Wrapping up the Bedroom Renovation!

It’s getting there! It’s really getting there!

newcasingpried

One of the most gratifying moments of working on my bedroom lately has been finally priming, caulking, and painting the brand-new-but-supposed-to-look-original window casing. I worked hard on that! It was a little difficult to judge how successful I’d been at matching the original moldings when this was a mix of painted, unpainted, and almost entirely reclaimed wood, but now I can confidently say that yeah, I pretty much nailed it. Even though the window itself isn’t a flawless match, it’s very close, and the casing is nearly indistinguishable.

I’m amazing basically is what I’m saying. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s hard to remember that there was just a wall here before! I’ll have to install new base shoe when the floors get refinished. Maybe in year 7? Sure, let’s make that a goal.

I still have to paint the new sashes, but I find that’s easier to do when I can take them out of the jamb. These tilt out and remove easily, but it’s the middle of winter so prob not the best time.

medallion

Once the room was starting to really come together, the prospect of “finishing” it without a ceiling medallion started to make me feel so sad! I put “finishing” in quotation marks because I’d like to eventually remove and restore this bad-drywall-job-over-furring-strips-over-original-plaster ceiling. I know! But it could be better, and I like better. This is on a list with a number of other “hopefully someday” kinds of ideas for this room. But a ceiling medallion is no big thing: there’s a great selection out there online of foam ceiling medallions that, once caulked and painted to match a ceiling, look like the real-deal plaster ones they’re meant to imitate.

Usually I use construction adhesive and a couple screws (which I can spackle over before painting) to install them onto the ceiling, but in this case I used regular latex caulk on the back and secured it with some finishing nails—the idea being that if the whole bedroom ceiling thing ever happens, I might be able to pry the medallion off prior to demo and reuse it. Of course by that point I’ll probably have decided it’s the wrong size and style and want to replace it anyway, but I’m leaving the option open for future-me to be less of a pain in the ass than current-me.

Then it was just a matter of spackling over the little nail holes and caulking around the perimeter. The caulk is by FAR the most important step in making it look authentic. I’ve seen people skip this step, and then it kinda does look like you stuck a piece of foam to your ceiling. So, caulk! Smooth the edges with a wet rag-covered finger to really blend the edges of the caulk so it all looks totally seamless. After a couple coats of ceiling paint, nobody will know you’re faking it. Or your ceiling is, anyway.

lightinstalled

Yesterday I got the light hung up, electrical outlets and covers installed, plus a new dimmer switch!

I know, I know, I’m so boring with my Nelson bubble lamp—I had the same one in my last two apartment bedrooms! Those with freakish memories who have been here a longggg time might remember that I found a bubble lamp years ago for $65 at the Design Within Reach Annex because it was damaged and missing its ceiling canopy, but I fixed it and hung that bad boy up in my Manhattan apartment bedroom and felt like a fucking king. Then I moved to Brooklyn and the bubble lamp traveled to that bedroom, where it remains. At some point, I think shortly after buying the house, I found myself in the exact same situation again at the DWR Annex and scooped up another medium-size saucer bubble lamp—this one at $89, a little less damaged and with its canopy included. I had to! Again I spent some time bending the inner wires back into place-ish and had myself another imperfect-but-close-enough bubble lamp.

Point is…do I have a point? DO I NEED A POINT? I’m a person who loves changing stuff up all the time and wouldn’t normally use the same light fixture over and over again like this, but bubble lights cast SUCH a warm, nicely diffused light that I couldn’t resist its siren call for my bedroom again. I ain’t sorry.

SO THAT’S WHERE WE AT. Definitely in the home stretch, which means I have to think about how I’m gonna make this room pretty!

bedroommoodboard

Here’s a kinda underdeveloped “mood board” because why not!

  1. Paint! Benjamin Moore “Oil Cloth” (matte) on the walls, Benjamin Moore “Simply White” (satin) on trim, and Benjamin Moore “Onyx” (satin) on the doors and, probably, the radiator. Elsewhere I’ve used Simply White on the ceiling as well, but I had a gallon of “White Dove” squirreled away in the basement that saved me the cost of another can of paint. I find that the more stark off-the-shelf ceiling whites look a little too intense in old houses.
  2. This ceiling medallion from Lowe’s, $40.45. It’s smaller and much simpler than what I used downstairs, which seems appropriate.
  3. Nelson Bubble Lamp Saucer, medium size.
  4. CB2 Alchemy Bed in Bronze, Queen size. I decided a king is just too big for this room. They didn’t make beds nearly that big when this house was built! I’ve never owned a bed bigger than a full size, though, so this is about to feel really fancy!
  5. A nice big rug! This is just a rando aspirational one from the internet, but I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for the foreseeable future for a nice 8×10-ish vintage/antique one that won’t break the bank.
  6. I like the look of these bed linens from CB2. I wonder how the quality is but at the price I’d expect them to be pretty nice.
  7. Jens Risom armchair. I have a vintage one that I bought at auction a couple years ago! It needs a new set of straps (which I think are pretty easy to get directly from Knoll) and I’m guessing they’ll be black.
  8. My antique dresser, which needs new knobs (those ones aren’t original and a couple have broken since that picture).

I gotta admit, this room is kind of tough! Four windows, three doors, and a radiator is a lot to take into account for a room that isn’t that big. I’m feeling a little stuck on a few things (window treatments! bedside tables! will I survive without a TV in there?!) but I’ll just feel it out over time. It always takes me a while to really settle into a room after the renovation part. That’s the fun, relaxing stuff though! Let me move furniture and art around all day and I’m a happy camper.

Slowwwww and Steady Bedroom Progress

progress3skimcoating

It’s 2017! I’m a sucker for a new year. In spite of a long-held suspicion that compiling a list of new year’s resolutions is just another way to feel like a failure down the line, I totally do it anyway. I’ve already been successful about remembering to take my anti-depressants everyday and—unpleasant as it may be—have managed to use my Neti Pot* several times, so MAYBE THIS COULD BE THE YEAR?! Not to put the cart before the horse or anything. But I do think/hope/pray that this is a year where intentions will manifest as actions followed by results, and loose ends on a lot of things get wrapped up. I EXPECT this to be the year when large swaths of my house really start coming together, which could not be coming soon enough. I’m sure you’re about as tired of reading about demo and destruction as I am of writing about it. Can we just make stuff pretty again?

*as a chronic allergy-sufferer who’s constantly stuffed-up, it really does seem to make a big difference. I have this one which I like a little better than the more traditional teapot-style ones.

I’d hoped to have my bedroom put back together by the new year, but…well, it didn’t come to pass. I’m trying! If there’s one thing I’ve learned about renovating my house, it’s that it’s good to have goals but bad to get too tied up in super-specific deadlines. I find that if I look at things in much smaller chunks (painting a wall vs. finishing an entire room, that kind of thing), it helps me feel better about the progress I am making rather than deflated about not being able to hasten the process. The process is always so much simpler in your head than when you really get into it!

drywallpt1

Where we left off, I’d installed a fourth bedroom window, insulated the exterior wall, patched in some flooring, and cased out the new window in an attempt to make it match the three original ones. Just that was a lot of work! Aside from getting Edwin’s help with framing/installing the new window, I’m tackling this room 100% solo which of course means slow going.

I touched on it in the last post, but I thought a lot about how to redo the wall that got gutted with the window installation, and this is what I came up with: install two layers of 1/2″ drywall—one on top of the other—tape and mud the seams, and then skim-coat everything. In the past when I’ve had to replace plaster and lath with new drywall, I’ve furred out the wall framing so that the 1/2″ drywall would match the roughly 1″ depth of the original plaster and lath. This has worked out just fine, but I wanted to see if I could get closer to the tactile experience of the original plaster by doubling up the thickness of the sheetrock. If you’ve lived in a house with plaster walls, you might know what I mean. A plastered room looks a bit different than a typical drywalled one, since plaster carries a certain amount of imperfection inherent in anything that’s hand-applied rather than machine-made like drywall is, but it feels different, too. Sound travels differently and reverberates less in a plastered room (and perhaps especially between rooms), and I think that solid quality is part of what makes living in an old house feel different than newer construction.

ANYWAY. Somebody kindly pointed out in the comments that evidently double-boarding wall and ceiling surfaces is super common and often required in much of Europe, and a bit of research seems to indicate that it’s also fairly common practice in the States, although I think more for commercial applications. I thought I was being so inventive and smart! Way to take the wind outta my sails. But if it’s good enough for Europe, it’s good enough for me. They do all kinds of things better there.

So in the picture above I have the first layer of sheetrock up (I used scraps for the first layer, so that’s why there are so many seams), and the second one with full-size sheets went up a day or two later. I used fiberglass mesh tape to tape the seams of the second layer, mudded the seams with joint compound, let that dry, and then came back to apply a thin layer of joint compound over the entire wall to try to mimic the ever-so-slight undulations and imperfections of a real plaster wall. I typically use powdered joint compound with a 90-minute set time because it allows for a working time that I’m comfy with but dries much faster than the pre-mixed all-purpose joint compound you’d buy in the bucket. Then I knocked down bumps and ridges, skim-coated again, then again, then sanded everything.

This sounds so easy and nice when I’m sitting here typing it, but good lord I hate skim-coating. It’s messy, it’s dusty, it’s a lot of work, and I find that it’s difficult to get the kind of results I want even after several applications and a ton of sanding.

progress1

One thing I’ve found a little helpful is throwing a tiny bit of dark paint into the joint compound mix for final patching after your last full skim-coat and sanding. It’s really hard to spot imperfections when everything is that chalky white color and texture, so this way you can see exactly where you need to go back and do a final sanding before you paint. This room had the new drywall, two walls of plaster in very good condition, and one wall (the one to the left in the photo above) of plaster in pretty poor condition, so each received a different level of attention and amount of taping/patching.

Unfortunately I didn’t give it a ton of serious thought until after I was well into the skim-coating process, but next time I’ve resolved to nix the joint compound altogether and try my hand at using hydrated lime plaster. Hydrated lime is very different in a number of ways from gypsum powder-based joint compound (or even gypsum plaster veneer), but it actually sounds like a pretty approachable DIY, it’s better and more authentic for the house, there’s NO SANDING(!!), and it’s sooooo beautiful. Also—real plaster! How badass! The very friendly folks at Master of Plaster based out of South Carolina have been giving me a real education and I’m so excited to give it a try!

progress2skimcoating

But back in the land of joint compound, by this point my walls were looking insane so I was super duper excited to finally break out some paint! I started with two fresh coats on the ceiling, and MY WORD what a difference!

To manage my anxiety, I’m thinking about this as sort of a Phase 1 renovation of this room, because there are two major things about it that I just didn’t have the heart to address right at this moment: the ceiling, and the missing mantel. See where that electrical outlet is in the photo above? The original chimney is behind that, and it appears that originally there was some sort of mantel on this wall. You can kind of see how the baseboard is patched in. This is directly above where I added a fake mantel in my living room to replace the missing original one. I toyed with doing something similar in here, but decided to wait and do it down the road since it’s not as though there isn’t enough to do without adding that into the equation.

As for the ceiling, it’s old drywall over furring strips that are nailed into the original plaster and lath, and it’s in kinda lousy shape. This was done when drywall was nailed up rather than screwed, and I guess the previous owner decided the solution for popping nail heads was to smear a bunch of caulk or something over each individual nail head. It’s not particularly noticeable unless the light is hitting a certain way, but it’s annoying enough that it’s something I’d eventually like to address. Of course, this could be as simple as giving the ceiling a nice skim-coat or new thin layer of sheetrock, but my version of addressing this problem will most likely involve removing all the drywall and the furring strips and either trying to repair or replacing the plaster, so I can get that stupid 2-ish extra inches of ceiling height back.

This is why this house will never be done. Ever.

ALL of this to say that 2 fresh coats of flat ceiling paint (I think it was semi-gloss before, which is almost always a horrible idea with a drywall ceiling, but maybe the worst idea when it comes to one in bad shape) made an enormous difference and I can survive and maybe even thrive with that ceiling a while longer. I even think I’m going to add a medallion because the cost and effort is so minimal and it’ll make the room immediately more complete, even if I don’t think of the ceiling as permanent. Also I already ordered it.

Once the ceiling was done, it was time to start on the walls!

bmoilcloth

WOAH WOAH WOAH! Do not adjust your monitors or call the police: that paint isn’t white! I’m a loose cannon in 2017. Also I think my style is getting progressively more traditional and I just don’t know how it’s all going to play out so bear with me while I navigate these confusing new waters.

cuttinginpaint

For real though, I’m psyched about this color! I know it might look like kind of a non-color, but I swearrrrr it’s not just grey. It’s called Oil Cloth by Benjamin Moore, and it’s one of those delicious blue-green-grey colors that changes all day and probably looks completely different in every space and light. At least here, it definitely reads more as green than blue, but it never looks sage or mint or something like that. If this room ends up being ugly, it’s because I didn’t know what to do with this color, not because the color is bad. It’s so, so nice.

progresspaint

When I took this photo I was hoping you’d be able to get a sense of how this new double-boarded and skim-coated drywall ended up looking, but I don’t think it’s really accomplishing that. Well anyway. It looks really good. I don’t think you’d ever be able to point out that it’s a new wall of drywall.

Oh right, where’s the window? Somewhere in there I decided there was no time like the present to begin restoring my original windows, so these two sashes were my first victims!

windowstripping

Restoring old windows is a whollleeeee process that I want to get better at before I attempt assembling my own tutorial, but here’s a fun and exciting progress shot! I used one of those fast-acting paint strippers and immediately hated myself for it. It all worked out fine, but those quick strippers are always such a gloopy mess! I find that they take so many applications and time spent cleaning and picking away at old layers that they end up being one of the most time-consuming ways to strip paint rather than the speed and efficiency promised on the can.

painted-sash

This window only needed two panes replaced, and I opted to just do spot-repairs to the existing glazing putty on the others rather than removing ALL of the paint and putty and all of the glass and truly refurbishing everything. The old glazing is mostly in solid and stable condition (even if it isn’t the neatest glazing job), and with a couple new coats of paint I’m hopeful it’ll last for many more years. I used Rust-Oleum’s oil-based High Performance Protective Enamel for the exterior of the sashes, but I think in the future I’m going to try an exterior latex enamel because the oil-based took forever to dry and made the entire process take so much longer.

windowinstalled

Aside from tacking the stop back onto the jamb and installing a new sash lock, check it! One down, only 30-something to go! This is the first window in the whole house that I’ve done a full restoration on, so it’s pretty exciting. I think the ultimate goal is to be able to remove the unsightly and inefficient exterior storms altogether in favor of some fancy custom-fitted Indow Windows, but in the meantime the exterior storms do an OK job of protecting the sashes that are in need of repairs until I can get to them.

sample

Now that the walls are painted, I’m a lot closer to having a completed room! I threw up a little trim paint on this little section of molding just to see how the two colors would look together (the trim is BM Simply White), so if you only look at this little section it looks like the room is done, ha! Preparing all the moldings for paint is a big job—even though I don’t strip the paint, I do try to smooth out any lumpy and bumpy areas, scrape out old poorly-applied caulk, fill holes and cracks, and give everything a thorough cleaning before breaking out the paintbrush at all. Look at that molding, though! So worth it.

So I didn’t make New Years, but maybe I can be sleeping in here again by the end of the month? It’s so exciting to be at the point of thinking about furniture and rugs and art and light fixtures, finally!

Putting the Bedroom Back Together

So, you might have heard that we had an election here in these United States. And now it’s a month later, and I still don’t know how to compose a sentence to follow that one.

As you can probably imagine, the result of said election was the opposite of what I wanted. Incidentally it was also the opposite of what the majority of voting Americans wanted, but unlike every other modern democracy on earth, we leave the election for the highest office in the land to a severely outmoded system wherein the loser can still win and…well, it sucks. And I’m not going to be ashamed to admit that it’s been really, really tough. There are so many people who are likely to experience much, much more severe ramifications to their lives and rights than I am as a result of this election, but that doesn’t exactly make it easier when those people are my friends, family, and neighbors. Watching the transition unfold over the past few weeks has been horrific, and it’s just the beginning. Is it even the beginning yet? So many people are so afraid. I’m so afraid. The whole thing has cast such a heavy shadow over…everything.

Whichever side of the aisle you fall on, we’re taught to meet this kind of challenge with action instead of resignation. We’re told to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and keep fighting for what’s right, and retool the tragedy of our defeat into motivation to be better—better activists, better volunteers, better donors, better Americans. And that’s very useful and pragmatic advice, because shutting down and wallowing doesn’t actually accomplish anything except for maybe providing some passing relief from feeling horrible about everything. Right?

That doesn’t mean I don’t want to shut down and wallow, though. Not all the time, and not for the next four years, and not at the expense of trying to do what I can to affect positive change moving forward, but you know what? Sometimes, you just need to do what you need to do to get yourself through. Sometimes, it’s OK to disconnect, curl up, and—in the words of one commenter on this blog—make yourself into a blanket burrito. This is, at least, what I’ve been telling myself to manage my guilt about my relative lack of action over the past month. When overnight you feel you’ve become a stranger in your own country, when previously-settled battles for your own rights and the rights of those you love are suddenly reignited, and enormous hurdles are erected in front of so many things that had long felt attainable, I think Blanket Burrito Time serves its own kind of function. To reflect, regroup, get your bearings, and gather your strength. To put things in context and perspective. To allow yourself to feel whatever it is you need to feel, because relentlessly trying to push away panic and distress and sadness is also not the most effective strategy for dealing with panic and distress and sadness. Being silent is not the same thing as being silenced.

It might sound like I’m reaching here, but even renovating my own house has taken on a new kind of…vibe. With a long-term, labor-intensive and expensive project like my house, I’ve always found it motivating to keep some kind of picture in my mind of what living here will be like when much of the major work is completed. I don’t really think in elaborate fantasies—they’re more like snapshots. Hosting Thanksgiving dinner in my dining room. Making breakfast on Saturday mornings in my renovated kitchen. Hosting a damn garden party and picking perfect little tomatoes off the vine. Showing a houseguest into a bedroom that I don’t have to apologize for.

I’ve realized that central to all of these someday-snapshots is the presence of other people. Entertaining friends. Hosting family. Welcoming strangers. Right now, though, all I really want is a space for me. I still want those other things, too, but blanket burrito-ing surrounded by construction mess sucks. It feels extra sad. I want a bedroom. I want to go to sleep and wake up in a space that feels safe and clean and warm and cozy and nice, which isn’t really something I’ve ever had in this house and hasn’t before felt like such a huge priority. Now it does. So I’ve been trying to really make it happen!

beforewindowinstall

You might recall that my bedroom looked like THIS a couple of months ago, having gotten pretty torn apart during the whole side-of-house-restoration-project. The plan for this room pretty much started and ended with adding another window, but then I got a little more than I bargained for in losing a whole wall of plaster. I’ve had to focus a lot of time on trying to wrap the exterior project up, but otherwise I’ve been in here as much as possible. My plan, sad as it was, was to just hang some sheetrock and move my furniture back in and keep living in this room as a utilitarian, un-renovated space while I worked in other areas of the house, but that was before having a nice setting for Blanket Burrito Time felt like such a big deal. I kept sort of adding things to the list until—whoops! I’m just renovating the whole room.

patching2

Of course, nothing is ever easy! One thing I didn’t really account for in adding the fourth window is that the panel molding under the windows doesn’t come as far out into the room as the baseboard that used to be on this wall. I’m not sure why this seems like such a hard thing to explain, but basically if I had left the flooring as-is, I would have had a large gap between the end of the floorboards and the window moldings, and that would not be nice.

The easiest solution to this would have been ripping off the ends of the boards in the area in question to create a clean line, and then putting another floor board in perpendicular to the rest of the flooring, just to fill the gap. It would have been fine but it also would have been an obvious patch, and the whole point is to have this window not look like it was added in 2016! Feathering in boards is much more time-consuming, but once these floors are eventually refinished, it should be pretty seamless.

(I also kinda-sorta considered just removing all the flooring, which definitely isn’t original to the house, and going down to the original wide-plank pine subfloor, but that seemed insane? This glimpse of the pine subfloor is beautiful but the wood is also pretty soft, damaged from the second layer of flooring, has wide gaps between the boards that collect dust and crap…the more modern hardwood is one of the few “upgrades” to my house that I’m actually totally thankful for and OK with, even though it all needs to be refinished down the line.)

The span between the outer edges of the window casings is almost four feet, so that’s the area of flooring I had to extend so the boards would run right up to the wall and under the casing. I’ve had to feather in new floorboards in other areas of the house where radiator pipes used to be and stuff, and I think the most effective tool is an oscillating tool fitted with a wood blade (I have this one, highly recommend!). It’s made specifically for plunge cuts, so I start by making the short cut across the board, following a pencil line, and then the longer cut down the length of the board’s edge, cutting through the tongue. From there it’s fairly easy to pry a floorboard up. I particularly like the oscillating saw because the blade is thin enough that the removed board can still be reinstalled—using a circular saw, you’d lose 1/8″ off the width of the board from the saw blade. I just eyeball where the new butt joints should land—the goal is to keep the new cuts looking random and staggered.

patching1

Once I had all my cuts made and boards removed, I took the nails out and lined up all the removed boards in order of height. That way, I could more efficiently re-install them in new locations by selecting the shortest board possible to finish off each run. This way, my only waste was a small pile of off-cuts that were typically a couple inches long or less. With the tongues removed, it’s generally pretty easy to finagle the boards into place and secure them by face-nailing a few 2″ finish nails on each board. Boom! I think I only needed two boards for the longest runs, which I sourced from a bucket in my basement.

casing5

Once the floor was all put back together, I began working on the casing! IT. TOOK. A. LONG. TIME. If you scroll up to the first photo in this post and look at the original casing, you can see that it’s fairly elaborate. To my knowledge exactly none of the components are widely available (although it’s possible I could have found decent matches at a millwork place with a large catalog, but $$$), so I got pretty friendly with my router and table saw!

This isn’t my first rodeo trimming out a window or having to get a little creative to produce a period-style molding, but prior attempts have been in places like the laundry room where I was aiming to get close to the profiles of the remaining original moldings in the adjacent kitchen. In a space like that you can be a little more lenient, but since this new window is in a room with three original windows and three original doors, all with their moldings intact, I was aiming for perfection. Otherwise it would look amateurish and stupid and make me so angry. We’d all be so disappointed and sad and I could never show my face again.

casing1

Here you can get a sense of how the patched in flooring turned out, by the way.

Just to make trying to reverse-engineer a complicated antique molding extra special and fun, the window itself is slightly different than the originals and so is the framing supporting its installation. For instance, the new window sashes slide up and down on a modern balance system, so there aren’t any stop moldings to keep the sashes on track. The stops are pretty integral to the overall look of my moldings, though, so I had to make some purely decorative ones to tack on in front of the plastic balance system.

casing2

That panel part under the window was especially difficult, because there was framing in the way of making the panel as recessed as it’s supposed to be. To compensate, I kind of framed out a miniature wall and used a super thin piece of plywood for the backing, and then had to create some large rabbets in the surrounding molding to fit over the framing but still be appropriately recessed and level and plumb.

casing3

I realize this really neither instructive nor easy to understand what the hell I’m even talking about. I guess my point here is that this kind of thing is a lot of work, but doable! If you think of a normal no-nonsense window, you basically have a sill, an apron below it, and a piece of molding on each side and the top—5 pieces molding total. By my count, this has 30! But with enough head-scratching and patience (and shims), I kinda think I nailed it!

casing4

Check it out! Can you even tell which is the new one?! I’m kidding—of course it needs a lot of primer and patching and caulk and paint, but still! I feel like it looks really legit.

casingsafter

My favorite part is that aside from three lengths of cheap pine lattice boards from Lowe’s, everything else is salvaged! I love the challenge and gratification of finding the right piece of scrap, milling it to size, and giving it a purpose while simultaneously de-cluttering my hoard. I know it’s only fun to me, but this window molding is now kind of like a scrapbook of renovation projects past…there’s leftover material from Olivebridge, the backing of a kitchen cabinet, a bed slat, pieces of molding from the doorways into the now-demoed solarium, the jamb from the (now-demoed) door from the (now-demoed) upstairs kitchen out to the (now-demoed) fire escape…I get a kick out of it, anyway. Cheap thrills! I need more excitement in my life.

Also, drywall! You might be asking yourself why the sheetrock is in so many small pieces, and I have a decent reason! I had this idea, which was maybe a good one and maybe wasn’t, that I’d put up two layers of 1/2″ drywall, one right on top of the other. This first layer in the photo above was—you guessed it—scraps from the living and dining room ceilings (indeed I have been holding onto offcuts of drywall for over two years!), and a second layer with full-sized sheets will go over top. INSANE, RIGHT? The goal here is to achieve a close approximation of the original plaster wall that was here—I find that a normal 1/2″ drywall installation looks too flat and perfect and feels/sounds hollow when compared with a solid plaster wall, so I’m hoping that a full 1″ thickness plus a skim-coat over the entire thing will give me the look/feel I’m going for. I know that seems unbelievably nit-picky and stupid, but hey! That’s never stopped me before.

ADDENDUM: Comments on this post are now closed. Thank you, everybody, for your thoughts, words, input, and respectful conversation! As much as I would like to continue the discussion, this is a sensitive topic for many of us (the 2016 U.S. election, not my walls!) and one that requires a significant amount of time on my part to moderate, respond, and ensure a safe and respectful atmosphere. Therefore, after 5 days, I am choosing to close comments so that I can move on and dedicate my blogging time to writing more posts! 

(For those interested, I can happily report that many interesting and valuable viewpoints have been expressed on both sides, and I think the comments below are worth a read! Out of almost 200 comments, many specifically regarding the election, only a negligible few were moderated due to what I considered to be either flagrant factual inaccuracies or the use of potentially offensive language. Once again I am blown away and exceedingly thankful for the consistently respectful, intelligent, and generous conduct of commenters on Manhattan Nest!)

The Bedroom has a Fourth Window!

bedroomwallbefore

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

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

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

house-thenbrwindowhighlight

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

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

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

ghostwindow

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

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

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

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

bedroomwindowframing

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

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

vinylremoved

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

sidingremoved

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

bedroominteriorno-sheathing

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

insulation

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

sheathing

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

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

sheathingwithhole

Boom! Look! A hole!

windowinstalled

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

before

Almost there, house. Almost there.

BREAKING: My Kitchen has a Fireplace!

demo4

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

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

chimney2013

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

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

2chimney2013

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

3chimney2013

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

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

basementfireplace

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

4chimney2015

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

demo1

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

demo2

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

demo3

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

demo4

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

demo5

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

clean-out

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

demo7

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

demo6

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

chimney2016

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

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

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

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