Tour: First Floor!

FIRST-FLOOR-BEFORE

Look at that, I did computer things and made an OK-looking floor plan! It makes the house look so…clean and Sims-like? Into it.

Once I started editing the photos for this post, I quickly realized that putting together a tour for a couple thousand square feet of house is really different than throwing together a few photos of a 500 square foot apartment! As we have a bit more ground to cover, I figured it would be best to split the tour into three posts—the downstairs, the upstairs, and the exterior. The second floor isn’t as big as the first floor (and doesn’t need as much work!), so I promise this is the longest of the three posts! Grab a drink, settle in, try not to get vertigo trying to decipher this photo/word-dump.

entryway2

Because the house was not-so-gracefully split into 2 units at some point (probably the 70s; everyone did crazy stuff in the 70s), some fun and funky modifications were made to the floor plan that we’ll be removing. The first hits you just five feet inside the front door: this huge weird wood-paneled wall with a wood hollow-core door and three weird windows. I can’t WAIT to rip it down. The front doors beyond it (which you can see in the first photo) are pretty and let tons of light in, so I’m really excited to see the entryway immediately brighten up once it comes down.

Due to the era of the house (about 1895), it would have been common for there to have been a vestibule at the entrance. Obviously this one isn’t original, but based on the placement of doors, moldings, and the flooring, I’m almost certain that this house never had a vestibule, so it isn’t something we have to replace. Once through the vestibule, two doors on either side have been blocked off with big sheets of plywood nailed into the door frames. Luckily, the original doors are just waiting on the other side—unluckily, they’re locked! Like most old houses, ours came with an enormous pile of old keys, so I’m hoping one of them works to unlock the doors. I don’t want to try to take the plywood off from the outside because I’d end up wreaking all kinds of havoc on the original moldings, which I’m obviously trying to preserve.

But the stairwell! I love the stairs. I love that they’re big and straight, and I love the handrail and the spindles and I especially love the big chunky newel post at the bottom. It was the first thing I saw and fell in love with when I walked into the house for the first time. I’m still amazed and really happy that after 120 years, nobody ever decided to paint it. The risers still have the hardware for whatever kind of runner was here originally, and the treads have a few layers of paint (which was sloppily applied and got all over the bottom of the spindles—hello tedious restoration task!).

The radiator is a “Rococo” style radiator produced by the American Radiator Company——one of best-selling designs in North America for many years, they were produced from about 1895 to 1920, give or take a few years. The exact same style of radiator is all over the house (with a different, more utilitarian style in the bathrooms and kitchens), and I just love them. Most of them only have a couple layers of paint on them, and all seem to be in good working condition! Knowing around when the radiators were made is a decent indication of the age of the house (which we’re still not sure about), but it’s possible that they were added at some point later on.

That last shot is looking back toward the entry from the bathroom door. The door on the right leads down to the basement (so scary!) and the door on the left is obviously a newer addition and was the entrance to the first floor apartment. It should come down easily enough.

Beyond taking down the walls and un-blocking the doors, we need to restore the walls, paint the radiator, figure out what to do with the stairs (I think I want to strip/refinish the treads), and address the existing terrible drywall job on the ceiling. There isn’t any wiring for a ceiling fixture, so I’d really like to have that installed and put a nice light fixture in here. The only existing light is that little 1920s sconce on the wall in the first picture, which is pretty dim and creepy at night.

downstairsbathroom

You’ve already seen a glimpse of the first floor bathroom, but here it is in all its horrifying glory! Amazingly, these photos are actually phenomenally flattering. It’s really bad.

Based on the fixtures, I’m guessing this bathroom was put in around 1920 or so, and saw some “updates” around the 1960s or 70s. Right now, it’s totally unusable——there’s brown water backed up in the tub (which I’ve since vacuumed out with my fancy new Shop Vac, but the pipe must be clogged because it still doesn’t drain), the toilet tank is broken in a few places and leaks when flushed. Oh yeah, and the door is off the hinges. So there’s that.

I love this bathroom, though. If possible, I want to salvage the sink and the tub, and possibly the medicine cabinet (or at least the mirror part) and a few other little fixtures in the room. The bathroom is super duper small, so I think it’ll be a good maiden voyage into full-on bathroom renovation! I’m sure it’ll be riddled with problems and horrifying discoveries, but I can totally see this bathroom being fresh, clean, and really, really beautiful. If time and budget allow, I’d like to get started on the bathroom soon, but if not, it’s not going anywhere. There’s a functioning bathroom on the second floor, so at minimum we’ll get the pipes draining, put the door back on and try to forget it’s there until we can tackle it!

den

Back at the front of the house, there’s this room. I don’t really know what this room will even be, honestly——I wanted something like a home office/workspace, Max wants it to be more like a casual, cozy den. That door in the top photo is the one covered in plywood on the other side. It’ll be so nice when it’s finally open again!

This room has three nice windows and gets a ton of light. The light fixture in this room is probably the nicest one in the house, and the corner radiator is the craziest/coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

The last photo shows where there was either a fireplace or some kind of wood-burning stove back in the day. At some point, it was removed and the floor was (badly) patched in. On the left, you can see that itty-bitty skinny door, which opens into a little foot-deep closet thing. It’s so quirky and bizarre. I love it.

A note about the wallpaper, since a couple people have asked: it’s actually not wallpaper! These walls were wallpapered (a few times from what I can tell), but this pattern is actually hand-stamped. Every room except the kitchen and bathroom on the first floor have some version of it in different colors and different patterns. In the entryway/hallway and this room, the pattern is done in gold paint which has dulled a lot over the years, but is still pretty awesome.

As to whether we’re keeping the wallpaper, the answer is probably not. Because the house was vacant for about two years and without heat, the freeze-thaw effect caused a lot of the underlying paper to fall away from the plaster underneath, so most of the wallpaper is in really, really bad shape. I’m considering trying to keep one wall of it somewhere, though. It’s clearly not original to the house and clearly outdated (in kind of an amazing way?), but mostly I love that it so clearly demonstrates that somebody really really cared about this house at one point. The walls were obviously a huge labor of love, so I want to find some way to commemorate that as we renovate.

dining-room

The dining room! It’s a great size for a full dining table, which I’m so excited about. I really want to host Thanksgiving for both of our families this year, so there’s a little fire under our asses to try to at least make this room nice before then!

The top photo shows the kitchen entrance on the left and a closet door on the right. The closet was added later (I’m guessing also around the 1920s—it looks like the house underwent a pretty major renovation sometime around then, based on the bathroom and some other stuff), which is pretty obvious since neither the door nor the moldings match the rest of the room. The closet (and the pantry in the kitchen) were formed when a back stairwell was ripped out. Down the line, it’s possible we might rip out this closet, patch in the wall and molding, and extend the pantry to make a huge pantry, with the entrance in the kitchen. If that makes sense. We’ll see.

The second photo shows the same closet door and a window, which faces into the enclosed side porch. To the right of the window is a radiator (it’s under a wood cover, but the radiator underneath is the same fancy kind as the others!), and to the right of that is this cool window bay with an arched entry! The arch and floor in the bay is pretty water-damaged from an earlier roof leak, but I’m hopeful that we can salvage everything with a little TLC.

You can’t see in the photo, but on the left side of the bay is a door, not a window. I thought that this was originally an exterior door leading out to the side porch, but I think perhaps it was added later, after a window was torn out. In any case, later on a wall was added right behind the door to create another small closet. At the very least, I’d like to take down this wall and re-open the door to the side porch. The existing closet is really janky, and we really don’t need a third closet in this room at all.

Kitchenwalk-through

I’ve already posted these images of the kitchen, but here it is again! I’ve been working really hard on it and it already looks SO different. I’ve finally gotten to that point (paint on the walls! OMG!) where I can tell it’s going to be so awesome. Just you wait.

sideporch

Off the kitchen is the entrance to the “side porch,” which is just all kinds of bad. This space was finished really badly, the roof is leaking, and it’s just generally dirty and ugly and terrible and weird. Like the kitchen, a drop ceiling was also installed here (realtor had the tiles removed), and the original beadboard ceiling is right above it!

SOMEDAY, probably wayyyyy down the line, I’d really like to restore the porch to be…an actual porch. There’s a porch on the front of the house, too, but it would be so great to be able to do the house justice and make this porch what it’s supposed to be. As it is, there’s really nothing in here worth salvaging (crappy aluminum windows, ugly baseboard heater, gross linoleum), but I’m guessing the original clapboard will be intact under the paneling, which is exciting. Also worth salvaging: weird little light, weird little dog.

livingroom

This is number 11 and 12 on the floor plan. Even though it’s one of the rooms that needs the most work, HOLY COW I’m so excited for it. SO, SO EXCITED.

I used to think this room wasn’t original to the house, but I might have changed my mind. In any case, it’s by far the biggest room in the house and has the only fireplace. The fireplace isn’t functional (I actually think it may never have been wood-burning, but instead had a wood stove in front of it that vented through that black metal grate), but maybe we can change that? Even if we can’t, it’s so pretty. The portrait of the woman on the beach is one of Max’s thrift finds——I just put her there so she wouldn’t get damaged.

This room has seen a number of modifications over the years, including the construction of a closet to the right of the fireplace and the enormous wall of glass doors and windows directly to the left of the mantel. Every single person (Max included) thinks this wall is super cool and thinks it should stay——and while YES, it is really cool, I think it has to go. It isn’t original to the house, and cuts the most amazing  room in the house into two not-super-amazing, awkwardly sized spaces. If/when we go to sell the house, I know that this is going to be the stand-out room that seals the deal for some lucky person, and I don’t want to compromise that because of some weird, semi-pretty addition that someone had installed over the years. At the very least, I’d like to reuse the cute little built-in cabinets in the “sunroom” area somewhere else in the house, and maybe we’ll find a place for some of the doors and windows, too? If not, we’ll sell or donate them to architectural salvage, where hopefully they’ll make someone really happy.

I’m kind of obsessed with the huge windows in this room. I know the photos are totally blown-out (sorry!), but they look out onto the front porch. Obviously the previous owner had intentions of replacing them with those huge aluminum windows sitting in the photo, but I’m so glad it never happened. I think most people would probably replace the windows with either new windows or doors onto the porch, but I can’t really stomach the idea of that. Not every old window is, like, super precious (I guess), but I’ve never seen anything like these——6 over 9 sash windows that are like nine feet tall? Super cool. I wonder how huge those sash weights are!

The other bummer in this room is the floor. Lest you were fooled (you probably weren’t), that’s not a nice parquet floor——that’s ugly 60s or 70s linoleum tile. Unlike the rest of the first floor, I don’t think there’s nice hardwood underneath it, either——just a plywood underlayment over top of the original pine-plank subfloor. I guess the two options are going down to the subfloor and refinishing that, or laying new flooring directly on top of the linoleum. It’ll probably depend on a couple factors, like whether the existing tiles contain asbestos (in which case we’d probably opt to just cover them rather than incur the cost/drama of removing them), and whether we’d be crazy to use the subfloor as a finished floor, what with the heat loss and possibility of creepy-crawlers coming up through the boards from the crawl-space underneath this room.

Also, yeah. A huge antique piano came with the house. I guess we’ll keep it? It’s sort of awesome and the idea of trying to get it back out of the house sounds hard. It’s falling apart a little and woefully out of tune, but there’s obviously no real rush on restoring it…and who couldn’t use a massive old piano? I guess?

ANWAY, this room. Dream with me for a moment. Maybe it needs a herringbone floor? Maybe it needs a coffered ceiling? Maybe it needs new electrical and an amazing light fixture? Maybe it needs to have the radiators re-routed and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on either side of the fireplace? Maybe I need to come back down to earth?

Maybe. So many maybes. I like maybes.

FIRST-FLOOR-POST-DEMO

For extra credit, I put together this second floor plan, showing how things change a little once we start taking down walls and opening doors and restoring the old layout. It’s going to be crazy.

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The Kitchen: Inspiration and a Plan!

kitchendoor

I know if you read my last post, you were probably expecting my next post to be a full-on house tour, MTV Cribs style. “Hey, my name is Daniel, welcome to my busted up crib! Wear some closed-toe shoes and try not to get caught in cobwebs or cut on broken glass! Oh, that bathtub full of green water? Don’t worry about it!”

I thought it would be more productive to do a tour when I’ve put together some modicum of a floor plan, though, so you’d understand the spaces and how they relate to each other and all that. The layout of the house is pretty simple, but still. It’s disorienting to just look at photos of different rooms. So we’ll wait on that for a hot second.

Instead, we might as well talk about the actual first priority of this reno business, which is the downstairs kitchen. I mentioned before that the house has an upstairs kitchen as well, which is a little bit nicer and a little bit worse at the same time. Pictures to follow, but basically it’s a room that really wants to be a bedroom with a kitchen inside it. There’s very little storage, whereas this downstairs kitchen has loads of storage. The downside is, obviously, it’s a wreck.

When we first saw this house, we came to it by parking on the street, trespassing our way into the backyard, and looking in all the windows we could. For some reason, through the blurred tint of “OMG this house is amazing and OMG Kingston is so cute and OMG wouldn’t it be cray if we bought this house??” I distinctly remember thinking the kitchen was, like, totally workable and fine! Disregarding every flaw is a weird thing that happens when you really want something, particularly when there’s snow on the ground and everything is very pretty.

Then when we came back to actually tour the house with the realtor a couple months later, I started to get a little more realistic about the kitchen, and by the time we moved in, I was both afraid and skeeved out by it.

Kitchenwalk-through

These are some truly lousy photos I shot at our first walk-through (we did about 3 or 4). I’m thinking the kitchen was probably renovated and installed during the 1950s, and has seen a few fancy additions over the years—like a luxurious drop ceiling, for instance, and some nice flower-patterend contact paper lining the backsplashes. The realtor had the ceiling tiles removed so prospective buyers could see just how tall the ceilings really are, which frankly probably wasn’t an improvement. Above the drop ceiling skeleton is a grease-stained old ceiling and some questionable electrical work (wires feeding second floor outlets swinging like vines, an overhead light with no canopy, secured with non-electrical rigid wire…that type of thing!). Nice!

Moving clockwise:

1. The door on the left in the first picture is where the entrance to a back stairwell would have been back in the olden days, but at some point the stairs were torn out and a pantry was put in its place, which is actually sort of nice. I mean, the pantry is terrifying and gross, but the fact that it’s there is nice. It could be nice.

2. We weren’t sure if any of the two stoves and two fridges in the house were operable, but turns out this fridge it totally functional! It smelled like soured…something…but I gave it a freakishly thorough cleaning and it’s basically like new. Scrubbing Bubbles in the aerosol can is a lifesaver, for real.

3. The door on the left was probably originally an exterior door, but now leads out to a weird janky mudroom. Max is convinced the mudroom can be adorable and functional someday; I want to burn it. The doorway on the right leads out to a small enclosed porch on the side of the house. Someday, I think it would be really nice to restore the porch to a regular exterior porch, but that’s going to have to wait. Right now, it is mildly horrifying.

4. 50s wood cabinets, contact paper, and white and gold-speckled formica countertops. I kind of dig the countertops, actually, but they’re in rough shape and I can’t really come up with a design plan where they wouldn’t look dumb.

Kitchenbeforepostfloor

This mess:

1. That is not brick. That is brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper. Behind that is a couple inches of plaster, and behind that is brick. I really want to chip off the plaster and expose the brick someday, but that’ll probably wait until the full overhaul.

2. Here’s a better view of the sink, which unfortunately is covered with all of our toiletries. We didn’t have hot water for the first 5 days in the house, so this leaky sink was also our cold sponge-bath spa!

3. I have no idea if that stove works, but we’re not keeping it. First of all, it’s very yucky. Second of all, it’s gas, and we currently don’t have gas service. Third of all, there’s a functional and cute electric stove on the second floor thats clean and nice and works, so we’re moving that down here. I already had the plumber cap the gas line.

4. I know, the floor is gone. I originally planned to cover it, but the old tiles were crumbling in places and the adhesive had totally failed across the entire floor. The whole thing came up in about 2 hours, and all of the tiles that weren’t already crumbling came up completely whole and intact. I was sure to keep everything very wet with soapy water, I wore a respirator mask, and double-bagged (and duct-taped closed) all of the tiles, just in case they contained asbestos fibers. I don’t really want to get into that stuff right now, but given the circumstances (crumbling tiles), I think I did the safest thing for me and my family. I mostly followed these guidelines, just in case. In any case, it’s done, and now we’re left with old plywood underlayment, which is…disgusting. Someday, I’d like to go all the way down to the original pine plank subfloor and either refinish or paint it, but we have no idea what the condition of that will be, and I’m not prepared to find out yet. There is also a hole second layer of linoleum and a whole second subfloor beneath that, and who knows what we’ll find there. So for now, this underlayment stays. I think if it’s all painted, it’ll be OK. If not, I’ll explore other options.

ANYWAY.

We REALLY don’t have the budget for a full-on kitchen overhaul right now, which is kind of a good thing——I really don’t want to renovate a kitchen before I’ve had a chance to live there, see how we use the space, and come up with the best layout options and materials and all that.

Still, there are a TON of free or very cheap improvements we can make to get this “temporary” kitchen to last us a goooood long time. I think once it’s done, it’s probably something we’re going to be fine with keeping until most/all of the rest of the house is done, which is good. Kitchen renovations can easily cost a ton of money, and while I think most prospective buyers probably saw this kitchen as a total gut job, there are actually good things about it! By which I mean that the cabinets are totally plain, basic, and structurally solid, and the sink is pretty cute (big white double-drainboard. better pictures forthcoming!).

blackwhitewood

SO, maybe some inspiration is in order, then? My favorite combo for kitchens (maybe just for everything, generally) is a mix of black, white, and wood. I don’t keep a ton of inspiration images around me all the time (I get easily overwhelmed), but I love this picture of this restaurant I saw on Brian Paquette‘s Instagram feed. From what I can gather, it’s called Tinello and was designed by Cassandra LaValle, and it’s really pretty. I really love the crisp contrast, and I really love the mix of the black-black chairs with the super dark inky-blue-black benches. It’s a combo that might sound clashy, but I think it works beautifully here. The wood tabletops and picture frames keep things warm, and that little sconce is just the right amount of vintage without going too cutesy.

Also, that kitchen on the right——HOLY WOW. I’ve had this post from Design*Sponge bookmarked for ages, and I just love what Tara Mangini and Percy Bright of Jersey Ice Cream Co. did on the cheap with this client’s kitchen (also in the Hudson Valley!). They color-blocked the whole room, and I think the effect is so gorgeous, and really helps distract from the less desirable parts of the kitchen (like the cabinet doors). The butcherblock adds the perfect amount of warmth, and that sink is…really awesome.

doorsixteen_kitchenreno_shelves2

It’s no secret or surprise that I really love Anna and her house and everything she does to her space, and her kitchen is no exception! Black, white, wood, subway tile, Victorian details, Swedish cleanliness, that OneFortyThree lamp——Anna just knows what she’s doing. Max and I went over for dinner last weekend, and it was so nice (and yummy!) to get a break from our chaos and get re-inspired by walking around Door Sixteen. I really love the subway tile with black grout in Anna’s kitchen——it somehow feels warm and cozy, is really inexpensive, and makes the room feel incredibly finished and put together.

MOTHERFUCKINMOODBOARD

ZOMG, you guys!! I MADE A MOOD BOARD. I am a real blogger now. BOOM, kitchen.

What’s a better term for “mood board,” by the way? Surely we can come up with one. I really never want to write that again.

1. There are a ton of old painted-over hooks everywhere in the house, but I recovered a few from the kitchen already. I’m planning to strip the paint off, probably spray-paint them black, and re-hang them for tea towels and aprons and stuff. Aside from the can of spray paint, they’re free! I like free.

2. I definitely wasn’t planning to do any tiling in this kitchen, but the more I look at it and the more I think about how long we might have it, the more I’m tempted. I already have all the tiling supplies from tiling my apartment (including enough leftover thinset and grout!), so it would really just be probably something like $40 of tile for all the areas I want to do. Kind of seems worth it?

3. I hate to link to this since it’s no longer for sale, but I love the Flag Conversions Tea Towel by Shanna Murray for West Elm Market. It went on sale a few weeks ago for $4.50 (!), so I ordered a second one, but now it looks like it’s out of stock. I think I want to hang this one and use it for reference, though. It’s so cute and so helpful!

4. Wood countertops. These are the IKEA NUMERAR oak butcherblock counters, which are probably the most affordable butcherblock option. I have a section if it in my kitchen in the apartment, and I love it, but I’m not sure I want to spend the money here. I have an idea for a cheaper alternative, though, so we’ll see how that goes.

5. You can kind of tell in the pictures that there’s a weird outlet in the soffit above the sink. I had no idea what it was for, but turns out it’s for a clock! Cute! The Newgate Bubble Clock (which I already own!) is battery-powered anyway, but it would be cute to cover the outlet. If Max doesn’t want me to move the bubble clock out of the apartment, maybe I’ll find something vintage.

6. I might look for a cheaper alternative, but while the sink is nice, the faucet is not. It leaks everywhere and it sucks. I love the IKEA RINGSKÄR faucet we have in our apartment, so I’d like to do something similar here.

7. OK, this isn’t the light fixture I have, but it’s similar. I’ve been hoarding a faux PH-Lamp I found in the thrift store in Sweden for $7 for over a year now, and I finally get to use it! I think it would work great as the main light source in the room. There’s a light fixture over the sink, too, and maybe we’ll add some IKEA under-cabinet lighting, so I think the kitchen will be plenty bright.

8. I love the idea of this marble French Kitchen Pastry Slab from Crate & Barrel, especially if we do the countertops super cheap. It’s nice and big, and the marble would class things up a little.

9. The palette! I haven’t chosen exact colors yet, but I’m thinking a warm white-grey for the walls, a crisper white for the ceiling, moldings, and upper cabinets, and a true black-black for the floor, radiator, and doors(?), and  a deep inky-off-black for the base cabinets.

Totally solid plan. So much work. Hold me; I’m scared.

 

 

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We Did Something. Big.

mekko

While I guess I’m a fairly talkative person, I’m not a very loud one. My regular speaking voice hovers, I’ve been told, somewhere around a loud whisper. When I’m angry or flustered, I might achieve something more like a normal “indoor voice,” but anything louder than that is more or less beyond me. Hoots and hollering at concerts or sports games are things that I lip-synch and mime, and an involuntary fear-scream comes out as something disarmingly deep and guttural—neither loud nor shrill. Which is why when I yelled “MAX, TURN OFF THE SHOWER RIGHT NOW!” a few days ago, I couldn’t help but take a split-second amidst the chaos to appreciate just how loud I can be when desperate enough. It wasn’t, evidently, loud enough for Max to hear over the sound of running water and dance music emanating from his iPad, but loud enough for a brief moment of self-congratulatory appreciation. I can scream. I am human.

The trouble was the downstairs toilet. From what I was able to piece together later, what with my limited plumbing knowledge, was that 120-year old clogged cast-iron pipes may not necessarily agree with a shower being run, a toilet being flushed, and a washing machine draining simultaneously.

It was like nothing I’ve ever seen. All at once, a 1920s toilet erupting both from the bowl and flowing from beneath the base, regurgitating what I can only describe as a poop geyser. It stopped as suddenly as it began, but not before relieving itself of somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 gallons of water, which quickly spread to much of the first floor. Soaked in this water was all manner of unspeakable things, chief among them clumps of toilet paper and human shit. After roughly 60 seconds of frenzied mopping with rags and paper towels, I ran to the second floor, where Max was washing his hair. “TURN OFF THE FUCKING SHOWER,” I yelled, drawing back the curtain dramatically. “THE DOWNSTAIRS TOILET EXPLODED.”

He instinctively recoiled in terror, fiddling with the knobs, his eyes stinging from shampoo. “What?! What should I do?”

“I DON’T KNOW. DO YOUR BEST. I HAVE TO GO.”

And that’s when I ran out of the house, leaving my keys behind, and jumped in the car and made a short and frantic trip to the local hardware store to buy a Shop Vac, a purchase I’d previously seen as somewhat unnecessary. I was back in less than 15 minutes, maniacally tearing apart the cardboard box as I approached the front door. Please, I prayed, please don’t let these wood floors buckle and warp. Replacing these floors is not an option.

This—crawling around on your hands and knees in a lake of human shit in what will become your dining room—is, I’m quickly discovering, part of the joy of home ownership.

housebathroom

Rewinding a bit: I’ve been holding out on you, a little bit. Please forgive me. It’s been a little hectic.

Over the past several months, Max and I have been in the process of doing something that started as little more than a pipe dream and some vague flowery fantasies, and ended with us being handed the keys to a house.

We bought a house. We’re officially out of our goddamned minds.

house1

A little practical information:

1. The house is located in Kingston, New York, which is a small city in the Hudson River Valley, about a 2 hour drive upstate from New York City. If you’re the Rain Man of my blog, you might remember that we visited Kingston back in December, where a close friend invited us to stay at a rental house for the holidays. We immediately fell head-over-heels in love with the city. Kingston dates back to 17th century Dutch settlements, was actually the first capital city of New York, and is loaded with beautiful historic architecture and general adorable small-towny-ness. It’s a city of about 25,000 people, with a bourgeoning arts community, thriving small businesses, approximately 3 regular farmer’s markets, close proximity to the water—it’s great, basically. The more time we spend in Kingston, the more we love it.

2. The house is old. The MLS listing said that it was built in 1895, and I haven’t had the time to get myself to the historical archives to try to nail down something more concrete and accurate. I’m thinking that the house was built over time with a couple additions, so it’s sort of a weird mix of styles, including Georgian, Greek Revival, and Victorian. I need to brush up on my turn-of-the-century architectural styles. That said, I don’t think it’s had very many owners. The last owners bought the house from a family member in 1973, and who knows how long they’d owned it before that. What really drew us to the house is probably an effect of that: it’s seen very few major modifications and renovations over the years, meaning that things like moldings, doors, hardware, windows, and flooring are for the most part original and very, very cool. You know I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

3. The house is currently a 2-family, which we’ll be converting back into a single family (which the home was originally). That means there’s an upstairs unit and a downstairs unit—so two kitchens and two bathrooms. We’re keeping the downstairs kitchen, and the plan is to turn the upstairs kitchen into a bedroom, and knock down the walls that separated the two units (this should be fairly simple—they definitely aren’t load-bearing, and look to just be some framing and thin sheets of 70s wood panelling). Obviously we’ll get into much more details about all of our plans and stuff as I post more!

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To pre-empt some obvious questions:

1. How the hell are you affording this, you psycho??

It feels a little weird to come out and say the exact purchase price of the house, but I’ll do my best to put this in some perspective while maintaining a baseline level of privacy for the two of us. The house had been on the market for roughly two years, during which the asking price (which was already pretty low, but well out of our nearly non-existent range) had dropped significantly. When we first discovered the house back in December (while innocently trolling real estate listings in the comfort of our rental house, just because we were curious about the lay of the land), the price was over 41% higher than what we ended up buying for, and a couple months later it dropped another 15%. We offered about 25% below the reduced asking price, and after some back and forth with the estate, our offer was accepted. So we ended up buying for half the original list price, and far, far below market, even for our neighborhood, which would probably be classified as what they call “up and coming.” We were also able to fold some of our initial renovation costs into our mortgage loan, so we don’t exactly have to be flush with up-front cash in order to get the house into workable condition and make some immediate improvements on the side. Even so, our monthly mortgage payment is still about the same as a standard trip to the grocery store. So between some savings, some assets we were able to liquidate, a loan, and many long, long hours crunching numbers and doing the math, we eventually decided we were willing to pull the trigger and see where this crazy notion of ours takes us. Even though we’re young and neither of us exactly makes oodles of money right now, we’re still confident we can squeeze the added expense of owning a house into our lives.

That said, we’ve accepted that we could definitely spend the foreseeable future of our lives being pretty house-poor. I’m under no illusions that this decision won’t come with plenty of sacrifices and compromises. But if saying no to certain luxuries means we get to travel this road, I’m OK with that.

2. Wait, so you’re moving to Kingston?

Only kind of. Kingston will be our primary residence, and at least for now, we’re maintaining our Brooklyn apartment. Max and I both work in the city, and while we both have somewhat flexible schedules, we can’t commit to living full-time upstate right now. Because we have an uncharacteristically good rent in a great neighborhood and we love our apartment (and have put so much work into it!), we’re not looking to move right now, but I suppose it’s within the realm of possibility that we may move down the line to someplace even smaller and with a lower rent. Not really something we’re considering seriously right now, but I guess it could happen.

3. Then why? I mean, WTF. 

Well, there are a few answers to that. For a while now, Max and I have both been feeling the itch to dedicate more time to being creative, making things, and having the space to do it—which is nearly impossible in our apartment. We’ve tossed around the idea of renting some kind of studio space, but the idea of throwing more money at rentals (which, obviously, is money you never see again) wasn’t a super exciting or feasible option. The house is big enough to allow us this space, while also allowing us to put that money into a real estate investment rather than paying some landlord’s mortgage.

That’s where the investment side of things come in. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about this house as an investment, and in a couple of ways. Because Max and I both, in large part, professionally try to help people get the most out of their home life, I think we both look at the house as an investment in our professional development. The learning curve of owning a house is enormous, and has already helped us understand some of the challenges that our readers and clients face when they embark to solve their own home design issues, whatever they may be. Working on this house will be an incredible exercise in creativity and stretching a dollar, and I’m really excited to be able to share those skills and decisions here and when working with clients alike.

There’s also the more obvious investment, which is purely monetary. We bought this house for a truly rock-bottom price, and unless the economy completely falls to pieces or Kingston turns into a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s a bit hard to imagine losing money on it if and when we go to sell it. The house needs a ton of elbow grease, restoration, and general beautification, but the foundation is solid and the bones are great. I’m not approaching the house as a flip, but I do think we stand a very good chance of seeing a good return on our investment and a decent profit if, down the line, we do decide to sell.

Obviously, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this decision came first as a passion project and labor of love. This is something that I absolutely love to do, and find intensely, perversely satisfying. It’s always been a total fantasy of mine to buy an old house and fix it up, but I had no inkling I’d be in any position to do so at this point in my life. But then this house came along, and it seemed like opportunity was knocking, and it was worthwhile to explore it. What we found is that we’re really excited to have a place that we can bring our friends and loved ones to, where life is a little simpler and less stressful, and where we can explore doing what we love. We’re also incredibly excited to give Mekko a backyard to run around in—that’s honestly one of the best parts of all of this. That crazy lady has so much energy.

4. What does this mean for this blog?

Exciting things, I hope! It’s probably not too hard to figure out that after two years, our little apartment is reaching a state I could call “done,” and while there are still some projects I want to tackle, for the most part there isn’t that much left to do. I’ll still be posting about the apartment from time to time, when it makes sense. But! There is not an inch of this house that doesn’t need to be touched, and this renovation/restoration/remodeling/decorating/landscaping/gardening/crafting process is probably going to take…forever. What that means for you is much, much more frequent posts and oodles of content that I hope you’ll find fun, fresh, interesting, funny—whatever it is you come here for. We’ve already started working some, and I’m super excited to start sharing some of the things we’re in the process of tackling!

So…that’s that. Welcome to what we’re lovingly calling Gay Gardens. This should be fun.

p.s.—as you probably know, Google Reader will no longer be available after July 1st! You can now follow Manhattan Nest on Bloglovin’, here!

House / Life
Tagged:

GIVEAWAY: Fetch Eyewear!

About a year ago, minor tragedy struck my life when I left my sunglasses on an airplane. For most people, this might not qualify as a formative, watershed moment—the kind that’s likely to define the next chapter of their lives—but for me, it was basically a small death. I mourned those glasses. There was my life before the glasses (confusion, discomfort), my life with the glasses (joy, confidence, enjoying sunny days), and then there was my life after the glasses (misery, overwhelming sadness, general gloom, hatred of the sun and daylight). It was a Big Deal.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have the sort of face that just rejects all types of eyewear. My head is somewhere between child-sized and lady-sized, and something about the arrangement of my facial features just doesn’t agree with cute accessories. Forget drugstore glasses or even a whole Sunglasses Hut. So imagine my joy when I found an amazing pair of glasses from one of my amazing sponsors, Fetch Eyewear, last fall (the Baxter in OnyxFade), and my double joy when they asked if I’d like to try out their sunglasses this summer! And a pair for Max, too! Maybe this summer wouldn’t be full of misery and regret, after all!

I quickly took them up on it, and we decided to do the Try at Home feature, where Fetch will send you six pairs of your choice at no charge, you can pick your favorite, send them all back and quickly get your favorite sent to you in the mail! Simple, easy, doesn’t require me to leave my home—I love all of these things.

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Isn’t that packaging adorable? It took Max and I about five seconds to break into the boxes and excitedly fight for space in front of the mirror to try them all on. The options are just so good!

The other thing I love about Fetch, by the way, is that they’re an awesome company. The glasses are already really affordable, and then on top of providing super stylish, great quality glasses at a great price, they go ahead and donate 100% of their profits to The Pixie Project, which works tirelessly with county shelters to rescue animals and give them another shot at finding a home. How amazing is that? I just love them. I love them for their cute glasses and for their love of cute animals. And I didn’t even mention the lifetime warranty on the frames. I mean, there is literally nothing not to like. Not. A. Thing.

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Max and I and the kids tooled around the Hudson River Valley with Anna and Evan this weekend, and took the opportunity to take our new glasses for a spin with this impromptu and candid (totally planned, very posed) high fashion photoshoot!

Success! They work! We love them! Honestly, I love them more than my lost pair of wonderful glasses that I thought I would mourn forever. Fetch Eyewear has helped me overcome emotional turmoil and find my way to the other side, while protecting my eyes from harmful UV-rays and my summer get-up from being sunglass-less. I literally could ask for no more. Bring on this summer thing, I’m ready for it.

Max chose the Dash in Onyx (which look quite dashing on him, if I do say so myself) and I chose the Milo in Ether (which Max’s sister told me made me look like Anne Sullivan, which I’m 100% OK with).

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That’s right, party people—the lucky winner gets two pairs of Fetch Eyewear sunglasses! Maybe you need sunglasses, too? Maybe your dad needs sunglasses? Father’s Day is just around the corner, folks!

TO ENTER:

1. Go check out all the fabulous frames at Fetch Eyewear! Any of the frames can be ordered as sunglasses, so you have a mighty fine selection!

2. Come back here and leave a comment telling me a few of your favorites (you get to do the Try at Home feature if you want, too, so don’t hold back!) and who you’d give your second pair to! Husband? Wife? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Mama Bear? Papa Bear? Up to you!

3. For a second entry, go “Like” both Fetch Eyewear on Facebook and Manhattan Nest on Facebook. Then just come back and leave a comment telling me you did so. If you already like us, just tell me!

4. For a third entry, go follow Fetch Eyewear on Instagram (@fetcheyewear)! Then tell me you did! 

UPDATE: THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. CONGRATULATIONS, NEIL!

International entries are welcome and Fetch Eyewear will pay the shipping. However, the winner may be responsible for international duties & taxes.

Yay! Go get some glasses!

This post is in partnership with Fetch Eyewear.

Desk Drawer Redo!

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I guess there are certain things you’re supposed to do when moving to a new place, and there are very few places where these conventions are more entrenched than on college campuses. When I got to college, I kind of tried to do these things. I committed myself to making friends and enjoying the city with all the bright-eyed-bushy-tailedness that my persistently-nervewracked brain could handle. I didn’t get involved in any clubs or student organizations or anything like that, but I tried in my own way to be a productive, socially-healthy member of NYU and New York City at large.

It was only a couple of weeks into this New Socially Fluent Me that I was somewhere in Chelsea, let’s say, coming back from somewhere exciting, let’s say. I was too distracted by trying to act like less like a feral animal and more like a likable and attractive person to remember details. All I really remember is getting Indian food that was far too spicy, and a long internal debate that followed about whether it would be worse to order something else and risk looking like a pansy or grin and bear it. I chose Option B and sobbed/hiccuped (does anyone else hiccup uncontrollably when eating impossibly spicy food?) my way through the meal, which must have definitely made me look very attractive. No question.

There’s a valuable window of time in New York between when you and your acquaintances leave wherever you’ve been and walk to the subway. Amidst the traffic and the weird smells and the weird people and the weird-smelling people, it’s a time to reflect, to dispense final thoughts, and to debate your best route home. The goodbye itself is abrupt because everyone literally has a train to catch, so this window of time is not only brief but also pivotal to ending things with a good impression. This is what I was trying to do, after the Indian food fiasco. I’m so charming! I’m funny! BE FRIENDS WITH ME!

And then I saw a little crappy wood nightstand popping out of a pile of garbage and instinct took over. I NEED THIS GROSS DUMPSTER THING, my brain told me. I WILL MAKE OF IT A NIGHTSTAND (it was already a nightstand) AND IT WILL BE GOOD. I WILL STAIN IT. I WILL REPLACE THE HARDWARE. I WILL BE SO CRAFTY. I hailed the closest cab. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE MORE FRIENDS, my brain said while I tossed it in the trunk, BUT THERE IS ONLY ONE DUMPSTER THING. And that’s how I left things.

Charming and attractive.

before

On the left, that’s how it looked once I un-stuck some wallpaper (which I distinctly remember doing with rubbing alcohol, for some reason, which led my roommate to believe briefly that I had a hidden drinking problem), stained the unfinished pine, and replaced the hardware. Then, when the spirit moved me to own a desk, I did some primitive cobbling together of things to create a desk out of it. Which I had for a while until I replaced it with this desk, which is much more practical for our apartment. Sorry, old cobbled-together desk.

Some readers suggested that I try to sell the desk, but after a few years of use and abuse and my slightly shoddy workmanship to begin with (no formal training! can you believe it? I can.), I just couldn’t really imagine doing that. It would be like posting an ad on craigslist for a used dishrag. “PLEASE BUY THIS SCHMATA I’M DONE WITH IT.”  <– not something you would do.

It would have read like this:

DESK. MADE IT WITH MY HANDS. NOW I’M A BLOGGER. MAY NEED SOME REPAIRS. REALLY NOT WORTH THE COST OF REPAIRS. BOYFRIEND SPILLED PLUG-IN OIL ON IT, ATE A HOLE THROUGH TOP PAINT & POLY. WEIRD STAINS ON PAINT. BOTTOM DRAWER KIND OF STICKS DUE TO WEIRD LEGS. TOP IS SAGGING A LITTLE, BUT NOT TOO BAD. NOT DEEP ENOUGH TO BE A GREAT DESK, EVER. OTHERWISE YOU WILL LOVE THIS DESK $4 OBO.

See? It’s not a good look.

Point is, desk was a fun experiment and looked good and all, but it was time to move on. Obviously I couldn’t just do the natural thing and get rid of it though.

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BOOM rolling tool cabinet. New look, same great taste. I have too many tools and nothing great to hold them in, and this fits perfectly in our little closet between the hamper and the suitcases. I will not be showing that, due to shame.

process

This doesn’t even really merit much explanation, but you’re already here so might as well:

1. Removed the legs from underneath the cabinet and screwed some little casters I had laying around directly into the frame.

1. Sawed down the original desktop (which is 2 pieces of 3/4″ MDF sandwiched together with wood glue) with a circular saw on the roof. Discarded excess.

2. Sanded the top and sides of the remaining top to rough up surface. There were some weird stains that wouldn’t come out and some chipped paint, so I decided to just repaint the whole thing.

3. Sanded the newly-sawed edge lightly and applied some Ready Patch with a spackle knife. Ready Patch is my new favorite thing in the world—harder than spackle, not as hard as wood filler, very easy to work with and dries quickly. Perfect filler for like everything?

4. Painted the top with a 2″ angle brush in semi-gloss white latex paint. When I did this originally, I used a small foam roller for the top, but I prefer the look of furniture when it’s painted with a brush. It’s a personal preference thing.

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And look! It does things! Like hold tools! Obviously I have more tools and DIY tchotchkes than fit in this little thingy, but this now holds pretty much all the essentials I’d want for a little fix-it job around the apartment. It’s easy to just roll it around to wherever I’m working and have everything at arm’s reach. Maybe I’ll even invest in a few drawer organizer things (like for utensils) to further organize stuff. I know, edge of your seat with excitement.

The knobs are the SNODD knob from IKEA, by the way. They were the cutest little knobs and IKEA only made them for like 5 minutes and it’s not fair. I should have bought a thousand of them, just to hoard. Or at least more than 4.

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Yay! This thing has more lives than Keanu Reeves.

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