Olivebridge Cottage: Little House of Horrors

It’s been quite a while since we talked about the renovation of Olivebridge Cottage—that little vacation house I was hired to renovate back in the spring for a couple of NYC-based clients. I’ve hinted at stuff here and there, but to be honest I’ve had a very hard time figuring out exactly how to tell this story.

I was hired to basically do a kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades to bring this little 1,100 square foot house up to snuff. How hard could that be?! It was supposed to take about 6-8 weeks, at which point I’d hand over the keys to the happy homeowners, collect a nice little paycheck to keep other projects/myself afloat, serve up a cute and satisfying before-and-after on the blog, and move on with my life.

Instead, I’m 10 months into this project—longer if you count the weeks I spent on the design work before the physical demo work began. Even though this hasn’t been reflected in my blog content, this project has occupied more of my time than anything else I’ve been doing over that same period. So what the hell happened? And how do I account for it all here? That was a particularly difficult question to answer during the periods of this project where wasn’t even sure where things were headed!

So…I kind of sat on it all until I knew. Sometimes I forget as a blogger that the story doesn’t go away or lose utility just because it isn’t rehashed immediately—and in this case, I think it’ll be better because the teller finally has a reasonably good sense of the ending. So I hope it’s cool if we pretty much pick up where we left off on this, because skipping gory details for the sake of concision has never really been my style, anyway.

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So where did we leave off? This looks about right! I spent the first week on site demo-ing out the old kitchen and enormous half-bathroom and utility space to make room for the new open kitchen/dining space. The homeowners and I had settled on a design we were all happy with, and a budget that was optimistic but doable for the scope of work we were intending to do.

There were quite a few surprises that week, and none of them good. The house had clearly been altered over the years by somebody who evidently never thought to crack a book on the subject, leaving a variety of structural concerns in his wake. There was a lot of mold, everywhere, despite a very pricey remediation that had allegedly occurred only a few months prior (but very obviously had not). There was evidence of an extensive rodent infestation that had caused serious damage to at least the insulation if not even more serious things. And then, the rot. This structural, exterior wall that hadn’t been framed correctly in the first place, supporting half the load of the roof above it, had also rotted away to a point that would not pass code even if we’d wanted to leave it as-is, but moreover was a mold-ridden health and structural hazard that didn’t leave us any options that I can deduce beyond rebuilding it.

That was the first 6 days. Did I mention it’s been 10 months? Yeah.

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First, we had to pull out the old plumbing. I don’t mess with that. Everything was bad, basically—the galvanized pipe in the photo above was the drain line for the kitchen sink and laundry machine, which drained into…I don’t even know. There’s a main drain that goes to the septic system, but this one basically came out the side wall of the house and directly into the ground, presumably into some kind of dry well. It’s best not to think too hard about it. At least there wasn’t a garbage disposal.

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Since we decided to ditch the half-bathroom, all that plumbing needed to go, too! This was kind of exciting…the old plumbing had clearly just been added onto, cut out, added onto some more—creating a lot of half-corroded joints and areas primed for a burst. It’s nice to simplify systems like this! New plumbing will be run with PEX and PVC.

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Getting the plumbing out of the way allowed me to start removing the old subfloor. It was rotted, it was super uneven, it varied in thickness from space to space…it had to go.

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See that beam running perpendicular to the joists, to support them? Yeah, that thing had been cut in half with the installation of the half-bath and never fixed, rendering it more or less useless. The entire floor in this area of the house was pretty severely slanted, the under-sized joists showed significant signs of rot, there was no central support, leading it to bow…disaster! We’d hoped we could just shim up a new subfloor, but the damage was too extensive for that solution to be a lasting one—in other words, the floor might look OK for a while but would continue to shift and sink and move, which is not really what you want a year after a major renovation.

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The subfloor and all the framing under the half-bath (about 1/3rd of the space) was…a total mess. Essentially the whole floor system under the half-bath was build on some super shoddy and actively rotting 2×4 framing, resting on the dirt in the crawlspace, all built with drywall screws. It’s actually kind of amazing that parts of the adjacent floor hadn’t collapsed given how sloppily they’d been “supported” by the newer floor system of under the half-bath. Jeez.

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In preparation for reframing, I removed the aluminum siding on exterior of the rotted kitchen wall. This wasn’t a huge loss, since the rest of the house is sided with vertical wood tongue-in-groove boards and this section was not. That kind of tongue-and-groove is only about $1.50 per square foot, so the bright side of this was that we’d be able to have the exterior match without spending too much money.

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Underneath the siding was…more siding! This stuff is horrible. It’s a fiberboard kind of material that was used a lot in the 60s and 70s, often with a fake brick or stone pattern on the outside, which has the same kind of texture as asphalt roofing shingles. It is NOT a good thing to have between siding and sheathing, since any water that gets in essentially gets sucked up like a sponge and then sits and rots the structural components of a house. Yuck! I love how at some point they painted it white but didn’t bother to remove the shutters. Ha!

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The whole wall was so disintegrated. This enormous hole was the result of Edwin half-heartedly putting his fist through it.

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The underside of the eaves (which were covered in aluminum that had just been installed on top of 1/2″ plywood) had to be removed to get access to the top parts of the wall framing, and luckily things looked great. Kidding! It was horrible! So much rot! So much water damage! The ends of the original 2×4 rafters were all rotted! DAMNIT.

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Oh, by the way! These were nailed to the concrete foundation and supporting the siding. That’s called termite damage, right there! Instead of just letting part of the concrete foundation show and keeping wood off the ground, someone decided to run untreated wood down the foundation and into the ground. In case you’re short on common sense, this is just a big old invitation for pests and water damage.

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So, we set about reframing the whole kitchen wall. Fun times! The left corner had sunk so much that we had to jack it up about 2″ to get something resembling level.

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That’s not horrifying at all, right? Totally normal? Great.

At some point in there, the clients and I decided that while we were at it, we might as well put in a bigger kitchen window. The old kitchen window was only 3×3 feet and looked sort of dinky both inside and out. These unexpected repairs at least had bright spots because they also presented an opportunity to change things that we’d taken as givens at the beginning of the project.

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We framed as much of the wall as we could without knowing the dimensions of the new window, and then moved on to the floor. The old 2×6 joists all got removed to be replaced by 2x12s—SO much stronger! The space is only about 12 feet wide, so this also allowed us to get away without having a beam run under the joists to support them.

Oh yeah, that blue thing is the pump for the well! The well is literally right under the kitchen. I guess this is what happens when a house keeps getting added on to? So bizarre.

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For reasons unknown, the old floor was framed a good 8 inches higher than it needed to be, so we decided to lower it. Silver linings! This meant higher ceilings and fewer steps up to the kitchen/dining space, both good things.

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Edwin and Edgar rocked it out. The foundation (oh, we’ll get there…) was SEVERELY out of whack, so every joist had to be carefully notched to make things level. Here you can get a better sense of how needlessly high the old floor was—so odd.

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Looky there! It felt good to see this floor looking so fresh and level. I’m not scared off by old lumber (I’m used to it!) but I really hate rot and poor workmanship.

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The excitement was short-lived. Very short-lived. This is the condition of the wall opposite of the one that we’d just rebuilt. This shit is bad, folks! Also, see how there’s water-stained plywood above the concrete block of the foundation? That was sitting completely below grade. Helllllo, rot and water infiltration! See that bit of blue stuff on the far left of the photo above? That’s insulation in the wall of the adjacent bathroom, peaking through because everything that should have been covering it was completely rotted. See how it also has gnaw marks all over it? Thanks, chipmunks.

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Here’s the sill plate! That’s the piece of wood that sits on top of the foundation that supports…everything else. Terrific.

So…I guess we’re reframing another wall. That makes 2 major exterior walls, and an entire floor! THIS WAS NOT THE PLAN.

The homeowners were aware of what was going on throughout all of this, by the way. Our original budget was dependent on things going really smoothly and using materials that were really inexpensive, so all of this stuff hurt. Nothing thusfar was hideously expensive or difficult or time-consuming (it seems like it would be, but it wasn’t), but still—it was a lot more than we’d prepared ourselves for.

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This second major wall that I’m now talking about re-framing (the one with the sliders) was a little more complicated than the first, mainly because of this super weird deck outside of it. The deck was being held up by some posts but mainly by ledger boards screwed into the sides of the house—so to get access to this wall to replace it, the deck had to go. This was just fine with everyone because it was kind of stupid and pointless and tiny.

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Could NOT have seen that one coming! Or maybe I could have. Jeez. What you’re looking at is new decking boards toward the top of the photo that were laid directly on top of rotting decking boards below. There literally aren’t enough eye-rolls in the world.

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Naturally, the baseboard around the perimeter of this deck thing was also covering major rot to the bottom of the siding.

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Like, major major. This is the kind of thing that can really only get worse over time.

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Under the steps was this cute fire hazard! That’s a duct tape electrical junction and NM cable that’s not rated for exterior use. Peachy.

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Plywood half underground, all below a very wet deck, ledger board screwed into the studs and without any flashing, rot for days…do I need to keep going? This is bad.

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Oh, look! You can reach your whole hand through the exterior of the house and into the crawlspace below the bedroom! The bottoms of the studs are all totally rotted! The sill plate is all rotted! Everything is terrible!

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Cute, Olivebridge Cottage.

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Super duper cute.

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This is what it looks like when a house is basically mulch. At least it’s composting itself?

So…clearly THAT needs to be redone, too. This one extra sucked because part of this wall is the bathroom, and we really did not want to be renovating that bathroom, which cosmetically and functionally was OK. After some head-scratching, we figured we could remove the siding and sheathing and repair it all from the exterior.

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One of the things the homeowners really wanted to do was make this part of the living room function better. This kind of addition is clearly the result of an old porch being enclosed. The ceiling height at the front is really low (really too low to reframe the floor to be the same level as the rest of the living room), but we figured it would be drastically improved by removing the supporting posts and putting a structural beam in its place. That shouldn’t be that big of a deal! Just take the posts out, temporarily support the roof, insert the beam and a couple of built-up posts on each end—it should have been a one day project where the major cost was the price of the LVL beams.

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“Should have been.” HA. One thing nobody really noticed is that the “beam” here (which is really just the original top plate of that wall, without any other support aside from the posts) was made to look like a solid beam because it was sheathed in 1-by lumber. The same was true of the posts! 4x4s masquerading as 6x6s! This isn’t great. In a different climate, maybe, sure, but here we have to worry about crazy heavy snow loads that can lead to something like this collapsing!

Oh yeah, all that dust appears to be some kind of pest (carpenter ants? termites?) eating their way through the foam insulation in the living room ceiling. Delicious. I’m sure that’s contributing greatly to this house’s energy efficiency.

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The ceiling in here was, unsurprisingly, a piece of shit. The entire flimsy roof was being supported by those white rafters (too small, too spaced apart) toe-nailed into the original fascia. The roof itself was a layer of corrugated fiberglass with a bunch of tar thrown on top and a layer of EPDM rubber on top of that, held down with drywall screws (!!!!!!!). On the interior, there was an area of drywall that had been patched in with a piece of masonite, and underneath of that was a huge squirrel nest! As in, squirrels had literally eaten their way through the ceiling and a previous owner had fixed the issue by slapping up a 1/4″ piece of masonite to cover it.

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See that little sliver of daylight? See all that crap between the studs and stuff? See the acorn clinging to the original fascia board that’s supporting an entire low-slope roof? Lord DELIVER me from this madness.

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From what I can tell, the squirrels/chipmunks/whatever had gnawed their way into the house through some bad siding and framing, and been living it up in this ceiling.

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Aside from the yuck factor…this is—you guessed it!—NOT GOOD. Just some live electrical cable missing all of its rubber insulation. That stuff is there for a reason! Fire is the reason!

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Even where the electrical wasn’t totally eaten, there were illegal junctions hiding up in that ceiling, too. Just a little tape, right? Just because it works doesn’t mean it’s safe! SOBS.

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Not cool, Olivebridge Cottage. Not at all cool.

I know this might all read as kind of funny or so-awful-it’s-funny but at the time it wasn’t funny! I’m pretty good at taking things in stride, but it SUCKED having to call the homeowners everyday (sometimes more than once!) to report that we’d found some other awful thing wrong with their house. Not that the alternative of not knowing and potentially having the house burn down or collapse or consume its occupants in black mold was a great option, either, but sometimes you just wish you didn’t know about this kind of stuff. Ugh! Timeline, blown. Budget, blown. Expectations, dashed. Life, horrible.

At this point, we had to change approaches a little. We were trying so hard to stick to the original goals and timeline, so the basic strategy was to find a problem, quickly come up with a solution, and then quickly fix it. It’s not as though that totally wasn’t working, but given how many problems there clearly were, it seemed as though a more efficient long-term approach would be…an investigatory period. No more fixing before figuring out all the things that need it. At this point my priority became more about the long-term health and safety of the house than installing a cute kitchen and slapping up some paint. Gulp. What’s that thing they say? Seek and you will find?

Diary time!

Day 7: Dump run in AM. Met the plumber at house to disconnect old plumbing work. Returned to the dump, continued demo of kitchen/dining area and loaded truck for dump run tomorrow morning.
Day 8: Dump run. Removed trim in master bedroom and hallway, de-nailed, piled up. Demo’d ceiling in sunken living room. Met with Edwin about floors in dining/kitchen and plans for sunken living room. Removed aluminum siding on kitchen wall in prep for re-framing tomorrow morning.
Day 9: Edwin and Edgar went to Home Depot in morning for supplies. Met at site. Demo’d rest of kitchen wall and began new framing. Had to lift right side 1.5″ to level out roofline. Will try to find larger window tomorrow. Framed as much as possible before new window is found and sheathed in OSB. Will Tyvek tomorrow.
Day 10: Dump run in morning. Met Edwin and Edgar at site where they had removed all framing and subfloor from dining/kitchen. Discovered that other exterior wall must also be re-framed and window header replaced on other wall. Also discovered that we can drop floor roughly 8 inches! Edwin and Edgar had to leave early. I finished cleaning the crawlspace, organized, cleaned yard of debris, and loaded truck for dump run in AM. Went to the Door Jamb to look at kitchen window options.
Day 11: Edwin and Edgar completed work on framing kitchen/dining floor. Talked plans for reframing sunken living room roof. I worked on removing siding on bedroom/bathroom walls and demo-ing small deck to prep for reframing dining room wall with sliders.
Day 12: Continued demo on back wall and exposed framing below second bedroom. Sitting below grade—I think we will need to excavate area behind house to bring grade down several inches and create pitch away from structure. Demo’d deck and loaded truck for dump. Assessed condition of sill under bedroom and bathroom. Rot is very extensive…will likely need to reframe entire wall.
Day 13: Dump run.
Day 14: Cleaned up and organized kitchen/dining area, second bedroom, bathroom, and worked on cleaning up main living room and sunken part. Loaded truck for dump.

Pumpkin the Raccoon!

YOU GUYS! I honestly couldn’t believe the unbelievable response to the Lowe’s Spring Makeover thingy majiggy that I posted about last week. I was expecting…I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 applicants? Well, I got a WHOLE LOT more than that and I’m super duper flattered and touched by the whole thing. Who knew! This selection process is going to be long and grueling, mostly because I so badly want to do pretty much all of them!

OK, enough exclamation points.

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WAIT JUST KIDDING BECAUSE OMG CUTE CUTE CUTE!!!!!!

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This is Pumpkin the raccoon. I found her on Instagram. I’m obsessed with her.

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I don’t know a ton about Pumpkin. Pumpkin was rescued as a lil’ baby raccoon and taken in by these folks who treat her more or less like a cat or a dog. She’s a chubby little lazy thing who doesn’t seem to mind her dope lifestyle one bit. I wish I could make myself tiny enough to use her plump belly as a bed.

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Raccoon hands!!!!! They kill me. I can’t. I just can’t.

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I think my favorite aspect of Pumpkin’s life is her relationship with her dogs, Oreo and Toffee. I’m guessing Pumpkin thinks she is a dog, but she’s clearly not a dog.

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You know what’s cuter than two dogs cuddling with each other? A dog cuddling with a RACCOON! Interspecies friendships are perhaps the highest-ranking cute activity, and Pumpkin has it down. I love Toffee and Oreo for allowing this! I’m going to go ahead and guess Mekko would not be quite so accommodating. I guess no rescued pet raccoon for me, but we all have our crosses to bear. I guess I’ll just have to live vicariously through this magical instagram.

I just had to tell you. Every time I think I’ve found all the cute animals on instagram, I find new ones. I hesitate to ask, because, like, how many is too many to follow? but if you’re kinda the same way, who are your favorites?

Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s: Who Wants a Makeover?!

Have you ever thought to yourself “hey, I wish Daniel (that’s me, FYI) would show up at my door and do a whirlwind makeover of a space in my house“? You probably have not had that thought. But start thinking it? Because it could totally happen!

When my friendly sponsors at Lowe’s reached out and asked if I’d like to pass some Lowe’s love along to a Manhattan Nest reader this spring, I hopped on it! Because I like you guys! Sounds fun! Sign me up!

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If you read my blog, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Lowe’s is pretty much my home away from home. I tend to be at my local Lowe’s several times a week, and they always impress me with their knowledgeable and friendly staff, and quality products to match.  It seems a little silly to feel that way about a big box store, but when you’re in and out of hardware stores as much as I am, you come to appreciate the small stuff. Going to pick up that extra tube of caulk or box of finish nails can be a drag, but those trips aren’t so bad when I get to catch up with Deb in the garden center, or Keith in doors and windows, or Sue at check-out, or Frank in appliances, or Sexy Ron who sometimes helps me with lumber. On top of that, Lowe’s carries a lot of seriously cute and nice stuff! I think a lot of people tend to think of Lowe’s as a place to by 2x4s and drywall screws, but I’m always super impressed by their collection of all sorts of home goods, lighting, outdoor stuff—it’s become a pretty indispensable resource in my life and one of the first places I look for…well, kind of anything!

SO! Lowe’s is teaming up with me (and seven other great bloggers!) to do a spring makeover for one of you! Do you have a back deck in need of some TLC? A boring bathroom that needs a pick-me-up? Maybe you just moved into your house and really want something checked off the list? Maybe you’ve been there a while and are stuck on what to do with that pesky guest bedroom? Let’s fix it!

Here’s how it works: I get to choose one applicant for a makeover! Sorry, international readers—you gotta be within the US and within reasonable proximity to a Lowe’s store. The makeover can be interior or exterior, but should be contained to one space—like a room, a backyard, a front yard, you get the idea. After choosing an applicant, I’ll work with you to design up the space and then Lowe’s will bring me right to your door to make it happen. I’ll have a robust team of Lowe’s helpers at my disposal, and all of us will have a day or two to make your space totally awesome with the healthy product budget they’ve provided to get her done. Sound like a plan? Great!

Ground Rules:

  1. You should be looking to fix up a space within your residence!
  2. The makeover project should be able to be completed within 24 hours.
  3. You must be the owner of your own home (sorry, renters! it’s a legal thing).
  4. You have to be outgoing, energetic, and fun with unique stories to tell!
  5. You have to be comfortable been on camera and/or interviewed by media.
  6. You have to be in need of expert design help from one of the participating bloggers (pick me!).
  7. You have to be able to make quick decisions in order to keep within the tight time constraints.
  8. You have to be available for a 2-day period to complete the makeover, which will take place between February 9th and May 1.
  9. You have to allow photos of your home to be shared online.
  10. You must be 21 years of age or older to apply.
  11. You have to complete the online application form and agree to the Terms below.
  12. To apply, visit: lowesspringmakeover2016.castingcrane.com
  13. Only eligible participants will be contacted.

ApplyHere

To apply for your Manhattan Nest + Lowe’s Spring Makeover, click here! Applications will only be accepted from now until THIS WEDNESDAY at 11:59 p.m. EST, so hurry your cutie booty along and get to applying!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

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Fixing the back of the House, Part 3! (it’s done!)

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I did that!

If you’ve been following my blog for the past several of months, you’ve been pretty familiarized with the back of my house. I wrote a few pretty detailed posts about the process—which was somewhat grueling in the way that restoration work often is—so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. Suffice to say this was one of those projects that started as a fairly modest proposition and spiraled into a much bigger endeavor than I was prepared for.

Because this area of the house saw a lot of abuse over the years in the form of additions, non-original doors and windows, and the conversion of the house to a duplex with the legally-required fire escape, this is probably one of the more heavy-handed renovations this house is likely to see under my care. Most of the house is an extended exercise in restoring what’s already there, but this wall needed to be re-thought and re-imagined. Absent any evidence of how it looked back here originally, well, I kind of just had to let the house dictate what it seemed to want (with a little help from nearby examples). I know that sounds like voodoo, but that’s how I make probably the majority of my decisions about my house. We’re buds by now and she tells me what she needs.

SO! Additions were removed. Approximately 4 billion pounds of concrete got jackhammered and hauled away by the truck-fullVinyl siding was removed. All original clapboard was removed. All original brick and mortar insulation was removed. Then the walls were insulated. Original clapboard was planed down to remove all old paint and crap, then carefully put back up. New windows were framed, trimmed out, painted, and installed. Cornice details were restored. Siding was primed, caulked, and painted. Even the eavestrough on the laundry room roof was rebuilt. By me! I don’t know why I’m writing all of this in passive voice, because it sounds like it happened by magic.

It was not magic. It was a shit ton of work.

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Take a gander at that! This is when I bought the house. I honestly don’t even remember thinking it was so bad but now I think it’s really pretty bad.

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Fast-forward a year and the roof has been redone, with the overhang over the mudroom door and the fire escape removed in the process. Then that second floor door continued to hang out there, leading to nowhere, for roughly two years. It remained locked throughout the entire duration of that time, but it still looked a little…unique.

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BOOM.

I’m sorry I didn’t turn the kitchen light off when I took these pictures. I’m also sorry that the yard is such a total disaster. I couldn’t even move those black trashcans in the foreground because they’re full of bricks and currently frozen to the ground. I’m pretty fancy.

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In the past six months or so we went from this

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To this madness.

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And finally, to this! Long. Strange. Trip.

And yes, I know I’m crazy, but I still think of this as phase 1. Long-term, I can still see a nice covered porch out here, with that door switched to the other side and a nice 6-over-6 double-hung window where the door is, scaled more like the windows on the rest of the house. Theoretically the porch could have been done during this, but finances were running super dry and it’s not necessary right now. The current first floor window is just a cheap vinyl one that I spray-painted black so that I could use the sashes from the old kitchen window to make those two little windows upstairs. Changes to the door/window placement on the first floor might take place quite a while from now and would be part of a more extensive kitchen renovation than the slap-dash one I did when I moved in.

If I were to do it over again (and considering this is more or less the same process I plan to use on the rest of the house, I should have many opportunities), I’d do a few things differently.

  1. I would have probably sistered in new studs next to the originals to beef up the structure a bit. I’m not sure how much it’d actually accomplish, but it wouldn’t be a ton of money and it’d help support the old bones of this lady.
  2. I would have added blocking—or horizontal pieces of framing that span between vertical studs. This is common practice now, and required for spans of framing that are over 8 feet. It adds more structural stability and aids a little in fireproofing.
  3. I might have tried harder to add sheathing. This house is built with clapboard running right over the studs, and sheathing seems like it would add a little structural rigidity and create a more robust barrier between the inside of the house and the elements. Adding sheathing is complicated here because all of the trim work was installed with the thickness of this clapboard in mind, so I’m still not really sure how to accomplish this without throwing everything off.
  4. I might have experimented with using opaque stain (I like Cabot’s solid-color acrylic siding stain) rather than paint on the clapboard. I didn’t do this because the clapboard is still old with lots of knots, remnants of old finishes, and quite a bit of Bondo was employed to fill gaps and old nail holes and stuff, so I wasn’t sure how the stain would take given all of that. Instead I just went with what I knew, which was to use a good oil-based primer (I like Zinsser products) and two coats of flat exterior paint on top.
  5. I would have added flashing at the butt joints between boards. You wouldn’t see it, but it would be some added protection against water infiltration. I just didn’t know any better.
  6. I went back and forth and back and forth on beefing up the corner boards, and ultimately decided to leave them as-is. It wouldn’t be such a hard thing to change at some point, but I wasn’t ready to commit to it. I’m totally happy with the end result but I can see wider corner boards (maybe half the width of the frieze under the eaves returns) looking nice and kind of increasing the formality and stateliness of the architecture. I think that’s an OK thing to do, by the way—a person with more experience in restoration work than me once told me not to be afraid of getting too formal with old houses. As long as new details are added well and are in keeping with the house, it can be just fine to add stuff that wasn’t there originally. I try to keep that in mind when I get too hung up on just trying to stick with what’s original—those decisions made 150 years ago weren’t always the right ones, the best ones, or the most considered (unless they were, ha!), so who knows. I’ll keep thinking about it.

paintedclapboard

Look. At. That. Clapboard! It’s far from perfect, which is just fine. It makes me like it better. If I weren’t able to do so much of this work myself, it would probably have been totally impractical to try to reuse the original boards, given their prior condition. It might surprise some people to hear this, but my alternative would probably be to use JamesHardie lap siding with the same exposure as the original boards. Hardie (there are a few competitors, but that’s the big brand) is a cementitious wood composite product that does a nice job of mimicking the look of real clapboard, but requires less maintenance because it takes paint really well, is pest and rot resistance, and doesn’t expand and contract like wood does. It’s relatively inexpensive, too—so if you are thinking of re-siding but can’t reuse what’s already there and want to avoid real wood, CONSIDER IT, PLEASE. With all the products out there these days, I can’t fathom choosing vinyl or aluminum!

ANYWAY, I’m so happy (and proud!) that these are the original boards that were put on the house when it was built. I didn’t buy a single piece of lumber for this entire project, which feels both thrifty and environmentally responsible. And really, nothing would compare to these boards…the thickness, the character of the grain patterns, even the dents and divots and imperfections from so many years of use just enhance how right it looks on the house. New siding like Hardie (or even real wood) would have been fine and a huge improvement over the vinyl, but this is just…the best, I think.

backofhouse1

angledviewafter2

HAHAHAHA, OK, we don’t have to pretend like this “after” picture is the most satisfying thing in the world, but WHATEVER. Sometimes you just gotta make sure your clapboard is painted before winter hits and accept that you have garbage cans full of bricks and piles of bluestone and dirt for landscaping. Clearly I did not get as far into my backyard plans as I’d hoped, but progress is progress and I’ll take it!

littlewindowsafter

I don’t feel like it’s translating particularly well in photos, but the difference between the vinyl and the clapboard in real life is HUGE. And by huge, I mean subtly a million times better. The difference is really not that dramatic because the vinyl siding has the same exposure (the part of the board that shows) and is basically the same color, which makes it extra cool just how much better the real clapboard looks. The house looks so…SOLID now. Because vinyl is so hollow-looking I feel like it always makes houses look like they could just whither up and fall over, but the wood siding meeting up with trim pieces and stuff just looks super substantial and…right. Ahhhhh.

By the way, the clapboard was painted using Valspar Reserve exterior paint (flat) from Lowe’s, and the trim is Valspar Reserve exterior paint in semi-gloss. I had the siding paint color-matched to Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, which is a really nice off-white that’s bright but has definite yellow/greenish undertones that keep it from looking too stark. I considered going darker and more grey to create more contrast with the trim, but that kind of seemed like a decision that would serve before-and-after pictures better than it would really serve the house. The trim is off-the-shelf…I think it’s called Ultra White but naturally I can’t locate the can right now.

I love how those little windows turned out, seriously. They might look small but they’re really about as big as they could be without interrupting the rake frieze and still fitting in the room. They need more extensive restoration work (reglazing, a couple of panes replaced, some rotted areas epoxied) but in the meantime I just gave them both a liberal coating of Valspar’s Latex Enamel (semi-gloss) in off-the-shelf-black. I used the same paint on the door, too, and it’s awesome stuff! It’s VERY thick, dries quickly, and looks much like oil paint after it’s fully cured. I highly recommend it!

frontalafter1

The door threshold is the original one, which I LOVE and guarded with my life throughout this ordeal. It’s beautifully worn from foot traffic in the center, and is so beefy! It had some old paint on it that I didn’t want to totally annihilate with scraping and sanding, so I tried hitting it with some wood hardener to see what that would do. Unfortunately it’s turned this hazy white color so in the spring I’ll probably sand it down a little and do a proper polyurethane or waterlox or something to really protect it and bring out the natural tones of the wood. That wood hardener product seems pretty great but I’ve yet to find an application for it that hasn’t given me grief later on. Oh well.

I think that’s about it! I’m so happy with how this turned out. Now to just do THE ENTIRE REST OF THE HOUSE.

I’m going to be renovating this thing forever, right? OK, cool.

Year in Review + What’s Up Next

I guess maybe it’s customary to do a “year in review” post at the end of the year in question, but I didn’t do that. So first off, Happy New Year, folks! We’re only a few days into 2016 but I have a good feeling about this one.

So, 2015…oh, 2015.

2015 was a difficult year. It was a year of major life changes: some good, some bad, some where the jury’s still out. It was a year where I had to learn to let go of all sorts of things—my longest-term and most serious relationship, for starters, New York City as my home (even if only part-time), and the Brooklyn apartment that so influenced so much of what I’m doing now. The broadest theme of 2015 was maybe letting go of control—which at various points of time included relationships, my house, my professional life, my time and how it got spent, the plans I’d made when reality just didn’t agree. There was so much uncertainty, so many oh shit! moments, so much time feeling unable to decipher between sinking and swimming. It was the kind of year that had to be ridden out, because no other options presented.

2015 was a humbling year. It was a year in which there was more reacting than initiating, in which I learned a great deal about my limits as a human being—physical limits, emotional limits, intellectual limits, professional limits, limits of time and space, limits of giving and of taking. It was an extended exercise in prioritizing, in learning that doing my best doesn’t always mean pleasing everybody, or even necessarily myself. It was a year in which I had to become comfortable with the word “enough” and proficient in saying “no”—which is usually harder to say to myself than to others.

2015 was an exciting year, too. It was a year of thinking, planning, and in some cases, executing. It was a year of taking opportunities I didn’t anticipate. It was a year of learning, not just new skills and bits of information, but about what I want—and, equally important, don’t want. What I want out of my personal life. My professional life. My house. This blog.  I wouldn’t say I found clarity, but somehow the result of the past year is that all of those things feel at least somewhat less fuzzy. It was a year of great progress and great setbacks, and of trying and trying and trying to embrace that period of work that comes between the “before” and the “after.”

I realize I’m speaking more in abstracts than specifics, but that’s kind of what it feels like—that it was the kind of year that begs to be measured more in feelings than hard data, where I probably learned more about how I respond to things than about the things themselves.

It was busy. Really, really busy, and it felt constantly as though one of the casualties of all that activity was this blog. While this blog does loosely track what’s going on with the various projects in my life, the past year saw a pronounced imbalance between all the stuff I was actually doing and the relatively few things here and there that I had or made the time to write about. And that made me think a lot—about different ways that I can approach blogging, about different content I’m interested in producing, about the parts of doing this that I love and the parts that I don’t. One of the great things about this platform is its malleability, and I want to take greater advantage of that. I’ve been at this for almost 6 years now, and—while I have no intention of stopping in the foreseeable future—I do think it’s high time to shake things up a little.

Basically, we have a lot of catching up to do. I know 2015 wasn’t the most prolific or most Pinterest-worthy year for Manhattan Nest, but if you’ve stuck around, thank you. I have a good feeling this next one will be much better.

So! What’s been going on? What do we have to talk about? What DON’T we have to talk about? Here’s my stab at looking back at 2015, which should give a big sense of where we’re headed, you and me…

brooklynrooftop

See ya, Brooklyn! Apparently I took this picture exactly a year ago from the rooftop of my old apartment building, which I officially vacated a few months later. While I don’t miss paying rent on that apartment, or climbing five floors to get to my front door, or really living in Brooklyn at all, I definitely feel a little pang of longing whenever I think about that place. I couldn’t have asked for a better living situation than I had in my last few years in NYC, really.

In case you’re wondering, I rarely go down to NYC, even though it’s only about two hours away. I think a lot of people assume that living in Kingston was some sort of compromise and that I must bop down to Manhattan or Brooklyn all the time to see and do stuff, but that just isn’t the case! I pretty much only go down to see a few select friends, but mostly I try to stay away. I guess I was just never cut out for all that.

livingroom

I finished renovating the living room in my house almost a year ago! Looking back at the original reveal pictures is so odd—it looks so different now. I did a follow-up post after getting a few months more settled in the room, but we’re long overdue for another one because almost everything has changed again.

olivebridge1

It’s also been almost a year since the first time I walked through Olivebridge Cottage, and about 9 months since work commenced. Considering this was supposed to be an 8 week kitchen renovation and some cosmetic upgrades, suffice to say this project is MUCH, MUCH bigger than what anyone bargained for. You better believe there’s a story there…a lot of story.

mekko

This DOG! Mekko continues to be the most beautiful girl in the world, duh. My baby is turning 6 this month! She’s calmed down a bit since Max and I adopted her, but she’s still such a puppy. Instagram makes it seem like she’s super tame and sleepy, but that’s just because it’s practically the only time she’s still enough to snap a picture of.

pantryprogress

I finished the pantry, which I think also might be due for a little blog visit. Not a ton has changed, but I’ve made some little tweaks here and there. It’s been so nice to have it, though! It’s definitely made me cook more.

Kevinsstudio

I got to visit my friend Kevin Paulsen‘s studio, where he was working on an incredible mural for my other friend’s house. He’s so talented. It’s always such a treat to get a glimpse of the spaces where artists do their work. There’s so much creative energy here in Kingston and so many people producing really amazing work, which is something I’d like to start writing about more! There are also some super inspiring folks doing beautiful renovation work around town, which I’d love to start featuring here and there.

jerseyicecreamco

I met Tara and Percy, the incredible design duo behind Jersey Ice Cream Co. I’ve been such a fan of their work for a few years now, so getting to know them as people has been so great! They’re both gorgeous superhumans with perfect taste who can do everything, so when they asked if I’d like to come out to work with them on a project in Long Island for a few days, I pretty much packed a bag and hopped in the car. They taught me how to do traditional plaster work (verrrrryyyyyy different than skim-coating with joint compound!), and were such gracious hosts even in the midst of a major renovation project. They’re kind of too cool so I’m glad they’re willing to associate with the likes of me.

chairs

I keep buying stuff. Back when I started this blog, I feel like I logged nearly every thrift purchase! I’ve really fallen out of habit on that, but maybe it’d still be fun. In other news, my house has WAY too much stuff in it since I’m storing crap for myself, the Olivebridge house and Bluestone Cottage, so I really need to wrap those projects just so I can get some space back!

marfa

I went to Marfa, Texas with my gal-pal, Anna! We set aside a whole few days to go just to go, which felt very adult of us. Marfa blew me away, by the way—such a cool place. Anna wrote a nice post about our trip if you happen to be curious about a vacation that a couple of strangers took almost a year ago? Whatever floats your boat.

basement

This is why we never talk about my basement. BUT! I actually did a TON of work on it in the past year—nothing beautiful, but I don’t know why I never blogged about it. I’m sure there’s at least one person who has a mild, passing, almost-interest in how my tools and crap are organized, so I’ll try to get something together.

kitchen

Oh yeah, I destroyed my kitchen…again. And I’m still putting it back together…again. And I don’t know really why I did this…again…other than to blame post break-up acting out and general idiocy.

backyardbefore

Spring marked the beginning of LOTS AND LOTS OF YARD WORK. I can happily report that this view looks NOTHING like this anymore! We still have some serious ground to cover about the yard, in part because I was still actively working on it until just a couple weeks ago when the weather finally turned, but I think I’m pretty much done back there until spring/summer hits again. I didn’t get as far into the big plans as I’d hoped, but the progress still feels great.

cottontail

I found this baby cottontail rabbit in my yard which I thought needed rescuing because he was so tiny, only for the google machine to tell me that he was probably totally fine (evidently they wean and become independent at a very young age), so I put him back. Good GAWD that thing was cute.

bluestone

YES, I still own Bluestone Cottage, and YES, I’m still working on it, and YES, I’ll start blogging about it again. Frankly the Olivebridge project just completely took over the spring, summer, and fall, and Bluestone became the biggest casualty of that…which sucks and makes me feel like an awful piece of shit failure. The only direction to move is forward, though, and that house will get done and it will be very, very cute, and maybe this serious delay will have some great silver lining when all is said and done. It HAS given me more time to plan and choose materials and gather salvage like a lunatic, so maybe that’s nice?

:/

nola

I got to go to New Orleans for a couple of days in the spring. The only other time I’d gone to NOLA was to work for Habitat for Humanity shortly after hurricane Katrina hit, so seeing the city thriving after the intervening years was really special. The architecture there is SO dreamy, omg.

gardening

I did a couple of gardening posts this year, but I did a lot more planting than I ever actually got around to writing about, which is just dumb! My tan was BANGIN’ after this summer, though. I feel like I lived outside.

garagepainting

I painted a lot of shit black, including my garage and then my new fence! It’s kind of a habit, you could say.

garageinterior

What I stupidly never talked about, though, was all the work that took place on the INSIDE of the garage! It ain’t beautiful, but it is VERY different and leaps and bounds more functional, so we really have to talk about it.

backofhouse1

I tore a roughly 100 square foot room off my house completely, which unintentionally led to a HUGE project that I’m proud to report is now finished!

backofhouseprogress

Seriously, that project was huge. I kind of can’t believe how long it took, but then again I totally can, and I’m really very proud of how much of it I did myself. Sometimes the hardest jobs are the most satisfying!

hudson

Remember summer? I kind of do. I FINALLY went out on the Hudson River for the first time. It was such a blast and so gorgeous. That was a big deal for me—I feel like I’ve been so busy since I moved here that I forget that there’s this whole side of living here that really should be about recreation and enjoying this beautiful place I get to call home. I want to try to do more of that kind of stuff instead of being so wrapped up in projects all the time that I don’t give myself a minute to enjoy stuff.

dogwood

Oh yeah, more yard work. WAY more. I’ll get us caught up before spring hits.

towpound

This right here is part of why I hate driving into NYC. Getting your car out of a Manhattan tow pound has got to be right up there with childbirth and black friday at Wal-Mart in terms of agony.

dirt

Did I mention I did a lot of yard work? Part of that included moving around 60,000 pounds of dirt into my backyard. Boy was that fun.

chimney

I also demo’d this chimney down to the attic floor. It had previously been removed to below the roofline and was somewhat of a structural hazard, but I’m not sure why mid-summer seemed like the best time to tackle this one. It was miserably hot.

coffeetable

I think I should have bought this coffee table. I hate thrift-regret.

doorsixteen

One of my besties, Anna, moved to New Mexico. I helped clear out the house in Newburgh, which was emotional even for me as a long-time reader and admirer of Anna’s home and approach to renovating. We’re still great friends and I’m so happy for her for making such a big decision and making it work. Hopefully this year I’ll to go visit her in her new hometown of Portales!

kitchenfloor

This one time, I sealed and polished my kitchen floor. It looked AWESOME for a few days, and then it went back to being a dusty, filthy mess because keeping anything clean in a house under renovation with a dirt pit backyard is just a losing battle if there ever was one.

aldermanballot

Oh right, I ran for elected office in Kingston city government…like ya do. I lost in the primary, but I’m very glad to have done it and grateful to have met so many amazing people throughout the process and during the campaign. The whole experience made me a more active and knowledgable member of this community, and that’s a nice way to feel after a relatively short amount of time. Have I mentioned I love this town?

hallwaypainting

I STARTED PAINTING MY HALLWAY! Then I stopped. I really want to get this done soon, though—it feels like forever since I checked a big interior project off the list, and this one is basically just paint and a ton of prep work…it should feel like child’s play after dealing with the back of the house for the past several months.

diningcloset

Remember how there’s a little closet in my dining room? I always forget about it too. I didn’t really touch it when I renovated the dining room, but now I want to circle back and get that done. Maybe I already gutted it. It could be super cute, and the storage would be so nice!

upstairskitchen

I demo’d a lot of the room above the kitchen, which also used to be a kitchen. It’s looking VERY different! I can’t wait to really get my hands on it…I don’t think it’ll be a SUPER challenging renovation but it will be a HUGE transformation and I think it’ll be really gorgeous and cozy and great.

brunette

My friends Tracey and Jamie opened a wine bar called Brunette in downtown Kingston, and they did SUCH a good job with the space! They also happen to be super lovely people with great taste in wine (and everything, evidently). It’s exciting times here…I feel like there are so many new restaurants and bars and stores opening up all over the place, and it’s always extra nice when such lovely businesses move into these spaces. I’ve only lived here for about 2.5 years and it’s already changed so much, which is cool to see.

wiltwyck

I finally took a walk through one of the gorgeous old cemeteries here, and stumbled upon the headstone of the family who built my house! I have GOT to dedicate more time to learning about the history of my house and the people who lived here. I’m sure there’s more information out there than what I’ve found!

footings

Well, concrete footings for a new foundation is a sight I didn’t know I’d be seeing last year, but 2015 was kind of like that. I DO THIS STUFF NOW.

windows

I think I may be the foremost expert on windows now. Old windows, new construction windows, replacement windows, renovation windows, sash kits, awnings, casements, double-hungs, single-hungs, pictures, true divided lights, simulated divided lights, jamb extensions, j-channels, wood, aluminum, vinyl, insulated, Low-E…it’s enough to drive a person insane. Ask me how I know.

linus

Had a big old scare with my little old dog, Linus, when a routine grooming appointment resulted in emergency surgery, full anesthesia, and ten stitches. Poor thing! He had to wear a soft cone for two weeks while he healed up, which I’m not sure he even really noticed.

linus2

He bounced back just fine, though. And so handsome! I love that dog more than words can express. Best 11 pounds I’ve ever gained.

vbkitchen

I want to work on this house. Maybe, just maybe…

johnson

And this one.

bergermatthews

Also maybe this one? Who the hell knows. New Year, anything could happen!

SO! That’s all I gotta say. This’ll be fun!

Life
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