Tour: The Exterior!


At long last, the exterior!


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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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

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

So. The asphalt. BEHOLD:


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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

Tour: Second Floor!


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Next up, the exterior!

Kingston House

Tour: First Floor!


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe. So many maybes. I like maybes.


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

Kingston House

The Kitchen: Inspiration and a Plan!


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

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

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

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

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


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

Moving clockwise:

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

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

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

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


This mess:

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



We Did Something. Big.


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


A little practical information:

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

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

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


To pre-empt some obvious questions:

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

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

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

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

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

3. Then why? I mean, WTF. 

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

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

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

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

4. What does this mean for this blog?

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

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

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

Kingston House / Life
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