The Asphalt is Gone!

It’s a story I end up telling a lot.

“What brought you to Kingston?”

“A house.”

And it’s true. We came up here with some friends for a weekend in late December, fell completely in love with Kingston, got drunkenly curious about real estate listings, saw one for a house around the corner from where we were staying, and trespassed on the property the next morning on our way out of town, just because we were so curious. I remember spending the drive back to Brooklyn and the rest of the day fantasizing about buying it, imagining how easily (HAH!) it could be restored, and how fun it would be to live in this amazing little city I hadn’t even heard of the week before. I thought it would be a passing thing, that maybe the next day or the day after, I wouldn’t wake up and go to bed completely obsessed with a vacant house 2 hours away that I’d seen for all of 10 minutes. And then I did something stupid: I bookmarked the listing on my internet browser. It was kind of like having a song stuck in your head—you can either try to avoid it or just give in and listen to it on repeat. It couldn’t hurt to just check in on it every few hours or so for weeks on end, just to see if it had sold or was in contract or something. Where was the harm in that? People check Perez Hilton all day at work and don’t go out and try to purchase a celebrity.

Then the price dropped. And I did another stupid thing: I called the listing agent. Just to find out what the hell was so wrong with this place. Just so I could stop thinking about it. Surely the foundation was crumbling into the ground or carpenter ants had whittled all of the wood framing down to unstable toothpicks or something really bad that would just put the whole thing to rest.

But it all sounded fixable. And it was just a two hour drive. And we weren’t doing anything that Saturday. Would we like to come for a walk-through? Sure. I guess. Why not.

Remember that thing I said about seeing it first in late December, though? There was about 2 feet of snow on the ground. Snow has a way of masking certain flaws and making everything very charming. By the time we actually came for the walk-through, it was the end of February. The snow had melted. The house was still more or less the same, but the yard looked significantly less attractive than I’d imagined it when all you could see was a blanket of white.

Asphalt. So much asphalt. Almost the entire yard was covered in asphalt.

At that point I was way too obsessed with the house to let a little blacktop get between me and my future home, so I ignored it. We’d cross that bridge when we got to it. No biggie.

Now that we’re over a year into home ownership, though, and it’s summer, and I have outdoor projects on my mind…I really wanted the asphalt to disappear. I know lots of readers thought I should make lemonade out of these lemons and cover it with this and build that and just let it be, but I might not be accurately portraying just how much asphalt there was. Especially once I built the fence to create a separate front yard from the backyard (which I’ve been doing some work on, yay!), we were left with a relatively small area of grass and a vast majority of our backyard covered in asphalt.

Before4

What. A. Disaster. Not only was the snow covering all this asphalt, it also covered an old foundation behind the garage—part of a never-realized plan to extend the garage, apparently. The foundation was a total mess…it looks like the previous owners wanted to extend it a certain distance, then decided to extend it even further, then never quite finished and just threw a bunch of cinderblocks into the center of it and ran. I tried to get in there a couple of times to clear the weeds and see if we could use it in some way, but it was just a losing battle…so instead it just became a weed jungle. So charming.

Before3

Anyway, I guess the previous owner had several cars AND a boat at one time, so I’m sure all of this pavement seemed like a decent idea at the time. We only have one car, though, and no boat or any reason for the backyard to be paved, and there was really just way too much of it for any kind of creative solution to remedy. If we didn’t have dogs it might be another story, but even though I don’t really like grass and I don’t want any in the front of the house, I do want the dogs to have a nice big area of grass in the back that they can run around in. Dogs love grass. That’s just science.

Before5

Because the asphalt runs within a couple of feet of the property line on two sides, it really limited our landscaping options. The back of the yard faces this house, and the other side faces a rental property in the front and a commercial business in the back…all of which I’d like to get a little privacy from with some taller trees and planting, but it doesn’t really make sense to do any of that until the fence is replaced and the asphalt is removed.

Aside from all of this, the asphalt is just such a bummer. It’s totally ugly, it wasn’t in good shape, it doesn’t serve a functional purpose, and it just makes the house and garage and whole backyard look and feel really sad.

So there. That is my whole defense. I wanted it all gone. Clean slate, fresh start. I briefly considered leaving an area next to the garage for parking, but I’d so much rather do that with a couple strips of bluestone with some groundcover surrounding it or something other than a huge bed of pavement. Even parking can be charming if it’s done right, you know?

bobcat1

I wasn’t quite sure how this whole removal process would happen, though. In the earlier, stupider days of homeownership, I thought maybe I’d rent a dumpster and jackhammer and do it all myself.

This was an insane plan.

Then my plumber, Carl, mentioned that he owned a backhoe. It makes sense, given that he has to tear up streets and sidewalks and stuff sometimes, so I half-jokingly asked if he wanted the pleasure of removing all my asphalt. And he did. So I let him. Just like that! I really love Carl—he’s done all of our plumbing work at the house, and he’s super great to work with and reasonable and just an all-around awesome dude. I’m so happy he was up for this, even though it really doesn’t have to do with plumbing at all! What a guy.

I don’t think any of us realized how intense the removal would be. It took four days, I think…first with the small-ish backhoe you see above. Mostly they broke up large portions and put them all in a pile. It was incredibly exciting.

Underneath the asphalt was a TON of gravel, which I wasn’t really anticipating. I guess that’s how it’s done? News to me. Instead of leaving me with a gravel backyard instead of an asphalt backyard, I asked that we excavate down a bit further to remove a lot of the gravel. Some gravel I can deal with, but not to the point that you can’t even see the soil. That was not the point of this whole exercise.

meonbobcat

At the end of Day 1, Carl let me play around on the backhoe for about 45 minutes while he and the crew mocked me relentlessly for being so confused by all of the levers and buttons and stuff. Eventually I got the hang of things and I got to feel really badass and cool for a while. I didn’t want it to end! I know this action-packed shot might look like a skinny confused kid with bad posture messing around in my backyard, but it felt exactly like Sigourney Weaver in Aliens. Here is a more accurate depiction of events:

aliens

Pin away.

bobcat2

Next came this second backhoe. It was bigger and more powerful than the first. They started to tackle the pile we’d made the day before and load it into a dump truck. I wasn’t allowed to drive this one.

We thought it would take maybe 6 loads of the dump truck to clear the yard. After a while everyone lost count, but the final tally was somewhere close to 20. Insanity.

bobcat3

The final day of work involved THIS. It was so awesome. I definitely was not permitted to operate this thing, but it was pretty amazing to watch. It cut through the asphalt like butter and was just generally the coolest thing that’s ever happened.

This is when I told the neighbors I was building a pool.

After all the removal was more or less completed, they worked on compacting the newly-exposed soil and grading the yard out and making everything look less like the post-apocalypse.

garageafter

Anndddd…DONE! It’s so weird to see the back of the garage like this! Now you can really see where the window is missing, which was relocated at some point to the laundry room. I’m tempted to say that a long (longgg) term goal might be to put a couple of french doors on this side of the garage and a fire pit/conversation zone situation in this area. Could be kind of amazing? Maybe a pergola of some kind?

There’s about 5 feet of space between the left side of the garage and the fence line, which I think I’d like to pave with salvaged bricks and use to store our garbage cans and compost. It’ll be nice to have them out of sight! That will free up the space on the other side of the garage for some plants, like maybe a simple boxwood hedge or something. As I mentioned before, to replace the old driveway I’ll probably install two strips of bluestone and some ground cover like Creeping Jenny. As you can see, the old gate is ENORMOUS (much bigger than it needs to be) and falling apart, so replacing the fencing on this side of the house is next on my fencing hit-list. Not only will it be a big functional improvement, but we’ll also have replaced all of the chain-link facing the street, which I’m really excited about. Old busted-up chain-link fencing is also a huge bummer.

after2

As for the rest of the cleared space, it’s just so exciting to have this blank canvas now! I think replacing the rest of the chain link with wood fencing will go a longgggg way toward making the backyard feel more private, and adding some tall trees along the fence line will also help immensely. That building you see in the back is a commercial business—it’s not like it’s super busy or anything (despite their enormous parking lot…), but getting some more separation from it will still be really nice. I think most of this area will likely end up just being grass for the dogs, but I do like the idea of doing some kind of really long raised bed in the back for a vegetable/herb garden.

Anyway. Big dreams.

Before that stuff can all happen, though, we need to get some fill dirt! I didn’t even think about this beforehand (I know, I know…) but removing 20 dump trucks of material is…a lot of stuff. Unless we want to end up with a pond in the middle of the backyard when it rains or snows heavily, now we need to get fill dirt brought in and grade out the land. The last thing I ever really envisioned paying for is dirt, but I’ve been assured that I will be hugely sorry if I don’t just bite the bullet and do it before trying to do any landscaping/grass-planting, etc. It’s pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine, but that’s how it goes sometimes!

I’m not exactly rushing to do the fill dirt thing while I’m working on digging out the grass and weeds and crap in the front yard. It’s nice to be able to just fill a wheelbarrow and dump it all in the newly excavated area in the back, and might even end up saving us a little bit in the long run. If we have the dirt, we might as well use it, right? I don’t want to buy a bunch of dirt and then end up with more dirt and nowhere for it to go. That just seems unwise.

And now I’m writing a blog post about dirt. Awesome. I’m so cool and trendy.

Fireplace-ish!

study1

There’s this room in the front of our house on the main floor that I’ve always been a little baffled by. There are only four main rooms on the first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room…and this room), and I’ve taken to just calling it the “front room.” Sometimes it’s the “parlor” (fancy!) and sometimes it’s the “den,” but the truth is, I haven’t been sure what to do with it. Our house really isn’t that big (about 2300 sq. feet, which feels huge for us, but we’re used to living in little apartments), so it feels sort of stupid to have a whole room for which I haven’t been able to decide on a dedicated function.

For the past several months I’ve been using it as a very poorly located workshop and staging area for working on other spaces in the house, but since it’s adjacent to the dining room, also lacks a ceiling, and needs new electrical to be finished up, it makes sense to renovate the two rooms more or less simultaneously. Which means I’ve had to start thinking more seriously about what to do with it.

Here’s what I don’t want:

1. A main floor bedroom. No need, and I think it would be weird.

2. A den/TV room. There’a a whole other living room just across the hall (you can look at the floor plan here, which might help this make more sense…) which is enormous and going to be incredible someday. I know it’s often customary to have a more formal living room and then a less formal hang-out space with a TV and whatnot, but I don’t really believe in formal living rooms. That living room is going to be the best room in the house, and I want it to get used. As for the TV, I don’t really think I want one on the main floor at all. There’s a room upstairs that I think will make a really nice, cozy TV room, and I like that idea much more.

So what does that leave? Well. Let me tell you.

A study. That’s what we’re calling it. We have a ton of books that need a home (right now they’re pretty much shoved anywhere they’ll fit). We’ve both been transitioning to working much less from Brooklyn and much more from Kingston (yay!), but now Max really wants/needs a place to work that isn’t our bed. I envision this study having a desk, a chair or two, bookshelves, a nice rug…a place that doesn’t feel too formal and off-limits for a main-floor room (people should still feel free to mill about in it during parties and whatnot) but still functions as place we can get stuff done. I’m obviously partial to my little compact upstairs office, but I think this will be pretty great when we want to be working or hanging out together.

stud3

cornerradiator

That said, the furniture layout thing was still just…confusing me. Part of the challenge of the room is that it has three large windows, a radiator, two doors, and a funny little closet, but there’s no real focal point. It’s like there should be an architectural element to anchor the room around that isn’t there.

study-2

I might feel that way because there should be an architectural element that’s missing.

Originally, this wall sported some kind of fireplace. At some point, I think in the fairly recent past (50 years or so…), whatever was here was removed. You can tell because of the missing piece of baseboard, and the spot where the floor was very artlessly patched in with the wrong type of wood where I’m guessing there was some kind of stone hearth.

My normal inclination with stuff like this is to just let it be what it is and work with what we have, but then my friend John mentioned that he had an old mantel sitting in his basement that he’d taken out during the renovation of his insanely gorgeous house. And that I could have it. For free.

mantel

Oh. Well. That changes things, now doesn’t it?

A word about my friend John: he’s sort of the best. I love him to pieces. He’s welcomed us to Kingston with open arms, and made our first year here so great. He’s a veteran renovator and terrific to bounce ideas off of and nerd out over old house stuff, knows everything, and is just so kind. Everyone loves John. We’re so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s spent about 6 years renovating an incredible 1720s stone house around the corner from us (originally it was a tavern, and before he bought it, it was a doctor’s office!—you can see his Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge here!), and he has impeccable taste and is just so frustratingly clever. The more time I spend in his house, the more I appreciate all the little details and smart solutions that just make so amazing (and, in turn, make me feel like a totally inadequate garbage person). It’s endlessly inspiring. I think I want to do a series of posts about all the little things that make John’s house so special…so keep an eye out for that! Maybe that sounds boring but I swear it will blow your mind.

ANYWAY. Then I became obsessed with the idea of adding a fireplace back to this room. It just doesn’t feel right without it! It should be there, and it’s not there, and it makes the room feel weird and ungrounded. A fireplace is what this room needs to be whole again. I feel it in my bones. It’s going to be purely ornamental, and that’s totally OK. We’re hoping we can make the other fireplace in the living room wood-burning someday, but this one can just be for looks and candles and pretty for the sake of pretty. Who cares.

The mantel also comes with a really cool and very heavy cast-iron insert/cover thing that is still in his basement, but coming here soon. So stoked.

demo1

When I got it home, I immediately started tearing into the wall that it’s going on, just to see what was back there. I had this idea that maybe there would be an original firebox lurking in the wall, and I needed to know. This whole area was patched in with sheetrock, and underneath it old sheet metal had been nailed into the studs. Weird.

demo2

Once I exposed the edges of the sheet metal, I started peeling it back…

demo3

Between two studs, there was essentially a column of bricks skim-coated with plaster or joint compound or something. I noticed that the bricks look more like the “garbage bricks” that are inside all of our exterior walls rather than chimney bricks, so I eased one out and hoped that the whole chimney wouldn’t come crashing down.

demo4

Behind those bricks where the actual chimney! Huh! There’s a vent hole, which is weird because there’s a whole separate vent hole near the ceiling. I guess this one was replaced with the other one? Or all of this effort to seal it off so well was because this chimney used to vent the ancient boiler, and carbon monoxide poisoning is not cool. I don’t know. Anyway. No firebox. No biggie.

fireplace1

One thing I didn’t anticipate is that this mantel is HUGE. It’s quite a bit longer than whatever was here originally. My inclination is to center this new mantel on the wall rather than offset it to the side, as the original one was (which centers it in the room, but only if the fireplace fits the original dimensions, which this one doesn’t). Sure, I could cobble something together myself that might look passably good and fit more with the original dimensions, but I love that this one has a story and a past and that it’s free and was given with love. I don’t think trying to modify the proportions is a good idea. And even though it didn’t work for John’s house (he thinks it was fabricated and added in the 1920s, so far from period appropriate for him…he had a new mantelpiece custom-built that looks much better), I think it’s kind of perfect for ours! I think it complements the original woodwork really nicely and will just fit right in.

venthole

wallbow

Unfortunately, the wall that it’s going on is sort of a disaster. I’m all about preserving as much of the original plaster as possible, but this wall is already a weird mix of newer drywall patches and bad plaster repairs and a whole lot of joint compound and it’s just looks really bad. There are enormous cracks that have clearly undergone unsuccessful repairs over the years…it’s just a mess. I think I’m going to just bite the bullet and take it all down and start over with new drywall. Just this wall. Normally with drywall you just tape and mud the seams, but my plan with the wall and the ceilings is to do that and then skim-coat the entire thing with joint compound (and maybe experiment with mixing in some plaster of paris for a harder surface…something an old-school renovator told me he’s done with success in the past), so I think it’ll look really authentic when it’s all said and done. Part of what makes plaster so appealing is the texture of the imperfections, so I don’t want three perfectly-imperfect plaster walls and one that looks brand new, you know? I think it’s possible.

Anyway, I’m really excited about this faux-fireplace development! I have to decide on the exact placement (centered on the wall, I think, will look the best…), and then cut out some flooring and replace with a stone hearth and patch in surrounding flooring so it all looks seamless. I’m leaning toward honed marble (hopefully I can find a remnant piece without spending too much money…), but there are so many options! Soapstone? Slate? Bluestone? Hmmmmmm….

It’s going to be good. So very good.

I Built a Fence!

Status report: my inexpensive and talented but very flakey electrician keeps canceling (also known as not showing up), which means we haven’t been able to have the work finished, which means it can’t be inspected, which means stuff like the pantry and the ceiling-less dining room and the ceiling-less front room and patching the swiss-cheese walls in the entryway have more or less come to a stand-still. For a week or two, this led me to destroy more things (different post, different day) on the inside of the house, which is technically forward motion but kind of just feels like I’m making everything worse in our torn-apart house. It’s like I’m trying to figure out how many things I can break down before I start putting them back together again. It’s this fun game I play with myself where I end up totally insane.

I need a new electrician. And someone needs to confiscate my pry bar.

Honestly, I’m a little sulky and annoyed about the electrical thing, but secretly (except now, since I’m telling you) it’s also been a perfect excuse to finally get out of the house and get my hands dirty in, like, actual dirt instead of plaster dust and other types of dust and more dust. What a concept.

We’ve been in our house a whole year (and eleven days, technically) and thus far this is all we’ve accomplished in terms of exterior projects:

newporchlights

1. We added some new light fixtures. Big improvement, but I had very little to do with it beyond coordinating the electrical work and buying and installing the lights.

service

2. We had new electrical service run to the house, including a new service drop and converting to a single meter rather than two, since now the house is a single family. Hard to decide if it looks better or worse.

3. Mowing the lawn. Occasionally. Weed-wacking even more occasionally. We’re a mess.

yardclearing

4. Clearing a crazy jungle that had cropped up on the side of the garage, a bunch of grapevine that had run rampant from a neighbor’s property, and miles of Virginia Creeper that had overtaken the saddest and weediest flower bed ever at the back of the property. Much of which is creeping back a year later. Go figure.

roofbeforeafter

5. Getting a new roof, which was a hellish and drawn-out ordeal involving 4 different roofing contractors spread out over about 8 months and something I’d pretty much rather die than repeat. What. A. Nightmare. But it’s done. Or done-ish. Done enough. Fuck roofing.

We’re awesome neighbors. I’m guessing the neighborhood had higher expectations when the house sold and a couple of homosexuals moved in. Homosexuals are notoriously good at having good taste and making things prettier, and I feel like we’ve been letting everyone down since our beautiful tiny laundry room hardly qualifies as an appreciable improvement to the curb appeal of our house. Most of the houses on our block don’t have a whole lot going on in the way of landscaping and whatnot, so I’ve tried to stem my guilt by thinking about it that way, but I’m a neurotic Jew. Guilt is my #1 emotion and way of being.

ANYWAY. Let’s remind ourselves of our yard situation:

YARD

As you can see, there are a few different issues.

1. All the asphalt. It must go. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I’d give my left kidney to have it disappear and be replaced with something. Anything. I don’t care if it looks like the fucking dust bowl. I don’t even care of the Virginia Creeper wants to colonize the entire thing. I just want it to be gone. I guess the previous owner of our house had several cars and decided to pave half the yard with asphalt, but we have one car and it is tiny and I don’t need or want it at all. Not even a little bit. I think we’ll still have some kind of a gate and parking situation next to the garage, but I’d much rather just have two strips of bluestone or concrete or something with pebbles or ground cover surrounding it. I hate asphalt.

2. I found out from my neighbors that the old foundation (cinderblock disaster/weed jungle) just behind the garage was actually a half-baked plan to extend the garage, which is a horrendous idea that I’m glad never came to fruition. The garage is actually a really pretty cute little structure and I shudder to think what any kind of renovation would have done to it. That said, now we are stuck with a wildly unattractive crumbling foundation of broken dreams that all needs to be excavated and hauled away. Boo.

3. The biggest problem here, strangely, is the fence. There is fencing surrounding the entire property, which is great. I’m glad it’s there. But the purple lines demarcate an old (original, probably) wrought-iron fence, which I love, and the black lines are all cheap and very crappy chain link that’s all falling apart and looking a hot mess. And as much as I love the wrought iron fence, it’s only 3 feet tall. And despite that the top of it is surrounded by a threatening row of spikes (so witchy!), I have a Pit Bull with a very impressive vertical leap who can clear it with a smile on her face. Not safe.

wroughtironfence

Now, we never leave the dogs in the backyard unattended, but there’s always the risk that Mekko will get excited by something and jump over. It’s happened three times in the course of a year, and she hasn’t done anything bad or anything like that, but it’s so scary. We live on a fairly busy street in terms of both foot and car traffic, and I’d really prefer if my dog didn’t get hit by a car or terrify an unsuspecting neighbor who wasn’t quite prepared for a Pit Bull to jump the fence to greet them. Even if it’s friendly.

So, when Mekko jumped the fence last week to go see her friend(ish…they have a rocky relationship) Bailey from across the street (an adorable 150-pound white Boxer…I don’t blame her), I felt very overcome with the need to do something and do it now in terms of getting our fence situation sorted a little bit. Panic is pretty much my main motivational tactic (aside from guilt, as we have established, but the two go hand in hand), and the idea of my dog’s safety being at risk pretty much brings my panic-meter off the charts. So I built a panic fence.

This panic-induced fence was actually kind of a good thing. I’ve been planning it more or less since we moved in, but fencing is intimidating. There are so many different styles and decisions to be made, and after mulling it over for so long, I was more overwhelmed than anything else. Vertical boards or horizontal? Pre-fab panels or individual pickets? Attractive gate hardware? Post caps? Paint? Stain? Seal? Let it weather naturally? I’m exhausted.

There is SO. MUCH. TO. THINK. ABOUT. This is the kind of shit that keeps me up at night.

Added to this is the exact location of the fence. I definitely don’t want my house to look like some kind of fortress, and the old wrought-iron fence had to stay, which basically left building a new fence behind the original fence as the best option. Which is a good option, since it gives us the opportunity to have a front yard and a backyard instead of just…a yard. Like so:

YARDnewstuff

Anyway, this  panic-fence didn’t have time for complex decision-making. It just needed to happen. I already knew the general location, so I just measured and took myself to the local lumber yard a few blocks away, made a quick decision between standard stockade fencing and dog-ear style fencing, bought my stuff, stole my friend’s truck, and hauled it all home.

Newsflash: even cheap fencing is expensive.

Newsflash: it’s also very heavy.

Somehow I managed to unload the truck myself (and splinter-free!) and haul my six 6’x8′ panels and 8 4″x4″x8′ posts into the driveway.

I was less than thrilled with the panels I purchased, but at the time they seemed like the cheapest and most attractive option. But they were not nice. The wood was either pine or spruce, and it wasn’t even pressure-treated. Each panel had a few super crappy looking boards, the pickets themselves were narrow and unsubstantial, and they were about $65 a piece.

But then I went to Lowe’s, which is basically my home away from home. The employees are all starting to laugh at me every time they see me there since I am there constantly. I was just getting some supplies for the fencing that I couldn’t find at the local place, and then I meandered over to the fencing section, and developed a serious case of buyer’s remorse. Lowe’s had MUCH nicer dog-ear style fencing. The boards were wider. There was a pressure-treated pine option for about $48/panel and a cedar option for $50/panel.

Now. I’m all about supporting local businesses. Don’t get me wrong. Really, I am. I’m willing to pay a little more to shop local, despite the sorry state of my bank account, because I feel like it’s the right thing to do when given the option. But I’m not willing to sacrifice on quality. Lowe’s was offering a much better product at a much lower price, and it just didn’t make sense to stick with the garbage panels I’d already purchased, particularly since we plan to install the same fencing around the rest of the house to replace the chain-link, and I’d like all the fencing to match. Them’s the breaks. So I had the lumber yard swing by and pick up the shitty panels, loaded my new cedar panels into my friend’s truck, and hauled that all home and unloaded it, again, splinter-free. Tiny miracles, small victories.

Posthole1

Deciding on the exact location of the fence turned out to be easy due to this weird section of missing bluestone next to the foundation a few feet behind the front of the house. The missing bluestone had been filled in with a thin-ish layer of concrete, which was getting in the way of digging my first post hole. So I rented a jackhammer, you know, like you do. This location turns out to be perfect since it’s about 4 feet back from the front corner of the house, and gives is over 18 feet of front yard space between the wrought iron fence and the new fence. 18 feet! Right now it’s all sod, but eventually I don’t want any grass whatsoever and I want it to be a luscious magical garden that both I and the neighborhood can admire. I’m so excited.

Back to the jackhammer. There is no photographic evidence of this, unfortunately, since I was mostly flying solo here, but I discovered that using an electronic jackhammer is not only really very easy, but also really very fun. I’m a tiny person without a lot of weight or muscle, so if I can do it, you can probably do it. The hardest part was carrying the thing around, since it probably weighs about 80 pounds. And then clearing out whatever you’re jackhammering.

concretepath

While I had the jackhammer at my disposal, I also decided to get rid of this weird concrete path in front of the house, next to the entryway steps. I don’t know why this path was ever put in, since it has no access from the outside or from the porch, really, but I figured the space could be much better served by plants than by concrete. Little did I realize that the concrete was VERY deep in spots and underneath it was a ton of rock, which all had to be excavated and hauled out before it could be back-filled with dirt. Luckily, digging fence posts creates a lot of displaced soil.

concreteremnants

Here are the remnants of the path and the rocky dirt, which I finagled Max into loading into a wheelbarrow and dumping onto the asphalt. It will get hauled away when the asphalt is removed. Which is hopefully super duper soon.

ANYWAY. Once I got the jackhammer situation sorted out and my first whole dug, it was time to place the first post!! EEEEEE! Progress.

post1

BETCHA WEREN’T EXPECTING THAT. Maybe you were. I decided that the fence should be black. I really want it to look as unobtrusive as possible and really recede, and I think the black will do that perfectly. I don’t want a “statement fence” and I don’t want it to detract at all from the architecture of the house. And even though the cedar panels are pretty brand new, they’ll fade over time and I hated the idea of a light wood fence next to the house, calling attention to itself. I’m very, very, very happy with this decision. I used Cabot Solid Color Acrylic Siding Stain (tinted black, obviously), which goes on much like a paint and looks like paint, but should still allow the wood to breathe while also protecting it a bit from the elements. The benefit of using a stain rather than a paint is that it shouldn’t chip and peel over time and need to be redone like paint does.

For the posts, I bought 8 foot long 4×4 pieces of pressure-treated lumber. I dug each post hole about 30″ deep (which, by the way, is really fucking deep), then threw in about 6 inches of drainage gravel, and then filled it in with fast-setting Quickrete, which you just dump into the hole, soak with water, agitate a bit to mix it up (I used a stick), and let it sit, all the while checking that your post is super duper level and won’t move. The concrete sets up in about half an hour. One thing I didn’t account for is that while the local hardware store employees claimed I’d need one 50-lb bag of Quickrete per post, I averaged more like 3 bags per post. Back to Lowe’s! This section of fencing is about 30 feet long, and I think I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 bags of Quickrete for the posts. Luckily it’s cheap.

I bought a post-hole digger for this project, but ended up returning it immediately. Soil in Kingston tends to be really rich and kind of sandy, which makes it really very easy to dig. I averaged about 30 minutes to dig each post hole with a shovel. The post-hole digger I think is better if you have really hard soil, but I found it completely worthless for us.

gatebuilding1

After the first post was in and setting, I built the gate! To do this, all I did was cut down one of the 8 foot panels with a jigsaw and added vertical 2×3 supports, which are attached to the original 2×3 horizontal supports. All in all, very easy. It seems super sturdy to me.

gatebuilding2

gate

After it was stained and the second post was in, I put it up! You’ll notice that it’s a bit wider than the path (the gate is little over 3 feet) but I wanted it to be wide enough to cart a wheelbarrow through with ease. I’ll find a way to tastefully widen the path a bit, I think. I picked up a gate hardware kit from Lowe’s (I can’t find the link, sorry!), and two gate hinges. I think I may add a third one to the middle, just for some added support. All are made by Stanley.

L-brackets

The one thing I did do to complicate things for myself was that I decided to space the rest of the posts evenly, rather than 8 feet apart and end up with a shorter panel on the end. Then I decided to attach the panels with stainless steel 5″ L-brackets (spray-painted black) rather than screw the panels into the front of the posts. The L bracket is screwed into the bottom of each of the horizontal 2×3 supports, and then into the 4×4 post. This leaves the front of the post exposed, which I think looks a little nicer and more custom from both the outside and the inside. I was assured that I wouldn’t have a problem with the brackets rusting or falling apart, so I’m hoping for the best. If we run into problems down the line, I think I could replace the brackets with vertical pieces of pressure-treated lumber (exactly like the gate, pretty much), and screw those into the posts. If that makes any sense.

trench

Once all of the posts had set for 24 hours, it was time to put up the panels! Before doing this, I decided to dig about an 8″ deep trench under where the panels would sit and fill them with drainage gravel. We used about 15 bags, which added about $60 to the overall cost of the project, but the gravel should help keep weeds from growing at the fence line, and provide drainage underneath the fence so that the bottoms of the pickets don’t rot out. Additionally, because the fence is black, the gravel should help keep the color looking good when it rains and soil crap would splash up onto the fence if the rocks weren’t there. I think it was worth it.

chainlink

I’m sorry this picture is so awful, but I also wanted to address the section of chain-link fence that would now sit in front of the new fence, which separates our yard from our neighbor’s. Chain-link is just such a bummer, particularly when it’s so close to the street, and I wanted to find something better that would tie in with the original wrought-iron fence in front of both our properties.

fauxwrought

I searched a couple salvage places for something old (no dice), but then on another trip to Lowe’s I found this stuff! It’s nothing super fancy—galvanized steel that’s been powder-coated black, but the size was good, the price was good (about $30 for a 4′ section), and installation seemed (and was) very easy. I really hope it lasts. I thought removing the old chain-link would be a huge pain in the ass, but it was super easy. I used bolt cutters to detach the chain link from the posts, and the posts—which I thought would be set in the ground with concrete) just pulled right out of the ground with a little of my manly brute strength. Awesome. To fit our dimensions, I just had to cut one of the panels down with my Sawzall, which took roughly 30 seconds, and attach it to the last post. Overall, it’s not the fanciest thing in the world, but it does look good and feels pretty rigid, and it ties in nicely with the original fencing.

noraandmax

Did I mention my wonderful and long-suffering friend Nora was here during all of this? Poor thing thought she was coming up for a nice few days in the Hudson Valley and got sucked into my insanity. While the panels were going up, I put Nora and Max on staining duty, which they were obviously loving. It was pretty much the time of their lives. As you can see.

paintingprocess

EEEEEE! Almost done! I include this process image mostly to show the difference between the cedar and the black. See how the cedar is super visible and kind of obtrusive, whereas the black just kind of disappears? I think so, anyway. I also like that it ties in the with the black window sashes and other black accents I have planned for the exterior.

fromback

Annnnnd, DONE! Here’s the view from the back, which I know is nothing amazing but I think a hedge or something will do wonders. The gravel should settle down a bit and look less ugly over time, besides. After all the panels were up and stained, I used my Sawzall to cut the posts to the same-ish heights and topped them with these generic and affordable fence post caps from Lowe’s. I think they look nice!

corner

In the front, I’m super pleased with eliminating the area of chain-link while we were doing this anyway. The fencing on the left is the new faux-wrought iron, which I think looks pretty damn good for what it is. Again, it’ll look better with some plants and whatnot, but it’s just so much more inviting and pretty.

cornerwithpvc

I secured the last faux-wrought-iron fence panel to the wood fence with some super cheap plastic PVC connectors I found in the electrical aisle. They do the job. I spray-painted them black. Exciting stuff, I know.

gatefromoutside

I’m really pleased with how the gate turned out. Nothing fancy, but it opens from the inside and outside and it looks good. Obviously we need a better situation for the hose, but I’ll save that for another day…I have a couple ideas. Let’s just all ignore the vinyl siding and the missing end of the downspout and the foundation work we might have ahead of us. This is about the fence!

fencefromacrossstreet

I really like how it looks from the street, which was obviously a big challenge when thinking about this project. Setting it so far back keeps it really unobtrusive, and I’m SO excited about our new dog-free front yard! I think the fence will look a million times better once we get a bunch of plants growing in front of it and some real landscaping going. All in due time! In the meantime, I have pretty much no experience with landscaping and could use some plant suggestions and ideas for how to use the space…hint, hint.

frontgarden

I’m also really glad I broke up that concrete path and got back those couple of feet of gardening space in the front next to the entry. I backfilled the hole and obviously need to plant some things and mulch, but I think it already looks better. I also went on a MAJOR weeding/pruning spree to try to get the Rhododendron under control a little. I actually really don’t like Rhododendron in general and I don’t like them here (too tall!), but the pruning definitely helped me like them more. Someday I’d like to get rid of them altogether (or at least the one on the right) and replace them with a bunch of other stuff I like more.

header

ANYWAY, I’m so excited to have this new foundation to work with as we start to plan some more landscaping! As for the rest of the fence, I’m not sure I have it in me to DIY-it (it’s a TON of fence…) but we’ll see. There’s also the whole matter of cost—I haven’t added up every little thing, but I think I probably spent about $700 for just this section of the fencing, including the faux-wrought-iron business, so I might continue to just do it in sections where it’s most necessary and go about things that way. For now, I’m just glad to have this section taken care of—not only do I think it adds some curb appeal, but it definitely gives me some peace of mind where the dogs are concerned. They still have plennntttyyyy of space in the backyard to run around and play and poop, and this just goes such a long way toward keeping them safe. So that’s good!

I want to plant stuff. Tell me what to plant.

The Laundry Room is Done!

I’m sure if you had asked me about the laundry room after we first looked at our house, I wouldn’t have really remembered anything about it beyond that it was disgusting. Little details like the lack of a dryer seemed insignificant (and I didn’t really think about the fact that dryers need their own electrical supply and vent and stuff…which they do, FYI). This was still in the rose-colored glasses days, when all I saw were all the amazing original details I wanted the opportunity to save, and all the potential the house had. Even when thinking seriously about all the work we had ahead of us, the tiny little laundry room off the kitchen was so overshadowed in scale and biohazard-ness that I really don’t recall considering it at all. It’s just a laundry room, right? The idea that we might someday even have a washer and dryer in our place of residence seemed more than posh enough for us, so I really didn’t even think about how it would look or what form a renovation of the space might take.

But then things changed. Demo and dust and debris and general filth became a huge part of our lives, which meant that laundry became a huge part of our lives. And when you’re in Obsessive Renovation Mode, as I am between 99-100% of the time, having to stop everything for a few hours on a Saturday to get your tushy to the laundromat carting so much gross laundry really kind of sucks. I’m well aware that this is the reality for plenty of people for whom having their own laundry isn’t an option, but for us it was an option. All of a sudden, having a working laundry room couldn’t come soon enough. Added to this is that Max—while hardly involved in the nuts-n-bolts of renovation at all—loves to do laundry. All I had to do was renovate a room, and then I could pass the torch to my boo to actually use it. So, since I like to think of myself as both romantic and stylish, I decided to build that boy the best damn laundry room this little space could handle. The room had to be utilitarian, yes, but it could also stand to be beautiful and fancy-feeling, so that Max could really commit himself to removing the frequent blood/grease/filth stains from my clothing with panache and style.

You guys. I totally did it. My semi-evil semi-romantic plan is working.

1beforefromkitchen

Let’s take a horrifying look back, shall we? Way back. Here’s a picture of the kitchen looking into the laundry room after about a week in the house. The funny thing about this room that separates it from basically all the other spaces in our house is that pretty much any nice architectural detail that perhaps once existed had been stripped from it years ago. On the kitchen side, 1×6 pieces of lumber had been cut to various thicknesses (why? Who knows! But each side was different!) to frame out the doorway. Inside the laundry room, the same 1×6 lumber had been used for baseboards, and dinky 1×3’s surrounded the super crooked window in a super crooked way. The window itself is old, which is kind of nice, but that’s about it. The original plaster had been covered over with drywall, and anything that may have been nice about the room way back when had just been lost in the process. So unlike in other spaces, where I want to highlight all the original architectural details, the task here ended up being to basically recreate them to give this room back some old-fashioned charm.

1afterfromkitchen

Ohhhh yeahhhhh. That looks a whole lot better, can we agree? I hope we can agree.

I ended up slightly decreasing the size of the doorway (both width and height) to accommodate an old door I found in the basement. The plan was to erect this poor forlorn door as a swinging door between the two spaces, which I still intend to do, but it just hasn’t happened yet. But that’s OK! It will. Some other time. After some careful/creative drywall, tile, and baseboard patching, it really looks like this doorway has looked like this all along, which I’m so happy about. If we ever get to gut the kitchen, I think this doorway will be one of the few things that just stays put as it is.

existingmillworkinside

The molding on the outside of the doorway actually came from the only thing that was really worth salvaging from the inside of the laundry room, which was the original door casing! I carefully pried off the pieces (which, due to the later addition of the drywall over the original plaster, were basically sitting flush with the drywall—not cute), and then verrrry carefully cut them down to their new size to accommodate the smaller opening.

1progressfromkitchen

In the process, it looked kind of like this—which was a whole lot of sadness, considering the kitchen was looking pretty good before I had this bright idea to destroy it again. Whoops!

millworkprogressoutside

This is a truly horrendous picture, but after cutting the old pieces to their new sizes and nailing them up, I wrapped them in 1×2’s and then added this stock piece of pine base cap molding from Lowe’s. These added details do a nice job of matching the original 1850s moldings in the kitchen, and after it was all primed, caulked, and painted, it looks really authentic!

OK, enough dorky molding talk (jk, there will be more). Shall we go inside? WE SHALL.

before

Just look at this sad awful mess. It was sad and awful.

7afterfromkitchen

I don’t even know where to begin. I’m overwhelmed.

1. You can read all about how I replicated the original moldings for the window casing and baseboards here. I’m so proud of how this turned out! Even if they don’t look 100% original, they definitely tie the room together with the rest of the house and really make the space feel special. I obviously tell everyone that I made all the millwork, because I have zero shame and a developed need for praise, so for that reason alone they aren’t fooling anyone.

2. I am in LOVE (LOVE LOVE LOVE) with our machines. We wanted to get machines that were the largest capacity we could, while taking up the smallest footprint, and of course with good ratings. These LG models (washer & electric dryer) fit the bill perfectly—they’re slightly shallower than competitive brands, meaning they fit the space between the back wall and the doorway like a glove, they have amazing reviews, large capacity, fancy features, and even sing a very jolly jingle when they’re finished with their cycles. I could go on and on! I can’t imagine being any more satisfied with them. One thing of note is that we purchased them at full price, but a couple weeks later Lowe’s was running a promotion (10% off, I believe) on large appliances! We brought back our receipt, and Lowe’s was happy to honor the current promotion because it was happening within a month of our original purchase. We got about $300 back in store credit, which I immediately spent on…wait for it…A TABLE SAW. There may have been tears. Table saw = life-changing.

3. Since this room is attached to the kitchen, we wanted to tie it in visually with our earlier kitchen renovation—which meant subway tile, and lots of it! I’m so happy with how the tile came out—combined with the millwork, it really makes the space feel finished and fancy, not to mention how nice it is to clean and everything. Regular 3×6 subway tile is really inexpensive, too, so tiling the whole room was only a few hundred dollars. Can’t beat it! These are American Olean white subway tiles, and the grout is TEC unsanded grout in Raven.

4. Are you seeing that little cabinet next to the dyer? Are you seeing it? Well…

guts

There’s about 8 inches of space next to the dryer, which I didn’t want to go to waste. To keep the machines as close to the back wall as possible, I had the electrician install the dryer plug to the right of the dryer itself, and we chose to side-vent the dryer for the same reason (lots of dryers offer this option nowadays, and the conversion is easy with a couple special-order parts). This left an awkward little ugly space that I didn’t want to look at, and it seemed like letting it go to unused would be a wasted opportunity.

rollingcartout

So, out of some scrap plywood, I cobbled together this little rolling cabinet! It holds all kinds of stuff that we don’t really need for every single load of laundry, but do end up using frequently. As you can see, it isn’t even full, so we do have some room to expand where our laundry potions are concerned.

For the top, I just cut down a piece of our old fir countertops (gone, but not forgotten), gave it a good cleaning, and sealed it with three coats of water-based polyurethane. The polyurethane is a HUGE improvement over the original oil finish in terms of keeping it clean and wipe-able. I made it extra-long so that the back edge of the countertop hits the wall before the back of the cabinet can hit the plug or the dryer vent. Sneaky!

rollingcabinet2

I’m so happy with how it came out, and the wood top adds a nice natural element to the space to keep it from feeling too cold. The handle is just a cheap brass sash lift I had lying around for some reason. I painted it in Bedford Gray by Martha Stewart’s line for Glidden, color-matched in semi-gloss to Valspar paint from Lowe’s. I love this little thing! Even though the decorative paneling elements on the front are a little more traditional than my style tends to skew, I feel like it fits right in in this space.

outercorner

On top of the machines, I made a simple ironing board out of a piece of 3/4″ plywood cut to size, cotton batting, and a piece of a canvas drop cloth, which was inspired by a Martha Stewart project. The original concept was to make a removable cover that could be washed, but once I broke out the sewing machine, I quickly got overwhelmed and just stapled the fabric to the underside of the board. I still have plans to make a removable cover…if I can figure it out with my rudimentary sewing skills, I’ll do a whole DIY tutorial. For now, though, this is totally fine and a functional way to take advantage of the top of our front-loaders, and the natural cotton texture is really nice in the room.

Also, SHELF! The copper-coated brackets were a lucky find from a local coffee shop/vintage store in Kingston, Outdated (who also have an Etsy shop!). They were super rusty when I bought them, so I soaked them in CLR, scrubbed them with Barkeeper’s Friend, and spray-painted them with matte varnish to keep them from rusting. I love them. The enamel tray is vintage, and the stainless steel spray bottles and medicine droppers are from the Container store.

The shelf is a piece of super old salvaged wood from the attic, which I cut down to size, sanded, and coated with water-based poly. Really old far-gone-looking wood cleans up so well!

woodsealing

I figure it’s been like this for about 150 years, so I’m not too worried about it warping.

staintreatmentguide

One of my favorite things in the room is this ENORMOUS poster that Max designed—Martha Stewart’s Household Stain Treatment Guide! We defer to Martha for all things home-maintenance related, and homegirl knows a thing or two about doing laundry. I know the writing might look illegible, but that’s just the picture…it’s easy to read in real life and reference in a stain-fighting conundrum. We had it printed at Staples for a few bucks (it’s just one of their cheap 4’x3′ posters, cut down to size). I wish I could offer the image as a free download, but I fear it would violate all sorts of copyright laws and I can’t have Martha on my bad side.

Sorry.

stainguidecorner

I made the frame myself out of some scrap wood and a few inexpensive trim pieces from Lowe’s, and painted it the same Bedford Gray as the rolling cabinet. For the glass, I had a piece of plexiglass cut to size at Lowe’s, which was awesomely easy and cheap.

The walls, by the way, are Benjamin Moore’s “Calm” color-matched to Valspar in matte. I’m really glad I tried out this Valspar paint—I went one level below the top-of-the-line option, and the paint is SO nice—especially for the price (like $34/gallon). I used the color recently in a client space and I love it—it’s such a nice super pale grey that contrasts nicely with white trim and doesn’t go purple or blue. It’s my new leading contender for the entryway!

innercorner

At the end of the shelf are a couple of enamel canisters from West Elm, which hold our powdered detergent and Borax, which Max uses as a laundry booster. We use these for pretty much every load, so it’s nice to have them accessible but also pretty and decanted into these containers. The labels are from the Martha Stewart collection at Staples. (are you sensing a theme? no? WE LOVE MARTHA THAT IS THE THEME.)

innercornermillwork

The shelf is hung just above the outlet for the iron. Check out how pretty the doorway molding is! I MADE THAT. Check out how cute that frame is! I MADE THAT TOO.

Other side of the room? Other side of the room.

2before4

Obviously, this was a bummer. I only include it for the DRAMA.

3afterfromkitchen

There’s only about 14″ of space between the doorway and the wall on the other side of the room, but I fell in love with the idea of installing a hanging rack for things that need to hang-dry. Enter the WOODi! It’s the same idea as the very pretty Sheila Maid that a bunch of readers suggested (thanks, guys!) but I found it at one of my favorite Brooklyn shops, Dry Goods, and I liked that it was a little more contemporary and American-made. It lifts up or down on a pulley system attached to the ceiling, which sounds intimidating but it was really simple to assemble and install. So cute, right? It fits the room perfectly, and I love the functionality.

WOODi2

The rope for the WOODi (which could be exchanged for a cotton rope or something else, but I used the stock nylon rope it came with) is held up by a little chrome cleat that comes with it, which I attached to the new doorway molding.

window+WOODi

window1

Can we just talk about the window some more? I think it’s my favorite part of the room. It’s the little things! This window was such an eyesore before since it was so small and crooked, but adding beefier moldings (and installing them LEVEL) changed EVERYTHING. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on a new window, I spent maybe $50 on lumber and made this one work, and I’m SO glad I did. Now it feels like the perfect size for the space, and I even like the crookedness of the window itself in its own funny little way. The whole thing makes me happy every time I look at it.

millworkduring

I swear I’ll shut up about the moldings at some point, someday, but man—it just made all the difference. From this, up there…

millworkafter

To THIS. Worth every bit of time and effort and expense. I probably dropped about $300 on lumber for just this little room, but I can’t imagine it any other way. Trying to make all the tile work with the existing moldings would have been an ugly nightmare!

The trashcan is by Brendan Ravenhill for West Elm (and currently on sale!)—the top part lifts off to become a dust pan, and the little broom is held on by magnets! So smart. We originally bought it for the kitchen, but there isn’t really any space for it in there, so now it collects dryer lint and whatnot. I love this trashcan, so I’m glad we found the perfect place for it!

innercorner2

rollingcabinet3

washingmachineandpad

I’m so, so incredibly thrilled with how this room came out—and I can say, really and truly, that it’s changed our lives in such a great way. I so appreciate all of the input and encouragement from you guys along the way, and I’m so thankful to Lowe’s for helping us make it happen! Getting this little room checked off our incredibly long list is such a morale boost, and I’m so excited to start working on all the other spaces calling out for attention!

Yay, clean clothes!

This post is in partnership with Lowe’s! Lowe’s has generously provided funding for this project, however all designs and opinions are my own.

lowes2

Beyond the Laundry Room: Where do we go from here?

OK, NEW RULES. I AM DECLARING THEM:

1. No more tearing things apart.*

2. No more starting another major project until the other major projects are wrapped up.**

*Unless I really want to.

**Unless it seems like maybe it won’t be a major project but instead something quick and easy. I can’t control where it goes from there.

Now that the laundry room is this close to being done, we’re starting to decide which thing(s?) we’re going to focus our energies on now.

If you have followed this blog for a while and paid some attention, it might occur to you that there are a literal wealth of options.

1. The dining room, last seen with a gaping hole in the wall where a door used to be, no ceiling, old electrical, and crazy patterned walls. Doesn’t make sense to do much about this until the electrical is done.

2. The front parlor room adjacent to the dining room, last seen with a gaping hole in the wall from an old stove vent, no ceiling, old electrical, and the coolest corner radiator. It has since become my workshop because I choose to live like an animal and need somewhere to do my crafts. And by crafts, I mean making piles of sawdust bigger than Linus. It doesn’t make much sense to do anything about this until electrical is done. It’ll be so weird to use this room as a proper room someday instead of the place I make baseboards and stuff.

3. The entire entryway/hallway/staircase situation. It’s a huge amount of space but not really a room, but it is the heart of the house and it looks like crap. All the walls are bare plaster now, but they do need significant repair in places and a nice skim coat in others before paint can happen. Since there are already so many holes from electrical being added/removed, I’m requesting that any holes the electrician needs to make for adjacent rooms and spaces come through these walls, where possible. I’d rather have one wall that looks like swiss cheese to repair than a dozen that all need a few patches here and there. ANYWAY. It’s a huge job. I can’t wrap my mind around the amount of joint compound I will use.

4. The mudroom? Which I (mostly) gutted in a fit of crazy? (Did I even mention that??). I don’t even know what to do about this mess. I want to torch it.

5. The downstairs bathroom? Gutted down to the studs. The contents are now sitting in the living room.

6. Our bedroom, where the bare plaster walls are pretty much ready for skim coat and paint…except for waiting on the electrical to be installed.

7. Oh god, don’t even TALK to me about the yard. Someone casually and politely told me yesterday that they do ticket here if you let your lawn get too long. I don’t think we’re at the point where it’s breaking any laws, but it is breaking all laws of taste and decency and looks like an overgrown weed patch. The lawn is one of the few things that is 100% Max’s domain, so if it isn’t mowed this weekend, I guess I’ll be single and ready to mingle on Monday.

There’s more, but I’ll stop there, since I’m going to have a panic attack if I keep going.

Basically, the house is a whole lot of chaos, but it also maybe looks worse than it is.

The electrical I can’t do legally in our county. We have a great electrician who I love and is super affordable, BUT he is impossible to nail down. I can usually get him for like most of a day, and then he’ll come back two weeks later but only if I call him every other day and sound really sad about my ceiling-less rooms and under-electrified second floor. It’s annoying, though, because updating/adding electrical is a big hang-up for getting this stuff done. We can’t close in ceilings or even really repair walls until it’s complete, not only because it’s MUCH easier to run this stuff with open framing but also because I don’t want to make holes in already repaired walls. Let’s just get it done and get on with things!

SO!

I think we’re going to make a pantry.

A quick n dirty, no-major-frills, simple, semi-temporary pantry. It’ll hold lots of stuff, and right now another place to stash things is nice. One of the things about living in a major renovation is that even though you have all this newfound space, there’s comparatively little space to actually put anything where it’ll be safe and clean and hidden away.

pantry pantry2

Here are some fun and attractive pictures of the the outside of the pantry when we bought the house. That door on the left in the first picture of the kitchen when it still looked so scary is the door to the pantry. It used to be the door to a back staircase, which was removed a long time ago. I have zero interest in restoring the old staircase. As cool as it would be, this house just isn’t that big and having two staircases in the year 2014 just seems silly, and it’s already gone.

Probably when the stairs were removed, this closet in the dining room was added. It’s obviously a later addition because the door and trim don’t match even a little.

wallframing

SO, I knocked out the wall in the middle that separated the pantry from this closet, ripped out the door and frame, and framed in the opening.

cavernouspit

Then it looked like this, from the kitchen side. Like a shit-stained cavernous pit of despair and wreckage. There used to be a doorway into the kitchen at the back left corner (the exit of the stairs up from the basement!), which was framed in presumably when they renovated the kitchen last, but they never did anything more with the inside of the closet. So on the left we had about 2/3 of a wall (the plaster on the left is actually in fairly decent shape, wood-paneling-patterned wallpaper notwithstanding), no ceiling, and a wall on the right that was a TOTAL mess. The plaster was all failing and miserable and falling apart everywhere.

This was back in January. Nothing happened since then.

Stop judging me.

BUT! This week! Things occurred!

1. I put Max to work on gutting the right wall down to the studs, since this is the wall we’ll drywall and I wanted the electrician to have super easy access to make his whole job faster, in the hope that he could then dedicate himself to other things.

2. Max managed to remove most of the plaster and some of the lath, so roundabout 2 in the morning the night before the electrician showed up, I finished the job myself. What are you gonna do. (save me from this abusive relationship)

3. My friend John and John’s Truck and I went to Lowe’s and bought DRYWALL! This was incredibly exciting. I drive a ’02 VW Jetta that can fit in the trunk, at most, four salted almonds, so any time I get to haul something enormous or approaching me-sized, I get VERY jazzed. I feel really empowered with my drywall stock.

4. The electrician came and roughed in all the electrical in the pantry. HALLELUJAH.

SO. In order, a photo journal.

maxemo

This is, without question, the sexiest outfit Max has ever worn. He took off the Tyvek suit after about 4 seconds (too hot!), but it makes me happy when he takes on something renovation-related. He can totally handle demo.

drywall1

On the dining room side of things, I was itching to get the drywall up over the framed in doorway I’ve been staring at for 5 months. First, I had to clean up the edges of the plaster. To do this, I used a 4′ level and pencil to draw a clean, square line around the doorframe.

oscillating

Then I used my new VERY FAVORITE TOOL EVER, this oscillating tool I picked up from Lowe’s. Admittedly I cheaped out and got the most inexpensive one in the store, which I made a semi-serious resolution to stop doing, but I have to say…this thing is AMAZING. It comes in handy CONSTANTLY now that I have it. It has lots of different attachments (sanding pads, rounded blades like this one, straight blades of various sizes for wood and metal…), and it seems more than powerful enough for me.

ANYWAY, this thing is perfect for making clean cuts in plaster (or drywall) quickly. I’ve actually asked the electricians to start using it when they’re here and making new holes—they seem excited to have a tool that makes the job a little easier and less messy, and I’m excited to have less repair work to contend with afterward.

Anyway, for this wall, I pretty much just ran the blade up my pencil line until I hit the lath, and the unwanted plaster fell away and the remaining plaster stayed beautifully intact. Like so:

wallprep

I proceeded to use my nail gun to nail scrap pieces of lath to the new framing, like large shims, to bring everything out to the same level.

drywall

I marked all my studs on the wall above so I would know where I could safety screw the drywall into, cut the drywall to size, and screwed it up. Cleaning up the edges of the plaster really allowed for MUCH more precision, which should make the patch job much easier when I get to that!

The drywall is about 1/8″ below the surface of the plaster, which is perfect. After the seams are taped and mudded, I’ll skim coat the whole wall and it should be pretty much imperceptible once it’s all said and done. I’m sort of excited about it. For now, even just having the drywall up feels VERY WEIRD after looking at the gaping hole for so many months, and makes the dining room feel less janky. And to think, someday it’ll even have a ceiling!

Don’t ask me how I’m going to patch in that elaborate baseboard. Fuck if I know. It’ll be OK.

As you can see, there is a coaxial cable sticking out of the wall, as well as a space for a new receptacle next to it! YAYYYY! Right now our coaxial cable comes in through the basement, up a radiator pipe, and into the front room that way. My hope is that the credenza (or some piece of furniture, undecided) will sit on this wall and hold our modem and airport and crap, all concealed, and we can get it out of the front parlor room. We also plan to split the coaxial cable down in the basement so that we have cable hook-ups in a few rooms, just in case, but those cables need to be run another day.

It’s also exciting to have another outlet in the room! The dining room has ONE outlet currently, and I have a plan to add one more, so that’ll be three. I know that’s still less than modern standards, but I think that’s OK. I’m not sure how many we could possibly use!

ANYWAY, back to the pantry…brace yourselves…

pantry1

Ouch, so scary!! Someday it will be nice and bright and cute. Promise. Although the light really does make the condition extra apparent and extra horrifying…

newspaper

I did find this scrunched up piece of newspaper in the wall—the Kingston Daily Leader from July 8, 1936. Cool! I’m going to try some methods to flatten it out. No piles of money (yet), but plenty of old newspapers and masking tape in this house! The date is probably also a good indication of when the staircase was removed, and makes sense given the context of the Depression and the house being divided into multiple living units.

lights

We have LIGHTS! It’s so weird being able to really see this room without a flash light or work lamp. Clearly there’s been some water damage or something over the years to that top part of the back wall, but all of the framing looks great. The space is 8′ long and less than three feet white, so two lights seemed to make more sense.

outlets-pantry

We also have outlets! YAYYYY! The receptacles aren’t in place yet, obviously, but the wiring is. I had the electrician install them at countertop height as sort of a last-minute decision, just in case this room does eventually become part of the kitchen and somehow it isn’t necessary to demo it again? I know, I know… #wishfulthinking

floor

I gotta say, I’m super excited about the floor in here. It’s not original since it would have been open when the stairs were here (so probably installed in the 30s), but it is beautiful unfinished pine! I’d love to sand and seal it.

beadboard

Naturally, I seem to do nothing these days that does not involve messing with the kitchen again…and this time, I set my sights on the weird beadboard panel above the pantry door! I sort of love this thing, to be honest, just because it’s so strange and creative and weird, but I love the idea of restoring the transom window more. Soooo…

transom

BOOM. Sorry kitchen. (Again). But with a little extra work and a pretty piece of glass (I have a good idea!), there will be the prettiest little transom window over this weird little door. It’ll allow a little more natural light into the pantry while also providing a little ambient light in the kitchen when the pantry light is on. It’ll be nice!

So, yay pantry! We’re waiting until more of the electrical is done elsewhere, then getting it all inspected, and then we can start closing up the walls! This will be a good chance to try drywall for the first time and maybe test some techniques I’ve been pondering for the ceilings. It’s nice to start small like this and learn on the way before taking on the bigger jobs. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

BUT THEN. CEILINGS. YOU’RE ON MY LIST.

Back to Top