really felt possessed to buy one. People are often quick to rip out perfectly good old sash windows instead of repairing them, often with the original glass and sash locks intact. John was after the sash locks, so he didn’t mind me taking some glass off his hands.

glazingremoved

I quickly went about carefully removing the old glazing with my heat gun and glazing tool. Once I felt confident that the glazing had been sufficiently removed and I’d found and removed all the old glazing triangles, I gently pushed on the backside of the glass. It popped out of the window frame pretty easily and intact. Yay!

glasscutting1

Cutting glass is really very easy, I found out. I just measured the size of the opening to figure out what size I needed and drew two small lines demarcating the width on either end of the glass. Then I used my triangle and straight-edge make sure I had a straight line to cut against.

glasscutting2

I was skeptical about how well this little glass cutting tool would work (it’s less than $4!), but it was great! Wearing protective gloves, you just run the wheel down the straight edge. Don’t be afraid to use some pressure—you only want to make ONE continuous pass, and you want to score the glass well to increase the chance of a clean break.

glasscutting3

It’s hard to get a good picture of the score line, but I hope you can see it to the right of the straight-edge? It’s subtle.

glasscutting4

Turn the glass so that the breaking point rests on the edge of a table or countertop. Apply firm, even pressure on the off-cut, and the glass should make a clean break! This is definitely easier with thinner glass like this, but the same method can work for thicker glass as well.

oldglass

It’s hard to get a great picture, but the “new” pane is the one in the top left corner! See how it’s all wavy and pretty and matches super well? I’m so pleased.

We have several more broken panes throughout the house (not shattered like these two, but with large cracks running throughout), so I guess I’ll start buying up old windows for future repairs. When I do a full overhaul on that first window and replace all the old glazing, I’ll probably go back and use this same method again. I know I’m a lunatic, but I really do think it’s worth the extra effort to maintain what I see as one of the house’s best features.

The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Bedroom

bedroom1

I never really intended to stop posting about our apartment entirely, but in the excitement and stress and overwhelming magnitude of projects that our crazy fixer-upper house has to offer, I guess that’s kind of what happened. Max and I both still have to be on the ground in NYC for various reasons, and while we can work remotely from Kingston some of the time, it’s a bit too far out of range to really make for a practical regular commute. Consequently, we still spend about half of our lives in the same Brooklyn apartment we’ve been renting for a little over 2 years now——and as much as I love Kingston, our house, and how happy the dogs are there, I do still love the apartment. This is the place where I became a Brooklyn resident and fell in love with the better borough. It’s the first place that I really got to share with my boyfriend——now future-husband——and it’s the place where we made a little family with a couple of fur-babies. It’s seen us through school and a weird collection of jobs, ups and downs, highs and lows; it’s been the backdrop of parties and good times with so many people we care deeply about. I’ll concede that I develop deep attachments to spaces and places, but this one will probably always rank as one of the most important.

Aside from that, there’s no way Max and I would have gone for it with the house if it weren’t for this apartment. I fell hard for this place as soon as Max and I saw it for the first time, and I don’t think that feeling ever really went away. It wasn’t because it was the most beautiful place, but it was the most beautiful place to me. If it’s not  plainly obvious, I might have kind of a weakness for trying to fix up busted up things (apartments, houses, furniture, dogs, you know), and I just remember being obsessed with how special this apartment could be with some love and care. Plenty of people think I’m crazy for spending a dime of my money or a minute of my time——as a renter——fixing up someone else’s property, and my answer to that is usually something like “well, I want to like where I live.” And that’s part of it, of course. But it goes deeper than that, too: I immediately felt a kind of weird responsibility and visceral drive to get this apartment back on track and set it on a better path. If my landlords don’t care that the cornices are rotting and the roof leaks and the hallways and stairs are filthy and there’s the occasional rat in the basement, that’s their prerogative. But for my part, the least I can do is care for my little section of this place that I love so much.

And so I cared. A lot. And I learned how to do all sorts of things, which gave me the confidence to take on something much more involved when I felt that same feeling all over again when we stumbled upon our house in Kingston. These approximately 450 square feet of living space became not only a crash course in renovation, but also a place to experiment, and try things out, and find a happy middle-ground between Max’s taste and my own. And in the process, it probably brought a lot of you here. And I wouldn’t trade any of that.

I tend to be very process-driven with my life and my blog content, and the apartment has always felt——and continues to feel——like a place in progress. Because of that, I always felt a little funny about writing before-and-after posts about it. And while things still aren’t really done (and I’m not so sure they ever will be, which is OK too), they’re in a pretty good place. The apartment is cute and comfortable, the big stuff is taken care of, and while there are still things I really want to do, they aren’t terribly pressing and will probably happen verrrrry slowly. Renovating a house doesn’t really leave tons of time or energy for the kind of pace I kept up when we were living in Brooklyn full-time.

So! Anyway! The apartment bedroom! I apologize that the photo angles between the before and after pictures don’t really match up, but all the before pictures are just quick snaps I took on move-in day. I wasn’t thinking!

beforebedwall

As you can see, the wall color was not exactly something I would have chosen, and everything was desperately crying out for a fresh coat of paint. The ceiling and moldings probably hadn’t been painted for at least a couple decades and were super chipped up and dirty and yellowed.

bedroom2

I love the bedroom in the apartment now——clean and simple and comfy. The white paint (Benjamin Moore’s White Dove) made the room feel totally refreshed and MUCH bigger. The bed is still the same IKEA hack I did a longgggg time ago——an upholstered $50 FJELLSE bed frame, which has held up really well even after over 3 years of use. The bedside lights are also an IKEA hack, and the side tables are vintage Danish shelves that my friend Maya sold me. The shelves aren’t as deep as I’d prefer for bedside tables and don’t offer any closed storage, but the wall-mounted design keeps the room feeling more open and easier to clean, so they’ve stuck around! The art was inherited from my grandparents’ home——it hung in their bedroom, too, and feels really special to have here.

beforedoor

Oh man, those red walls in the distance!

When we moved in, the bedroom door (kind of out of frame on the left) was falling off the frame, and the pocket doors didn’t open and close (turned out there were mounds of newspapers from the 70s and 80s stuffed into the wall cavity behind them!). All the hardware was hidden under layers of paint, the overhead light was awful, and while those little shelves were helpful at the beginning and a good idea for making use of that corner, I wasn’t really a fan of how they looked and they didn’t really fulfill our storage needs.

doors

Yay white walls! Yay black doors! Yay doors that open and close! Lots better, yes?

Bedroomshelves

I think I’ve mentioned a couple of times that my parents are moving out of the home I grew up in, which I’m more or less OK with because it means I get to take stuff! These Elfa shelves from the Container Store used to hang in my bedroom. The great thing about Elfa and similar systems is that it’s totally modular, so it was easy to rearrange the parts to fit the dimensions of this little wall (they used to hang in a long, horizontal formation, so all I had to do was buy two new vertical tracks). There aren’t really too many other options for non-awkward book storage in the apartment, so tucking the books in this corner feels like a good use of space. I also really like the way the Elfa shelves look!

beforedresserwall

shelves

So, this looks terrible. Those shelves went up in a fit of panic when Max moved in and brought a whole library with him, and I’ve basically regretted it ever since (the shelves, not Max moving in). They used to be COMPLETELY full, but we’ve been bringing an IKEA bag full of books with us to Kingston almost every time we go back, so this is all we’re left with right now. It’s still a lot of books, admittedly (and it’s not like there’s really anywhere to put them there, either!), but I’m very excited to take these shelves DOWN, finally. The new shelves in the opposite corner are all we really need here (maybe more than we really need, but whatever), and it’ll be nice to finally not be looking at this DIY-gone-wrong. Also, it’s a good wall for a piece of art (which, at a better scale, will in turn make the dresser look nicer), so that’s exciting. Of course I used CRAZY toggle anchors to hold those shelves up, so I’ll have to spend some time doing a bunch of plaster patching and repainting this wall before that can happen. But it’ll be worth it, because this picture makes me mad.

bedroomcorner

I hung up those little pieces of art a while ago, but I just like the way they look together and in those cheap IKEA RIBBA frames. The drawing on the bottom was found in my grandparents’ house, too (not signed, no idea where it came from or who the artist is!), and the one on top was made by my mommy! I found it years ago while snooping in old boxes in my basement and stole it immediately, and have somehow carried it around with me to every place I’ve lived for the past five years but never hung it up! I FINALLY stuck it in a frame and asked her about it last time she visited—I guess she made it as a young teenager during a brief phase when she enjoyed making art and experimenting with India ink? My mom is not the most artistically-inclined person, so the whole idea of that really tickles me.

The brass slanted candle holders were originally from Dwell Studio, but I bought them from Jennifer at A Merry Mishap at some kind of amazing discount on her instagram account, @ammextras, where she sometimes sells amazing things she doesn’t want anymore. Which is a totally brilliant concept, and also got me these totally brilliant brassy things I love so much. Thanks, Jennifer! The little vases were like 10 bucks at a stoop sale, and the coaster was thrifted.

shelves3

So that’s my room! I’m pretty happy with how it’s evolved in two years. Once those shelves over the dresser are down and the wall is fixed and there’s something arty hanging there, I think I’ll be happy with just calling it DONE.

The Guest Bedroom is Like a Real Room and Stuff.

before

One of my favorite rooms in our whole house is what I’m sure was originally a nursery. It’s very small, on the corner of the second floor, and accessible from both the hallway and the main bedroom——meaning that it has two large doors, two large windows, and a radiator. For some reason every time I post a floor plan of the second floor, I wind up with loads of comments suggesting that I turn it into a third bathroom, but there’s no way that’s happening. Aside from the obvious plumbing nightmare, I like it way too much as a room. It’s filled with light, it’s super cute, and it’s probably looked more or less like this for 150 years or so already (we’ve yet to nail down an exact date of our house…partially because I’m a little lazy and preoccupied and partially because it’s complicated stuff!), and I don’t really want to mess with that. It even has the original gas light fixture! It’s too nice to be a closet and too small and awkward to make a great office, so for now we’re using it as a small bedroom, as intended.

mekkoandlinusonbed

After we got a little smart and ditched the queen-sized air mattress for a real mattress for our own room, we kind of just threw the air mattress in here for guests. It took up basically the entire room. Very often we’ve had actual guests, but when it isn’t Nora’s room (or Chandler’s room, or Katie’s room, or Emily’s room), it’s Mekko’s room. Mekko is a little diva when it comes to her sleeping arrangements——she doesn’t like to be crowded by Max and Linus and I, so she elects to sleep on her own at night, and who am I to deny her that small luxury? Sometimes during the day she’ll allow Linus entry into her domain, but only if he promises not to lick her or impede on her ability to sprawl.

After a while, I began to feel a little bit guilty about forcing our houseguests to sleep in a glorified dog crate, though, so Max and I started keeping our eyes out for a cute little twin bed that would fit the room better.

amvets

Hooray for quick trips to the city of Buffalo. Hooray for AmVets. Hooray for $20 bed frames. So many hoorays.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: thrift stores very often have tons of vintage bed frames, I assume because they don’t sell very well. The matching rails are usually in a weird pile somewhere nearby, so it’s just a matter of finding the right pieces. Then you’ll want to MEASURE, since old beds can sometimes be non-standard sizes——and while it’s possible to modify and old frame to fit a standard mattress (or have a mattress and sheets made to fit the bed), that’s a whole headache I’d rather avoid. So. MEASURE. It’s very hard to eyeball it when it comes to bed frames——they ALWAYS look tiny without a mattress. You can pull up standard mattress sizes on your cell phone while you wait. Then you can cut the slats yourself out of 1×4 pieces of lumber at any home improvement store. BAM. Easy bed.

Also: regular mattress, no box-spring. No pillow-top thick monster mattress shenanigans. Max and I have bought both of our mattresses at a Sleepy’s clearance warehouse center at steep discounts, and they’re both great mattresses. Never pay full price.

That is everything I know about buying beds. Use this information responsibly.

guestroomfromdoor

We really aren’t even close to making this room a real priority and have just sort of thrown thrifted stuff in it, but it actually looks pretty adorable! Mekko feels super civilized about it, as you can tell.

Based on the condition, I’m guessing the bed frame is from the 1950s or so, but these spool “Jenny Lind” beds have been produced for approximately forever——this style (with turned corners on the headboard and footboard) began to be produced around the 1850s (you can read a good history of these beds here!). Even though it’s a little sweeter and more traditional than the stuff I’m normally attracted to, I like that it’s cute and classic and goes well with the house. I think Max and I are both having fun mixing things up, here——we’re buying furniture slowly and as we find it, with the loose criteria that we love it and that we have a place for it, and we’ll just sort of see where it all lands and how it plays together. Also, $20 bed.

sidetable

I bought those little teak side tables this weekend off Craigslist! Good news: $20. Less good news: I traversed both a nearby nursing home and a clandestine gas station meeting to procure these tables. Long story. But they’re here now, and they’re cute!

The little rug weaving thing came from an auction. Yeah. I go to AUCTIONS now. Steppin. It. Up.

Separate post. Exciting times. Auctions are bananas.

I thought the colors were a little bright and silly and not my taste, but I bought it anyway because it was cheap (I AM HUMAN I AM FLAWED) and then Max threw it on the floor in here and it looked cute! I know, I am full of exciting stories today.

chairlitho

I hung art! I had it in my head that it didn’t make sense to hang art until the walls are restored and painted, but you know what? That’s going to take a long time. I’ve accepted it. My time is limited. The least I can do is grab a hammer and a couple hooks and just start hanging stuff up so it isn’t sitting around in piles. What’s one more tiny hole to patch? Nothing, that’s what.

I like this funny little litho, though. We found it at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. It kind of toes the fine line between pretty and ugly, between tacky and not-tacky, which is sort of how I like most things in my life to be. Aside from my body. Everything else should be a little ugly.

It maybe needs a better frame at some point, but whatever. I’m into it and its weird 80s-ness. I can’t explain. Art just has to speak to your soul.

In addition: chair! True to form, I have been slowly accumulating a very stupid and nonsense amount of chairs I don’t need and someday will probably have to get rid of when my friends and family mock me. Right now, though, I can put them in corners and pretend people will sit on them. Who doesn’t want to just sit in a chair in a corner under that magnificent bright blue 80s lithograph? I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t want that out of this little room.

Details

Here are some more snapshots, in case you’re not following all the complex data being thrown your way. Cute dog. Cheap bed. Cheap rug. Cheap tables. Cheap chair.

I have no idea where Mekko’s bandana came from. It just showed up in our apartment one day, so we put it on her. She’s pleased to look even more androgynous than ever.

olddetails

I’m excited to really get to work on this room someday. It has the same American Radiator Company “Rococo” style radiator as the rest of the house (except smaller and flesh-colored), that crazy gas fixture, and a beautiful old sash-lock with a little ceramic knob just waiting to be stripped and restored. I want to make sure it’s staying a bedroom before making any big decisions about it (wallpaper? overhead light? rug? furniture? curtains? blinds? did I miss anything?), but anyway. It’s going to be way cute.

above

Until then, Mekko is not complaining.

 

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