The Walls Come Down

The people of New York tend to be very preoccupied with their cable and internet providers. It’s one of those things that actually works fine most of the time, but when it doesn’t, we tend to direct all of our collective hatred and loathing at the provider (see also: the G train, the MTA). Added to this is the lack of choice in most New York apartment buildings, where a single service provider has monopolized the building. We are led to resent this provider for coercing us into their clutches, and in turn impeding on our freedom of choice. Whatever the reason, I’ve had some iteration of the same conversation at least 400 times:

Them: Who’s your internet provider?
Me: Time Warner Cable.
Them: UGH, me too. Isn’t it the worst? I fucking hate Time Warner.
Me: Yeah, our service is kind of lousy. It’s the only option in our building.
Third Person, from across the room: I have Comcast!
Me + Them: GO TO HELL, HEATHEN.
Them: Anyway, you don’t have cable, do you?
Me: Actually, I do. Time Warner gave us an awesome deal.
Them: I’ve never gotten an awesome deal from Time Warner Cable.

It’s true. A while ago, I got one of those special promotion phone calls, which normally I ignore. This particular day, I was feeling friendly and decided to let them try to sell me one of those packages before I hung up. I insisted that I didn’t need a home phone, but when they asked if I wanted cable, I paused. “I mean, yeah, it’d probably be nice.”

Short story long, they unearthed some super secret wonderful promotion that allowed us to get 250 channels and a DVR for 2 years for $15 more than we’d been paying just for our crappy internet alone. SOLD.

I love TV. I have always loved TV. I love all kinds of TV, but mostly, I love garbage TV. In fact, my decision to get rid of cable in the first place when I moved to Brooklyn (I had it in my last apartment), was based mostly upon the fact that Bridalplasty was a terrible abomination of a show when held up against my previous loves, Extreme Makeover and The Swan. Old standbys like Intervention and Hoarders had ceased to really hold my interest, Flava Flav’s Flavor of Love and its spin-off, I Love New York, hadn’t been on for years, and frankly, there just isn’t anything quite that magical on TV anymore. Finding Storage Wars completely unwatchable, it got to a point where there just wasn’t enough lovable garbage on the tube to justify paying the cost of a couple burritos every month for it. I’d rather have the burritos.

But then the deal happened, a cable box and DVR was installed, and the world of television reopened to me.

You guys. There is Doomsday Preppers. There is My Strange Addiction. There is Pit Bulls and Parolees, and also, there is Pit Boss. TV is back, and more garbage-y than ever. (Except when The Swan was on. That will always be the pinnacle of garbage TV, forever.)

So one day, cruising through the guide, I stumbled upon a show entitled Rehab Addict. Obviously my interest was piqued, because I assumed it was a show about people addicted to rehab. What a conundrum! What do you do with somebody who, in the process of getting clean and getting help, gets addicted to the very help they seek?! Not help them at all? This was never addressed in my many marathon sessions of Intervention. This I had to see.

Unfortunately, Rehab Addict has nothing to do with unsuspecting drug addicts.

Fortunately, Rehab Addict is probably a lot better than that show would have been, although really, who’s to say? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a show about Nicole Curtis, who buys, restores, and sells old and decrepit houses in Detroit and Minneapolis. She’s also a realtor, does some freelance design stuff on the side, and has two dogs and a son. And a TV show, obviously. Nicole is like 100 pounds of adorable Midwestern-y strength and resolve. She’s savvy and she’s strong. Girl demo’d a whole bathroom, by herself, in like 30 minutes flat. She’s got the true grit.

Needless to say, I am obsessed with all things Nicole Curtis. Nicole Curtis is actually inspiring and actually has great taste, which puts her in a league of her own for home renovation reality TV, as far as I’m concerned. I. LOVE. HER. I find myself thinking about Nicole an unreasonable amount as we do this whole old house reno thingy.

Particularly, this segment of the introduction, which I have immortalized in sloppy animated GIF form for your viewing pleasure. It’s really nothing without her adorable exasperated Michigan accent, but you can look that up on Youtube:

[gickr.com]_2c5af7b5-92da-4d24-9129-57b647dc4dad

Look at her! Working that pry bar like a champ.

beforehallway

You see, we had a similar situation to that piece of plywood under the banister, except way bigger and uglier than that. But still! So many opportunities to repeat my favorite little Nicole Curtis bit. Max wanted to kill me all the time because of this, but I don’t care! Pretending you’re a tiny blonde woman from TV is a totally fun and normal way to partake in home renovations. Try it sometime!

We’ve been trying really hard to focus on the kitchen and keep our hands off the rest of the house (starting a bunch of projects in a bunch of rooms at once = not advisable for maintaining sanity), but I felt like these walls just couldn’t wait. They weren’t really causing any problems or affecting anything, but they were just so super duper ugly and sad. Since they seemed like they were just made of some flimsy faux-panelling and framing, I figured they’d take about 4 seconds to rip out, after which we could move on with our day and get a bunch of other things done.

HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh Daniel. You were so young and so foolish then.

demo1

Here are some exciting action shots of the wall in the downstairs hallway coming down. It’s REALLY hard to stop and take pictures during this kind of stuff, but we did the best we could. Basically, our strategy was to work slowly and from the outside-in, essentially removing materials in the opposite order that they were added originally. We didn’t want to disrupt any woodwork or further damage the surrounding plaster walls and stuff, so we couldn’t just throw a sledgehammer at it a few times and watch it all come down in a dramatic heap of debris.

Also, yeah. I demo in khakis?

So, that thing about the wall being easy? False. Not only did one side have 1/2″ plywood under the panelling, the whole thing was also insulated. That’s why I’m wearing my fancy respirator, by the way. We drenched all of the fiberglass insulation (not asbestos, based on much frantic google searching) in soapy water from a spray bottle as we exposed/removed it to contain any untoward particles, but I don’t know. The mask feels very pro.

Anyway, this thing was not built particularly well, but it was very strong. Even though it’s a small wall, it took us somewhere between 2 and 3 hours from start to finish.

downstairshallwayafter1

downstairshallwayafter2

But OMG, SO MUCH BETTER, right? I know this is the most predictable observation for me to have, but it really did make the space feel so much bigger and more open, and somehow made the whole ceiling seem about a foot taller. It brought a little more light into the entry hallway, but that’ll really happen with the still-standing vestibule wall finally comes down. That thing is driving me crazy.

stairs-at-top

The coolest thing that the wall was hiding is how the stair turns at the top! All of this was covered in a mix of plywood, 2×4’s, and wood paneling before, but now it’s right there! So pretty!

demo2

The upstairs wall happened a few days later, with the added muscle and help of our friend, Nora! Nora is the best ever. She stayed with us for over a week helping out with the house, and kind of became our voice of reason, along with adding manpower and determination. She’s tougher than she looks.

That first picture was my “Why in the hell would you cover that up??” Nicole Curtis moment, by the way. Well, one of them. Obviously I know why it was covered up, but it’s still fun to say.

Also, yeah. I demo in hot pink shirts?

framingupstairs

Check it out! As expected, the whole wall had been built around a totally-intact banister! It’s a little bit wobbly and some of the spindles are crooked, but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed pretty easily.

This wall was similarly poorly constructed but also exceedingly strong, by the way. There was a ton of lumber  inside, in many different shapes and sizes. The piece of framing at the end of the banister where it meets the wall was actually bolted through the wall and secured inside the closet, with weird rigid metal wires running from the heads of the bolts to the other stud in the corner. You can kind of see this in the picture…it doesn’t really matter, I just thought it was noteworthy.

hallwayafter2

hallwayafter1

BOOM. Even though, um, everything in this photo needs some love, isn’t it amazing how all of a sudden this feels like a real space? So exciting. Taking down this wall also helped a TON with air circulation and keeping the upstairs from heating up like an oven, so I’m really glad we took the time out to do it.

Now that the easy-ish, brutish labor is mostly out of the way, I can’t wait to start working on the entryway and hallways. They’re going to be so pretty.

The Kitchen Begins!

maxandmekko

In the movies, let’s say, there’s this whole idea of what buying a house is like, particularly an old house. It always culminates with that sticky-sweet moment where the couple turns the key, walks in for the first time, and takes stock of their surroundings. They breath deep. The air is musty, but charming. It’s good air. It’s their air, and they know it. They are fresh-faced and full of hope. They quickly start to do things, like sweep and pull white sheets off of old oil paintings and pieces of furniture left behind. They get in a cutesy flirty-fun-fight while painting their first room together, splattering each other with reckless abandon, unconcerned with waste or, evidently, their flooring. They hang curtains. They are home. /end scene

LIES. IT IS ALL LIES.

Despite our best efforts to get plenty of different inspections and estimates before closing on the house, we signed on the dotted line with a few virtual unknowns, the largest among them being the plumbing. The house had been drained and winterized over two years before, and between a few different factors I won’t bore you with here, we couldn’t have it turned on essentially until the late spring. Our plumbing inspection turned up no major *visible* problems with the plumbing, and hey, we figured, somebody was living here! It’s probably fine.

Since we were coming from Brooklyn, the task of getting the plumbing going again became an exercise in endless back-and-forth between me, our realtor, and our plumber. We’d accepted that a few repairs would probably have to be made, but had hoped optimistically that we’d be able to get them resolved before we’d get stuck living with them. But then closing got delayed. And delayed. And delayed. We finally closed 3 days before we were set to move in for our first stint of work (work schedules were rearranged, friends set to stay in the apartment, etc. etc.), and there was still no running water. Then it was two days before. Then it was the day before. From what I understand, our plumber left about an hour before we got there that Monday night. I hadn’t heard from him, so I assumed all systems were a-go.

Wrong. We were so very wrong.

Both toilets leaked profusely when flushed. We had no hot water. A disconnected radiator in the downstairs bathroom was slowly leaking murky, rusty water. It was already dusk, neither of us had showered that day, and there was a brief but lively debate about whether we should vacate for the night and find a motel close by that would take pity on our situation, and our bladders, and give us shelter for the night. I won’t rehash that here, but if you have a sense of our relationship, you can probably guess which sides the two of us came down on. (hint: I may have uttered the words “suck it up, you pansy.”)

Whilst living with working toilets and showers, it’s easy to take for granted how nice they are. Living without them, you quickly develop both a deep appreciation of the nearest Starbucks and an impressive tolerance for human body odor. I only bring this up because I feel that it’s important to remember that everything I’ll be talking about in this post was done during the several days in which we couldn’t poop when we wanted to or recover from a day’s labor with the cleansing powers of a shower. This was the week when I turned into a disgusting dumpster human.

chase

Because I am stubborn and filled with ambitions to have a functional kitchen, I didn’t want to waste any time. Not only did the upstairs toilet leak all over the place, but we noticed that while the upstairs sink and shower seemed OK within the bathroom itself, their use caused what some might call a “water feature” to flow in a brief and spirited way  through the downstairs kitchen. Were it outdoors, it might have been nice——calming, even——but inside, the sound of water rushing down plaster walls and seeping out all over the kitchen floor was a tad more alarming. It all came from behind that wood structure in the corner of the kitchen you see above, so it was mysterious, like a present. “Open me,” it beckoned, “and within me, find nightmares.”

That box of Smirnoff actually contains a vintage light fixture I’ve been hoarding, by the way. The Smirnoff would have been more helpful during this particular period of my life.

plumingdisasters

The wood chase came down easily enough (not that easily. nothing is easy. everything is hard. the end.), and exposed this kind of OK looking pipe? I thought it would be terrible but it wasn’t terrible?

That’s the problem with plumbing. It looks OK. Then it is not OK when the plumber comes to Sawzall out 9 feet of cast iron pipe with a huge crack all the way down the back, where it faced the wall and wasn’t visible. Look at that madness! Leak, explained.

Seriously. Watching new plumbing go in. IS. AMAZING. It all happened pretty quickly and yeah, it’s just a piece of PVC, but it just felt so…liberating? Our house is not broken! We don’t have an indoor waterfall! Things are good!

We also got a new toilet installed on this day (I don’t have a picture, but it’s just a toilet. We bought it at Home Depot. Plumber installed it. Old one was hauled away. That was basically it.), and suddenly life felt more manageable.

Still no hot water (that was an electrical issue, we later found out…as in, we had no electrical in half the house, including the part that powers the hot water heater), but who needs real showers with all this FUN?

Not this guy.

(but check that cute little hook in the last picture, which was hiding behind the chase and covered in layers of paint! he’s getting stripped and reused, for sure.)

kitchenbefore

I also took the opportunity to have the plumbers cap the gas line feeding the old stove. We don’t actually have gas service running to the house at all right now (another long and exciting story), so it probably would have been OK for me to just do it, I guess, but I don’t want to mess with that stuff. Safety first. Or something.

I know that stove might look kind of fun and charming, but it’s super duper gross. Trust. And not in a way that can just be cleaned. Like actually gross. I shimmied it out to the mudroom as fast as I could. Thinking I’ll probably post it for free on Craigslist and see what happens.

brick

Getting the stove out of the way allowed me to start peeling away the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! Almost as gross as the wallpaper was the old yellow wallpaper paste (and probably decades-old grease) clinging to the plaster once it was gone. EW EW.

It’s kind of great the way the room was painted long ago though, right? Vintage color-blocking!

I couldn’t get the rest of the wallpaper down, though, until I took care of the ceiling, so that’s where I turned my fickle attentions next.

lightbefore

I don’t know when or really why this ceiling was put in (probably to contain heat), but I know the realtor had the tiles removed to show how tall the ceiling actually is. The biggest obstacle to removing the ceiling, though, was changing out the main light source in the room, which was hanging ON the drop ceiling framing, wired from the box in the ceiling, to a couple feet of exposed Romex wire, to the wires in the fixture, which were all exposed. Just hanging out. Also, there was masking tape all around the ceiling box…like, not on the box itself but surrounding it on the ceiling.

I am not an electrician, but pretty sure all of this constitutes approximately 9 million code violations.

I got too caught up in the heat of the moment and my fear of being electrocuted to take a bunch of pictures, but basically I turned off the power, detached the old light, and installed the new one. Since the electrical box isn’t in the center of the room, I opted to swag my light fixture a few feet over from the box, which was convenient since the two lights and the ceiling framing didn’t get all tangled hanging on top of each other.

ceilingcomingdown

Pretty sure this is not how a drop ceiling is normally installed, but it really wouldn’t be our house if it was done properly. A metal channel is installed all the way around the perimeter of the room, which the drop ceiling “drops” into and snaps together in this cute and sensible way. But on top of that, our special drop ceiling was also secured to the ceiling with a billion rigid metal wires (possibly old clothing hangers?), which were bent around screws and screwed into the sheetrock ceiling above.

Pretty creative. Pretty not fun to remove. This is a main theme in this house——weird quick-fix solutions involving 4 standby materials: masking tape, packing tape, metal wire, and caulk. I have a lifetime of scraping crusty old adhesive off of stuff. Warning you now: probably going to kvetch about that a lot.

I know it’s impossible to tell from that photo, but I tried to be very organized and systematic about taking down the ceiling. First I removed all the stuff in the center, and then I removed the stuff attached to the walls around the top of the room. That framing around the room was all nailed in some places and screwed into the walls in other places, which was way fun dealing with on a tall ladder, alone, juggling a hammer, a pry bar, and a screwdriver. All of the metal from the drop ceiling filled a 40-gallon contractor trashcan, which currently looks like a scary spiky torture device out in the garage. FYI.

ridge

As a reward for my labor, I was left with this weird ridge in the wall where the framing had been. It looks like the walls were all skim-coated with joint compound at some point, but only underneath the drop ceiling, leaving a slight depth discrepancy in the wall and a lip where the old wall met the skim-coating.

Cute.

Not cute.

So basically I went around the room with a glazing tool (more rigid than a spackle knife) and knocked off the weird ridge and all of the lumps and bumps.

Then I went back around the room and liberally applied Ready Patch all over the weird ridge and all the holes and all the holes in the ceiling and all the holes everywhere else.

An entire quart of Ready Patch later (that’s a ton of Ready Patch), all that was left to do was wait for it all to dry so that I could go back around the whole room and sand it all smooth and hope it wouldn’t be too noticeable when I finally, joyfully could get around to painting this godforsaken room.

Welcome to my glammy DIY bloggy life. Fun and adventure abounds!

progress

But! Check it out! I love that nice little light hanging there, just waiting for everything else to take shape. It’s totally looking so much better already, even though it’s still a horror show.

I ended up cleaning the old wallpaper paste with Scrubbing Bubbles from an aerosol can, by the way. I only bring this up because I was told a little vinegar-water solution would take care of it, which was SO very wrong. Scrubbing Bubbles and a sponge worked miracles, though. For real.

beforeprogress

Progress. It feels good.

pssst——missed it in all the hubbub? Here’s the whole plan for the kitchen!

 

 

 

Tour: The Exterior!

aerialview

At long last, the exterior!

frontview

This is our house from the street! When we first saw the house over the winter, there was about a foot of snow on the ground and it was impossible to tell what was going on with the yard, but by the time we closed, the yard had become completely overtaken by tall grass and weeds. Over the first couple of days, Max worked really hard to mow the grass and clean up what we have. It’s really important to us that after 2 years of vacancy, the house finally looks like somebody is taking care of it. That goes a long way in the neighborhood, too.

Even though the exterior needs a lot of work eventually, we’re really lucky that it already looks pretty cute without doing anything major! The bones are there. Most of the houses in our neighborhood are on smaller properties and lean toward more traditional Victorian details, but ours has a larger piece of land and looks pretty different architecturally from everything around it——which, to me at least, might be another indication that it’s older than a lot of the surrounding houses. We’ve yet to pinpoint a date, but we’ve done some preliminary research. I’ll write a post about some history when we know more!

ANYWAY. At some point, probably in the 70s, vinyl siding was installed on all the exterior walls, but the original clapboard is right underneath. Even though I want to rip all the vinyl off and restore the clapboard RIGHT NOW, we’re definitely going to wait on that for a while. Since the vinyl is white, it doesn’t really impede on the look of the house very much, and we have no idea what we’re going to find underneath. As with the inside of the house, it just isn’t wise to start exposing anything that we’re not ready to deal with yet. Sometimes people tear off vinyl to find the clapboard in great shape and easy to restore, and some people end up with lots of rot——and then tons of time and money——to restore it. Obviously, when the time comes, I’m hoping that we find the former, and I’m also hoping that whatever nice moldings used to exist around the windows are still there.

frontdoor

I really love the crazy entry with the crazy columns, which are repeated on the porch off to the side. The banisters extending between the front columns and the house are definitely a newer addition, but they’re OK enough for now. The concrete needs to be re-faced at some point and the steps could use a little restoration, but nothing is so far gone that it all needs to happen this instant.

I love the front doors. I’m debating trying to strip the doors and stain/seal them so that they’re natural wood, but that might also make me insane. Maybe they just need to be black? I like a “pop of color door” as much as the next person, but I really don’t think it’s right for this house.

knob

Cool hardware, just for fun. The locks still work!

side1

I love the little wrought-iron fence that covers the front and part of the side of the house. So cute! When we can finally landscape, I really don’t want to have any sod at all at the front of the house or on this side. We have plenty of yard in the back, and grass is a pain to maintain (WE JUST MOWED THIS.) and isn’t the most environmentally friendly choice. Can’t you just see it with beautiful luscious gardens all along the front and side? It will be so nice.

side2

The side view of the house is where it kind of starts to look a little bit Frankenstein. My guess is that the original house had one bay window on the first floor, and later (when the side porch and kitchen sections were added), that second bump-out on the top was also put in. But I don’t know! I’d love to find an old picture of the house from this angle.

sidegarage

There’s a garage! Crazy. We can’t actually get in to the garage from the street because of the fence (it doesn’t appear to open in front of the garage door!), but eventually I’d love to set up a little workshop space in the garage and use it as an actual garage. I have no idea if the garage is original to the property, but it is really old. Evidently when the house was on the market, some improvements were made to the garage (apparently it was falling down…yikes), but it seems very solid now. It even has a new roof!

backmudroom

This is the mudroom from the outside. See how it’s weird and big? See how the window is tiny and strange? See how there’s that awful set of exterior stairs and that silly little flower bed? See how there’s a huge weed/tree growing from the crawlspace underneath?

Oy vey. I don’t know. SOMEDAY (most used word in the post?), I actually think it would be nice to shrink the mudroom by about half the depth, move the door to face the garage, and then put a set of stairs up to it on the wall where there’s currently that tiny window. Does that make any sense? As it is, the mudroom is silly-huge (about 9′ x 10′) and just looks like such a janky little add-on.

backofhouse

This picture is taken from the back corner of the yard. Those steps to the second floor! I want them to disappear. I’m sure they were required by code when the house was two units, but since we’re converting it, I’m guessing it will be OK to take them out. Obviously we’ll make sure and permit properly and all that…when the time comes.

That big tree (some type of maple? maybe?) is really nice, but unfortunately it’s kind of rotted at the base and probably needs to be removed. This makes me a little sad.

So. The asphalt. BEHOLD:

backyard2

Remember that thing I said about the house being covered in snow when we saw it the first time? Amazing what a foot of snow will make disappear. Apparently, between making the house into two units and owning several cars, the previous owner decided that paving, like, half the yard was a great plan. We’ll definitely come up with a whole landscaping plan before totally getting rid of it, but I’m pretty sure it all has to go. How hard is it to use a jackhammer? Honest question.

You can kind of tell in this picture that on the backside of the garage, there’s a pretty sizable flower bed made of cinderblocks. I call it our weed garden! For the sake of our verrrrry preliminary attempts at landscaping, I think it would be worthwhile to clean this planting bed up, pull all the weeds, and maybe plant some veggies or something in it. Right now, it’s crazzzzzy. Some of those weeds are taller than me.

There’s a small strip of land on the outer edge of the garage, too (about 5 feet), which is also completely overrun by weeds. I think I’d like to put gravel in this area and put a compost bin back there.

asphalt

That back fence is like a crazy jungle nightmare mess. I did a little exploring and found that there are actually a few nice-looking bushes/trees hiding in all of that, along with a bunch of daylilies bordering the pavement. That neighbor also has a wood fence, which is nice for privacy, so I’m kind of anxious to at least get this area a little cleaned up.

backyard1

Finally, some grass! Once we’re able to replace the chain-link fence, I’d like to plant some more privacy trees lining the fence to the right (behind that green house is a very low-traffic commercial business, which would be nice to block out a little bit!), then probably reserve a lot of this area for grass. The whole reason we were so excited to have so much yard is because it gives Mekko enough space to get her ya-yas out, and I’m sure she’d appreciate not running all over asphalt. Although she also doesn’t seem to mind at all.

sideyard

The side of the house is where the best part of the yard is——just some grass and that big tree. The house doesn’t have a dryer, hence the clothesline. I’ve never made a habit of air-drying my laundry, but I have to say, it really works! Everything smells good and dries fast and it’s kind of awesome. We definitely want to get a dryer, but it’s kind of nice that this option is here, at least as long as we have the tree.

sidebathroom

The window on the left is the laundry room, right is the bathroom, and far left are the big living room windows. Sorry if you’re so lost!

But look! Somebody had a little garden here at one point. And a huge affinity for Hosta. Hosta and day lilies is how this yard was landscaped. Definitely room for a little more diversity.

The little slate path bordering the house is super cute. Max bought those little solar-powered outdoor lights for a few dollars a piece, and they actually make a big difference to the look and feel of the yard at night. They work really well, too.

porch

Back at the front of the house is the porch. I love the porch! We need to get some furniture or something for it, but it’ll be nice to hang out on. The people in our neighborhood have been very friendly and social, so it’ll be nice to sit out there and chat with everyone. There are some nice plants in front of the porch. A couple of them are a little too big and overpowering, but we might be able to prune them back or relocate and replace with something else, too.

I know this yard (and the exterior, generally) are going to take a ton of work and a lot of upkeep and maintenance and a future full of back-breaking labor and weird sunburns and probably an inadvertent brush with poison ivy (or several), but we’re so excited. Almost as excited as Mekko, who has eased into her role as Squirrel Patroller with all the tenacity and panache that Linus puts into sunbathing.

Tour: Second Floor!

upstairsfloorplanbefore

So, when I posted the tour of the first floor a week ago, I did not intend to hold out on you a whole week before sharing the second floor! I’m such a withholding tease. I went ahead and arbitrarily decided that I was going to finish the kitchen on/by today, which was total madness and obviously did not happen. But I DID drive myself crazy trying to make it happen, and that’s half the fun of this whole renovation thing, right? Just letting yourself become a totally filthy feral lunatic rat-person who forgets how it feels to eat and pee and wear clean clothes and sleep? I’m doing it right?

ANYWAY. SECOND FLOOR TIME. As I keep mentioning, the house was split into 2 units in the early/mid-70s. As far as we can tell, the couple who owned the house lived exclusively on the first floor, and according to some neighbors, they rarely had tenants in the second floor apartment. Accordingly, the second floor is both oddly well-kempt and a little neglected, but overall in better shape than the first floor.

hallway

At the top of the stairs is a door (which locked us out automatically once, and we had to go digging through our 1 million keys to get it back open!) and this whole crazy wall situation. The wall doesn’t reach all the way to the ceiling (I guess for air circulation? Or because wood panelling comes in 8′ sections…), but it still makes things extremely hot and extremely dark/narrow/creepy in this hallway.

Luckily, it looks like it was built around the original banister, so I’m pretty confident that when we take it down, everything will be totally intact underneath. This isn’t a huge space or anything, but it’ll be so amazing to open this hallway back up.

The top photo on the right shows the hallway looking toward the front of the house, and the door on the left is the attic entrance. There’s a full, small set of stairs leading up the attic, which is really cool. The middle photo shows the woodwork that wraps the stairs——it goes all the way up from the bottom step, wraps around at the top and follows the floor on the second floor. You can kind of see it in the first photo, too.

The bottom photo on the right is the hallway looking from the front bedroom door to the back of the house. We’re coming for you, banister! Soon you will be revealed and so pretty! Fingers crossed.

My favorite part of the hallway is where the wall curves in front of the entrance to the front bedroom. So pretty.

frontroom

At the front of the house (directly over the possible den, possible office, possible library room) is this bedroom, which is the one we’re using now. The freeze-thaw effect caused the original wallpaper (under other layers of wallpaper, under several coats of paint) to start to separate from the wall in a lot of places, which is why it looks so crazy. The walls seem like they’re in good shape underneath, though.

In the top photo on the right, you can just see the entrance to the bedroom closet, which is actually pretty large. Houses this age usually don’t have many closets (and they’re usually really small) because people would have stored clothes and things in large wardrobes, but this house actually has quite a few good-sized closets—which I hope means that nobody down the line decides they need a “master suite” and starts rearranging all the walls, or something like that. When we finally get to the point where this room is a priority, I’d like to get electrical run in the ceiling for an overhead light. Right now, the only light source in the room is that little landlord sconce (not old, not cute), and the closet is completely dark.

nursery

At the end of the hallway (and attached to the front bedroom), is this little room, which was probably a nursery originally. This room is really small, and every wall has either a door, a window, or a window and a radiator on it, so there’s no way to really make it a dressing room or anything requiring big furniture. I like the idea of using this room as an office, maybe, or just putting a twin bed in it and having it be another guest room? Undecided. It gets great light, though, and is probably in the best shape of any room in the house.

By the way, the floors on the second floor are in much better shape than the first. The polyurethane is super thick and super duper shiny, so we’ll probably want to redo them at some point, but that can certainly wait.

Bathroom

Back at the back of the house is the second bathroom, which is directly over the first floor bathroom, but a little bit bigger. It’s kind of a weird hodge-podge of eras and styles (guessing the last renovation was in the 50s or so, based on the floor tiles and tub), but it’s going to be SO great when we renovate.

We already had to replace the toilet (this one was probably original to the house having indoor plumbing, and was really leaky, had a cracked tank, and would have been really inefficient, anyway), but I LOVE the door (although we need to change the orientation), I love the mirror, I love that little shelf under the mirror, I love the stained glass window (the only one in the house), and OMG THAT SINK.

When I first saw that sink, I almost pooped myself. It’s so awesome. Whenever we meet people in town who looked at the house when it was on the market, they all remember that crazy sink in the second floor bathroom. Of course we’ll have to keep it, although I wouldn’t be opposed to trying to convert to a single tap. Double-tap sinks are cute, but annoying to use.

This bathroom definitely needs a clawfoot tub someday, right? Right.

middlebedroom

To the right of the bathroom door is this room that we’re calling the middle bedroom. There isn’t anything in it right now, but it’s a nice size (not huge, not small) and should be a nice place someday. It has a weird light fixture and a weird newspaper from 1941 just sitting on top of the radiator.

It also has a super cool window bay, but I can’t tell what’s going on with it. I know there was a problem with the roof here and the realtor had new drywall installed and some wood pieces put in to fix it. I’m pretty positive that there should be windows on the sides, too (based on the moldings), but either they were torn out at some point or they’re encased in the wall. I have no idea. I’d love to restore all of that someday, but I guess some paint and maybe a window seat or something could go a long way in the meantime. It’s a mess right now.

Ceiling is a bummer, obviously. The actual ceiling should be quite a bit higher than this one, so it’s possible it’s hiding up there under those acoustic tiles. So many mysteries in this room.

creepycloset

Speaking of mysteries…this room! This is a weird little closet room off of the middle bedroom, except it isn’t set up to be a closet. Instead, it just has a few weird layers of weird linoleum, the pine plank subfloor, and…another closet. Creepy closet inside the creepy closet! I love it. The tiny closet fills the space under the attic stairs, and I love how miniature it is. That door is like 4 feet high. Maybe it should be Linus’s room.

I actually dig this tiny weird room, though. It has a nice big window, and I’m psyched to take all that weird crumbly flooring out. I think with the original subfloor painted white (it’s already painted, and I don’t really want to try to strip and refinish it), this could be a cute little space. I’m actually tempted to make THIS an office (I know I keep saying that about every room…we won’t have 4 offices, I promise), because I really like working in small, contained spaces—it helps me stay focused and keeps me from getting distracted by all the projects staring me in the face everywhere in this house. I DO wish this room had a door, but maybe we’ll find it somewhere or be able to move one from where else or something.

It’s also *slightly* possible that this room could become a laundry room, as it’s kind of the only place to put one on the second floor. Maybe. Also not a priority right now.

kitchen

Here’s the upstairs kitchen! This is the kitchen we’ve been using while we’re working on the downstairs one, so I guess I’m glad it’s here. Eventually (hopefully sooner rather than later!), I’d love to make this room a bedroom, maybe with a couple of twin beds, since we want to be able to sleep a lot of people in this house). Even though we’ll probably want to gut this room eventually——the walls are all masonite, and the ceiling is weirdly and unnecessarily low——we can totally make it cute without going through all that. The hardwood is right under this sheet linoleum (and looks to be in OK shape, from what I can see), the cabinets easily pull away from the walls, and we’re planning to re-use the stove in the downstairs kitchen and sell/donate the fridge. The stove is probably from at least the early 70s, but it’s in pristine shape and works well. Anyway, I’m excited for this room to be cute! We’ll get there!

upstairs-floorplan-post-demo

That’s it! I made this little alternate floor plan, for after the demolition. I know it’s very similar, but taking out some of that stuff is going to make a HUGE difference to how the upstairs feels!

Next up, the exterior!

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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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