Endless Prep Work in the Kitchen


Our kitchen renovation seemed straightforward enough.

Step 1. Remove all the yuck.

Step 2. Paint all the things.

Step 3. Yay new kitchen!

But there’s this finicky little step between steps 1 and 2 that I may not have totally accounted for in my mental schedule of events (in which our kitchen has been long done by now because, you know, it’ll take like 4 days start to finish). That step is called PREP. And there is so much of it.

A quick word about this renovation: this is not really the kitchen we intend to have forever. It was probably installed in the 1950s, and was done using pretty cheap materials, even at the time. I think most potential buyers saw this space as a total gut-job (probably one of the several reasons the house sat vacant for 2+ years), but with all the other work that needs to be done in the house, there is just NO way we’re about to gut and replace an entire kitchen. Even though the kitchen looked terrible, the cabinets are solid wood and workable (not in great condition, and not nice cabinets to begin with, but there are lots of them!), the fridge is fine, etc. etc. All of that is good news, since I don’t want to rush designing and planning the layout and materials of whatever kitchen we end up installing here. We want to get at least a few more years out of the existing kitchen, and Max and I both feel like it’s top priority to have a space where it’s actually nice to prepare a meal and feel comfortable and clean——both for ourselves and guests. Especially when we’re in the midst of doing so much other work, I think having a nice kitchen will go a long way toward maintaining our sanity.

The point is, this kitchen is a very extended exercise in trying to do things on the mega-cheap without compromising quality and aesthetics (ideally, I’d like to spend $500-$1,000 total in here). We also want to get it done quickly so that we have more time to devote to other stuff (and, obviously, so we have a kitchen!), so we also need to strike a balance between doing things perfectly and 100% right and just doing things so they’re good enough to last as long as this kitchen realistically needs to. All of this is my way of explaining that seasoned renovators might be rolling their eyes and gasping in horror at some of the decisions I’ve made during the process, but just remember that this kitchen isn’t forever.

SO. ANYWAY. PREP. When we left off, I’d been busy patching all the walls and ceiling from where the drop ceiling had been attached (holes in the walls, holes in the ceiling, holes everywhere) and generally lamenting the state of everything. It felt like maybe it would only be a couple of days until I was happily painting the walls and feeling very satisfied and validated about all my hard work, but every time I turned around, it seemed like there was more craziness to un-do and conquer before paint could happen. I’ve painted a lot of rooms at this point in my life, and this one far surpasses any amount of work I’ve ever had to do to get a space prepped. That includes sanding all of the walls of my apartment hallway. Neva4get.

This was a dark time.


One thing that had been staring me in the face was the fancy contact-paper backsplashes. I won’t lie, I kind of like this cutesy poppy pattern, but the paper was in bad shape and generally dirty and gross and completely at odds with the plan for this room, so it had to go.

I might have saved a scrap of it for…whatever reason. This kitchen has turned my brain to mush.

Consider this a PSA: don’t put contact paper on your backsplashes. Don’t then leave it there for 50 years. This stuff was a NIGHTMARE to get off. It’s possible some kind of wallpaper remover would have helped, but it seemed like a really small area and wasn’t worth the hassle. We don’t have a steamer (heard very mixed things about their usefulness from a lot of different people, and now I’m crippled with indecision), but I did try to loosen some of it with my iron on the steam setting. This made zero difference.

The only thing to do was peel, in tiny pieces, forever. It became like a kind of sick game, where every time a scrap came loose larger than about the size of a child’s palm, I would rejoice and cackle in manic glee. I played this for hours, until the laughter became tears.


Next I turned my attention to the sink area. Remember that thing I mentioned about everything in our house being fixed with caulk, various types of tape, and metal wire?

Well. The sink area is a very good example. Check out how the sink is totally, like, being swallowed by the wall in the first picture. That’s all caulk. See the wall above the sink and to the right? ALSO ALL CAULK.

Yeah. Not only had the edges of the sink been filled and covered and overflowed with years of very hard, very serious caulk, the walls had also been skim-coated with it. I suppose this is a semi-valid way to waterproof this area around the sink, so I respect the ingenuity. But that is just…not what caulk is for.

Since this area is also getting tiled, I had to do my best to remove all the caulk and level the surfaces.

There’s this episode of The X-Files in which Scully gets kidnapped by deranged small-townsfolk who worship a bulbous yellow-ish worm thing that needs a human host to survive. It burrows in a person’s back, along the upper vertebrae, and sort of incubates there for a while before killing the host and moving on. It’s all very gory and horrific.

This caulk was a lot like that. Big and bulbous and yellow and emerging from around the sink like a thick moldy worm thing. I was legitimately a little frightened of it. The amount of caulk removed from this area was bananas. It had actual weight when I put it all in a bag to throw it away. It was heavy.

Shudder. Horrors. Caulk horrors.


In an attempt to feel better about things, I needed to get some paint on something. This seemed like as good a time as any to throw some primer on the floor. Since the original linoleum tiles pretty much popped up en masse, the plan is to just paint this plywood underlayment black. It won’t be the fanciest floor in the world, but I think the black paint will make the imperfections less noticeable, and a kitchen rug on top will keep it from seeming like our floor is made of sadness.

I’d LOVE to rip up this underlayment and expose the original pine plank subfloor, but that’s probably going to wait for the REAL kitchen renovation down the line. Aside from having to remove the radiator and base cabinets to make that happen, there’s a whole SECOND layer of linoleum and plywood underlayment under this plywood underlayment, and then we don’t really know what the subfloor is even going to look like when we get down to it. It could have rot (doesn’t look like it from the basement, but that’s the bottom side…) or tons of damage, or be hideous, or whatever, and we’re just not ready to deal with that whole process. I don’t want to put myself in a situation where I have to refinish a floor OR cover it up with new flooring (and new underlayment…), both of which would suck more time and money from our lives that we don’t have.


SO. I decided to paint the floor with Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-base primer, which is the same stuff I used in Max’s childhood bedroom. I like this line of primers generally, but the shellac stuff is AMAZING for blocking/sealing in all kinds of weird grossness, and it goes on super thin, dries EXTREMELY fast (like 15 minutes), and provides a good surface for paint to adhere to.

I prepped the floor basically just by sweeping and vacuuming it (use the wand to get into all the edges and corners, where dust and debris tend to accumulate), and then I painted it like I would anything else——cutting in around the edges, roller on the rest. I just used a regular old roller made for semi-smooth surfaces and it worked great. The paint is sort of self-leveling since it’s so thin, so it didn’t leave any roller texture once it dried.

I also decided to paint the hearth, since it was so little extra effort and it seemed like a good idea. Even though I cleaned it really well, it still probably had some wallpaper paste/grease remnants that might have messed up the regular paint adhesion and coverage.


Even though it’s just a coat of primer and the floor is going to be black, not white, painting this felt SO GOOD. It happened really fast and COMPLETELY changed the feeling of the room. All of a sudden, it felt like a blank canvas full of possibilities instead of a shoddy room full of gross shit and generally lousy vibes. We won’t paint the floor until after the walls and cabinets are painted (since I don’t want to paint the floor and then drip paint on my newly painted floor while painting the walls, you know?), but anyway. FINALLY! PAINT!


After the floor was primed, I was feeling extra excited and paint-happy, so I decided to paint the radiator! This radiator was…so vile. Same dirty-custard yellow as the walls, covered in tons of grease and dirt and dust and grime. I spent a long time cleaning it,  starting with a flexible dryer vent brush (mine is like this, and it’s the best thing ever for cleaning old radiators!) and finishing with reaching my gloved hands as far into that spaces as they would fit to try to further clean it. The whole thing was very gross and enlightening and took about 2 hours.

Once it was prepped, I taped some cardboard onto the wall behind it. Since the room still needs paint on the walls and the floor, I didn’t care so much about getting off-spray on anything in the surrounding area. However, it’s going to be basically impossible to paint fully behind the radiator (the space between the back of the radiator and the drywall is only about 1/2″!), so I didn’t want to get a bunch of paint back there that I wouldn’t be able to cover up.


I chose this high-heat glossy spray paint in black for the radiator. Because who doesn’t love a black radiator?

The folks at the hardware store assured me that any type of spray paint would probably be fine for a radiator, but I wanted to play it safe with the high-heat. Rust-oleum actually makes a radiator enamel specifically for this, but it wasn’t at the hardware store and I figured it was probably more or less the same stuff.


The actual painting part went really fast. I did about 3 light coats to fully cover it, and used 2 cans of spray paint. I know it would have been better to remove the radiator, power-wash the whole thing, paint it in a well-ventilated space with access to all sides (or better yet, sand-blast and powder coat it!), but all of that would have been way too much time and way too much effort for this. This solution only cost me some scrap cardboard and about $12 in spray paint.


I need to take better pictures when the room starts to come together (this one is terrible, apologies!!), but the radiator looks soooooooo gooooooood. It’s like super beautiful and jet black and shiny and amazing. Once everything around it doesn’t look so crappy, it’s going to be great. Trust.


I don’t have a picture from this angle after the radiator got painted, but you can imagine. Getting there…

p.s.—I did a little interview thingy over at West Elm’s blog, Front&Main! In case you want to read me blather on about thrifting and being cheap and Brooklyn and stuff, you can find it here

The Walls Come Down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Also, yeah. I demo in khakis?

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

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



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


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


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

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

Also, yeah. I demo in hot pink shirts?


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

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



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

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

The Kitchen Begins!


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


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

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

Wrong. We were so very wrong.

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Not this guy.

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


Not cute.

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

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

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

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


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

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


Progress. It feels good.

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




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
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