All posts tagged: Demolition

My Roof Might Kill Me.

When we closed on our house, I bought this book called Renovating Old Houses because I figured it would be chock-full of interesting and valid information that would come in handy as a new renovator of an old house. Reading through the book later on, I was quickly filled with an all-consuming sense of dread: what the hell have I done. While informative, the book basically chronicles everything that can go wrong in an old house——which is to say, everything. Everything can go wrong in an old house. If it isn’t the foundation, it’s the roof, and if it isn’t the roof, then it’s the framing. The electrical will probably start a fire, the plaster will fall apart, and——of course——the asbestos will kill you eventually. I read through about half of it before I felt that it would be better for my mental health if I gave the book a little break for a while to recover from my house-hypochondria. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just see all the beautiful old things——instead, only a collection of problems, or potential problems, and a future full of regret and failure.

Old houses are difficult beasts by definition. They were built at a time before standardization, and before modern construction methods. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Other times, it’s a massive pain in the ass.

roofold roofold3 roofold2

We knew the roof was a problem before we bought the house, and intended to have it replaced in the near future. It wasn’t until we started living there that the “near future” became somewhat pressing. I came to be one of those people who dreaded sudden shifts in weather——each new rainstorm bringing slow (and…not slow) leaks of water into various areas of my home. We did our best to do some temporary patching, but we knew the roof needed to be replaced ASAP. Because of the way our home was built——a main section with various additions over time——we have a few different types of roofing. The main pitched roof was clad metal shingles (probably installed in the 1920s?), and all of the low-slope or flat sections were covered in sheet metal, covered up over the years by rolled asphalt roofing or gallons of tar. Metal roofing is really beautiful and extremely long-lasting, but unfortunately when it isn’t properly maintained (painted every few years, that kind of thing), it tends to corrode. It corrodes further when the repair method is covering leaking sections (or the whole thing!) with loads of tar——it works well for a while, but is a very temporary solution until the tar cracks and buckles and separates from the substrate (and further corrodes the metal). This “temporary” repair method has probably been used on our house for…oh, 50 years. Not awesome.

Eventually we found a roofing contractor (long story, not worth it) who came in at a reasonable price (and offered financing options), and we scheduled the work. Things were going super well, like so:

Roofattic

Oh yeah, did I ever mention that our whole house is insulated with brick and mortar? Well. It is.

roofing

roofbeforeafter

And then they weren’t.

The problem is our house.

Remember that thing I said about old houses being difficult and complicated? Well. Unlike modern homes, our house is outfitted with a built-in gutter system called box gutters, which is part of the whole structure of the roof. I made a simplified technical drawing to illustrate. Excuse my chicken-scratch.

diagram1

Basically this means that the gutter itself is built into the cornice of our house, as opposed to the  regular aluminum gutters that contemporary homes have. The gutter structure is built out of wood and then lined with metal (or sometimes rubber, if it’s been redone recently). The problem with this elegant solution to water drainage is that a lot can go wrong over time——the house settles, a leak develops in the metal lining, or if you’re like us, both! Both awful things have happened, meaning that water leaked into the gutter system for a really long time and caused a whole mess of rot.

I was aware that this could be a problem, but every roofing contractor who looked at our house (not just the ones we hired) proclaimed our box gutters A-OK and good candidates for a quick re-lining job.

HA. HA. HAHAHAHAHAHA. *bursts into tears*

I’m the sort of annoying homeowner who lingers around whenever work is being done on my house, so when I climbed up onto the roof to check on the progress, I immediately saw some problems. The original tar-covered metal lining had been partially torn off, and underneath was a horror show——nothing but remnants of the original gutter structure remained, mostly comprised of completely rotted little splinters of wood.

rot

And it wasn’t just this gutter (although——hopefully——this is the worst). It was all the gutters that they’d exposed. Luckily at this point they’d only torn off half the areas of roofing (and gutter lining), so I immediately told everyone to stop what they were doing so we could assess the situation before opening up more cans of worms. Good move, Kanter.

Basically what happened to this gutter can be explained by this second (exaggerated for dramatic effect) technical drawing I composed for your viewing pleasure.

diagram2

The box gutter SHOULD  slope within the cornice down to a terminal at the end, where water is then released onto the ground via a downspout. But on our house, over the course of 150 years, not only did the gutter lining develop leaks, but the entire wall of the house (and the cornice) bowed out, causing the cornice to settle with a slope at both ends toward the center. Water began to leak through the gutter lining, and then settle in the middle, rotting some of the wood of the cornice and continuing to eat away at the gutter structure. Just terrific.

To make things even more fun and exciting, this kind of repair is beyond what our roofing contractor could address——it’s really carpentry, at this point, and a fairly specialized type of repair. So basically they covered all the exposed gutters with ice & water barrier and told us we needed to fix it ourselves or hire someone who could, and it needs to happen within the next month or so, before there’s massive amounts of cold and rain and SNOW to ruin our house/life.

The whole thing was absolutely devastating, honestly, and I don’t say that about a lot of things. I panicked. I went to the hardware store and bought some tools and supplies and wood. Then I got on the roof and basically didn’t get off for three days. It was cold. I might have been sick, both physically and in the head. It was awful. I wanted to be dead, but I thought maybe I could fix it myself and really, really didn’t want to deal with contractors or pay contractors lots of money to do something that my pea-brain thought I could maybe conceivably handle myself.

meonroof

I really tried.

EFFORT

At various points I thought I was doing super well and maybe I was an amazing carpenter/roofing prodigy, but Sunday night basically ended with me shivering on my roof, head in my hands, trying to figure out what to do next. I needed to come to terms with the fact that this is just beyond what I’m capable of dealing with by myself, for the following compelling reasons:

  1. I don’t really, actually know what I’m doing. I don’t think this repair is exactly rocket science, but it’s dumb for me to think I can do it correctly without any real knowledge of how to do it correctly. I’m not sure I can possibly make things worse, but I also don’t want to do it all wrong, cause further damage, or need to have it all redone in the next few years because I was too stubborn to hire somebody the first time around.
  2. I have no time for this. There are a lot of exposed gutters right now, and I’m under no illusions that upcoming rain/snow aren’t going to make all of this SO much worse. I need this to be fixed quickly, and doing it myself is not going to make it go quickly.
  3. There’s a problem of scale at work here. I’m one person, and even if I knew how and had the time, I can’t fix this many linear feet of gutter, half of it while balanced precariously on a ladder.

I’m not the sort of person who cries in moments of self-pity and dejection, but if I were, I would be. I know I try to keep things light and fun and happy around these parts (and I debated even writing this post), but honestly? This feels awful. I feel like I’ve destroyed my house. I know it’s just a dumb cornice and some dumb gutters, but this all feels overwhelming and insurmountable and sad.

We’ve had a couple of contractors out over the last few days who are familiar with rebuilding box gutters, though, and I think things are looking up. One of them in particular I LOVED, and his quote was actually relatively affordable, so hopefully he’ll be able to shuffle his schedule around and I’ll be writing a big update a couple of weeks from now about how he is amazing and solved all of our problems and I didn’t even have to sell my organs or anything AND my house has wonderful and reliable drainage that I’ll never have to touch again.

Hopefully. Fingers crossed, big time.

OK. Make me feel better. What’s the worst thing that ever happened during your renovation? Ready, go.

Fun and Funky Thoughts on Asbestos!

There’s a funny little subject that old home owners tend to be loathe to talk about, even among themselves. They’ll sit around for hours and laugh and laugh about uninsulated walls and crumbling plaster and that time they found live electrical wire poking out of the laundry room floor, just hanging out, ready to burn the house down. “Oh, look at us!” they say to each other, “just a couple of goofy lunatics, fixing things up again!”

But——save for the darkly humored and truly sick——their voices invariably drop to a near whisper when a particular subject comes up, their eyes shifting around suspiciously, lest someone might overhear. “Poor suckers——didn’t realize before they went to contract that the whole house was covered in it. Can’t replace the siding, can’t rip off the roof, heat pipes in the basement, popcorn ceilings——asbestos, man…that’s not something you want to mess around with.”

asbestos

Yeah. Asbestos. Or as I like to call ours, the Best Asbestos, because it’s more fun to say. Pretty much all old houses have asbestos somewhere, and there isn’t anything inherently dangerous about it, so long as it’s in stable condition (not flaking and falling apart) and goes undisturbed. The problem is when people start messing with it——unnecessarily ripping it off of heat pipes or crushing it up and throwing it around like confetti. Fact: When disturbed, asbestos-containing materials often release asbestos fibers. Asbestos fibers can be up to 10,000 times thinner than a human hair (so basically they’re invisible, and I think we can all agree that invisible threats are way freaky), and, when inhaled, they like to embed themselves in human lungs and wait around for 30 years or so and then be like—”hey! I’ve been here a while. About time I caused some lung cancer or incurable Mesothelioma and killed you dead!”

Oh, asbestos. Super duper rude, you know?

More facts: Asbestos can be in all sorts of things! That’s what makes it so adorable——it just wants to be at every party, and it doesn’t understand why nobody wants it. There was a time when everyone thought asbestos was super fun and groovy because it helped keep things from catching on fire, but then everyone realized in the 80s that the people who worked with it for years were all dying, and maybe it wasn’t so great after all. Now nobody wants it in their basement or their insulation or their flooring or their popcorn ceilings or their siding or really anywhere at all. It’s like the kid that pooped in the swimming pool, except nobody ever forgave him.

There are a couple of things to be done in an asbestos-related pickle. The best option is usually to do nothing at all. Humans and their asbestos can peacefully coexist for years, as long as everyone just leaves everyone else alone. The second best option is usually encasement, where the asbestos is covered up and ignored forever. Popcorn ceilings might just be covered with a new thin layer of drywall instead of scraped clean, or new flooring might be put right on top of asbestos-containing linoleum tiles. There isn’t anything wrong with this, except for when, many years later, somebody wants to run new electrical wiring or heating ducts or whatever, and they unwittingly disturb hidden asbestos-containing materials. Whoopsie! The Internet tends to agree that a little casual asbestos inhalation from time to time is not so great, but answers vary considerably as to how not-so-great it is. I, myself, prefer to believe that small levels of accidental exposure can’t be all that bad (I feel this way about all sorts of things, for the record: most varieties of drugs, trans fats, sorority girls, Lady Gaga), but who’s to say! Plenty of people think just a little bit basically amounts to a death sentence. Set a timer for 30 years, and try to forget that you’re basically a ticking bomb.

So it’s best to be careful, just in case, when dealing with these things. This is why my ceilings caused me a lot of dread. Have we talked about my ceilings? Well—out of the several rooms in my house, three of the largest ones came with not-so-adorable acoustic-tiled ceilings. There are a lot of different types of these ceilings, but basically they were probably installed to deaden noise, kind of insulate for heat, maybe hide electrical wiring or moderate to severe damage to the original plaster ceilings. It’s all one big exciting mystery, but the fact is that we have them and I would really like to not have them. The rooms all look like maybe they could be really pretty nice with some paint and general fixing, but then it’s like: BLAM—dem ceilings tho. A fresh coat of paint would help a little, but really they just need to take a hike.

The rooms in question include:

The front parlor/future library room:

parlor

These pictures are craptacular and from our first viewing of the house, but it could be so cute and so nice, right? I mean, it has that cute little chandelier and a CORNER RADIATOR!

ceiling2

Except for this…Ugh. Ceiling. Why you gotta be all?

Then there’s the dining room.

diningroom

All those cute doors and nice moldings and that crazy arched bay window area. It’s like charm on charm on charm, 24/7.

ceiling4

ceiling3

Oh right, except that mess of a ceiling. This is the room I’m most worried about, since there’s a pretty significant sag over by the bay area, which I guess was “repaired” with some clear caulk. Fancy!

Then there’s that room I always call the “middle bedroom” upstairs, which might become a master bedroom sitting/TV room kind of place. This room needs a whole mess of work (the bump-out bay window thing is a crazy disaster zone of missing windows and unpainted drywall and weird and mysterious fixes), but the thing I hate most?

middle-room

ceiling1

You guessed it. More acoustic tiles. The ceilings in the upstairs of our house are lower than downstairs, so this one feels particularly sad and oppressive instead of just all around very…blech.

These ceilings were one of the first things I noticed when we looked at the house for the first time. I remember asking our home inspector about them, and the conversation was basically like this:

Home Inspector: Really, this is a pretty great house. Solid foundation, great features!
Daniel: I know! Do you think those ceiling tiles contain asbestos, though? I’ve read they can contain asbestos.
Home Inspector: No, definitely not. I’m 99% sure they don’t.
Daniel: Oh, that’s great! What makes you so convinced? Ones that look basically exactly like these usually contain asbestos, and it’s not like the house isn’t more than old enough. Sorry to sound like a worry-wart, but am I missing some kind of non-asbestos identifying feature?
Home Inspector: Well, when you put it that way, if you’re really worried about it, I guess it’s best to have them tested because you really can’t tell about these things just by looking.

I didn’t further shame him by pushing the point about why he was so sure, but yeah—home inspector dude didn’t really know what he was saying. Which convinced me that, without question, our ceilings were most definitely chock-full of the stuff, which was a bridge we’d just have to cross some other time. We decided to forego the asbestos test that we could have written into our contingencies: partly because we were already offering a rock-bottom price, and further negotiating for asbestos abatement was not going to be a winning strategy, but mostly because we didn’t really want to add another item to the growing list of super valid and legitimate reasons we should probably definitely not buy this house.

We’ve been waiting the last few weeks to get some electrical work done in the entryway/hallway, so things have kind of reached a stand-still in there, since I don’t want to start repairing plaster until we’re done messing it up and making holes for new wiring. Naturally, my attention quickly shifted to wanting to destroy another area of my home, since that’s what I seem to like doing these days. I seem to have reached a weird breaking point with these three ceilings (particularly the dining room, since that’s the room we’re really using the most and it still looks terrible), and I want them gone yesterday. So instead of doing the truly reckless thing of just tearing them down in the middle of the night, or the slightly more reasonable thing of hermetically sealing the room and myself and going about a little DIY asbestos abatement (which is legal in the state of New York, but may not be in your state…), I decided to go ahead and be a grown-up and have those ceilings tested. I’m really very proud of this display of restraint and consideration for my own health and the health of those around me.

testing

So I went around with a spray bottle in one hand and a chisel in the other and took little samples of each of the ceilings. I immediately put them in baggies, and I immediately labeled the baggies. Then I printed and filled out a form and wrote a check and sent my samples to MACS Lab in California, where a team of scientists/magicians would analyze the samples and tell me if removing my ceilings would or would not cause me to die later in life. I watched a lot of CSI during my teenage-hood, so I have a general sense of how this whole montage looks. A dark, dramatically underlit lab full of beautiful people. Microscopes. Slides. Centrifuges. Computers with fancy graphics that either flash ASBESTOS in red or NOT ASBESTOS in green with the molecular breakdown of my mystery ceilings rotating, semi-translucent in the background. That’s definitely how it works.

Have you ever sent anything through the actual mail before? Let me tell you, the amount of waiting involved is AGONIZING. I waited for, literally—and I kid you not—DAYS to find out. I told a friend and neighbor what I was doing, and he was horrified that I even wanted to know at all. I told him my credibility in the home design/renovation blogosphere would be ruined if I didn’t take asbestos seriously, and then he stopped talking to me altogether.

ANYWAYS.

Then an email showed up in my inbox with the results. My blood pressure went up. I kind of knew what was coming, but I opened it anyway, since I’d payed a whole $35 per sample to get this terrible news, and I figured I should stop delaying coming up with a plan.

NO. ASBESTOS.

NONE. NOT EVEN A LITTLE. I read over the form a few times to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Unfortunately it looks like I am not legally allowed to reproduce the form here (fair), so you’ll just have to believe me. It was amazing, like that time I found Mariah Carey’s instagram account. I sent a series of overly-excited tweets about the matter.

Now I obviously cannot WAIT to rip down these ceilings. I dream about it at night and during the day. It will make everything approximately 400,000 times better to have flat, beautiful ceilings. It fills me with hope and happiness to know this is a possibility that won’t cost me thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, or my life.

Of course, this quickly brought with it a whole set of very serious and important questions and decisions. Namely:

1. What is under the acoustic tiles? These tiles were nailed onto furring strips, which are secured to the original ceilings (not glued!). From what I can tell from when I made holes to take the samples, the original plaster ceilings are still right up there, waiting to be uncovered! All of these ceilings are in the oldest section of the house, so they’re probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 years old. A lot can happen to plaster ceilings over that amount of time, so I’m certainly not expecting them to be perfect—lots of sagging and maybe missing pieces and whatever damage that I assume caused them to be covered up in the first place.

2. How do I make the ceilings beautiful again? I really want to save as much of the original plaster as possible, and fill in where necessary with new drywall. Alex at Old Town Home has a great post about repairing plaster ceilings with a magical-sounding product called plaster buttons (or plaster washers), which help bring sagging plaster back into position. I already bought 200 of them, so I guess I’m basically a plaster ceiling repair professional.

3. Medallions? Crown molding? Old houses usually have super beautiful plaster ceiling medallions in the middle of the ceilings surrounding a light fixture. I think my ceilings would look incomplete without them, and I want to add that extra level of super amazing fabulousness, at least to the downstairs rooms. House of Antique Hardware has some really great options——a bit of an investment, but worth it. Once everything is caulked up and painted, they look just like the real thing. I’ve thought a lot about adding crown molding, too, but I think I’ll pass——it would cost a ton of money to do it right (small crown molding with the huge moldings around the doors and baseboards is going to look extra-crappy), and I don’t think it’s necessary. If I feel like we need to add it later on, we can always do that!

www-1.47parkavenue.co.uk

Whenever I think about amazing ceilings, I think about 47 Park Avenue. Aside from the very extreme British fabulousness of everything Michael does to his amazing house, I am obsessed with having ceilings like his. Also, vintage Venini chandeliers, but that’s besides the point.

I thought that we needed to choose simpler ceiling medallions because our moldings don’t have all the ornate flair of Victorian finishes, but after gathering some inspiration (this picture, namely), I feel like maybe that isn’t the case? Maybe I need to track down really elaborate ceiling medallions to go with the really elaborate chandeliers that I will someday own? I’m not sure. I guess it’s a while off.

So. Lessons:

1. Things that look like asbestos might not be asbestos. Get them tested! It’s cheap and easy.

2. My ceilings are going to be amazing! I trust we can all sleep better tonight knowing this.

3. I would sell my soul for that chandelier.

Upstairs Kitchen is Gone!

I’m aware that some people grew up engaging in wholesome sorts of activities, like reading the Bible or watching Schoolhouse Rock. For such individuals, that type of stuff might have played a significant role in their understanding of how people should act and how the world should function. My family wasn’t really like that, though. Instead, every Sunday night, we tuned into a little television program called The X-Files, which I now realize was all part of my parents’ never-ending commitment to help raise the next generation of neurotic Jews (this, along with poor digestion). There, with eyes wide and hearts racing, we were taught the secrets of the universe while also having the shit scared right out of us. The fancy-pants parents of today would never stand for this sort of thing, but this was the 90s. Things were different then.

I’m just going to assume that you live on planet earth and know what The X-Files is. If you don’t, you need to take a good long look in the mirror and ask yourself what you’re doing with your life and commit to making a change. Then go get a Netflix subscription. The X-Files hasn’t really seen quite the same trendy resurgence of late that shows like Twin Peaks and Buffy have, but it’s only a matter of time. As a home design blogger, I feel semi-qualified to make semi-confident trend predictions about these things.  You’ll want to stay ahead of that one so that you’re cool when everyone else begins to recognize that the first 6 seasons of The X-Files were the best TV ever produced.

ANYWAY. In the pilot episode of The X-Files (which, admittedly, we watched as a re-run), there’s some crazy stuff happening with UFOs and aliens in Oregon, which Mulder and Scully go out to investigate. At one point, they drive through an area with radio signal interference, which Mulder mysteriously takes note of by spray painting an X on the road. Later on in the episode, they drive through the same area again, but THIS TIME Mulder checks his watch:

903x-files

Then they see a flash of blinding white light.

whitelight

When it’s over, Mulder looks at his watch again.

x-files912

They mysteriously skipped over nine minutes of time. Mulder gets out of the car to find the X on the street. Scully follows behind. They discuss it in the pouring rain at night time, because most things happen in the pouring rain at night time on The X-Files. 

x-files1

THEY LOST TIME, YOU GUYS. BECAUSE OF ALIENS AND STUFF. Awesome. Best show.

I bring this up because this is more or less how a lot of home renovation projects seem to be taking shape. I’ll walk into a room to grab something, or think I’ll spend 20 minutes or so working on a project, and then I’ll come to and realize that the sun has set. I’ll check my watch and realize I haven’t had anything to eat or drink in many hours. I haven’t even peed.  Then I take stock of my surroundings and realize that things look completely different than they had when I walked in. Maybe I have an open wound or two that I either failed to notice or failed to attend to while in the thick of things. All that time spent in the middle is muddled and fuzzy, a sort of abstract blur of tunnel-vision activity.

This is how the upstairs kitchen in my house vanished. I’m pretty sure I went in to grab a bottle of olive oil in the early afternoon. Then, POOF! Magic! It was the middle of the night and the kitchen was gone! I have only this series of photos to piece together what I guess happened in the interim.

kitchen

First of all, this was the upstairs kitchen, which was presumably installed when the house was split into a two-family. It’s at the back of the house, directly above the downstairs kitchen, and was very ugly. I’ll admit that it was actually pretty functional (this is the kitchen we used while we renovated the downstairs kitchen, so I’m actually really glad it was here!), and almost all the components of it are being reused elsewhere. The stove, for instance, we moved downstairs for our kitchen (since the original stove was a busted-up piece of scrap metal), and the cabinets went to the mudroom (and, probably someday, the garage) and hold all my tools. The still-working but very old and inefficient fridge was donated, and the sink was kept just in case we want to use it for a future remodel.

ANYWAY. I demo’d that shit all by myself over the course of an unexplained time lapse. This is sort of how I did it, I guess:

sinkcab1

I started with removing the sink, which I figured would be the most difficult. It was. The plumbing had already been disconnected at the basement level (I think ahead and stuff), so there wasn’t anything super technical to worry about. Just a lot of disconnecting things without adequate tools. Without adequate tools is becoming kind of a theme of my life——I’m FINALLY learning that I need to invest in decent tools when I need to buy them, and replace the cheap-o ones that are all breaking with something better when they inevitably give out. Cheap crappy tools were fine when I was just playing around in my apartment, but they’re not ideal for house renovation.

Anyway, the sink plumbing came apart super easily. I thought it would be easy-ish to just lift the sink off the base once the plumbing was disconnected. HAHAHAHAHA. Oh, Daniel. When will you learn.

See that strip of white behind the sink? Well. The sink was sort of built into that strip. That strip was made of three pieces of 1/2″ plywood glued and nailed together and screwed into the studs. WHYYYYYYYYY.

sinkcab2

Sawzall time! Note how this sink base is A) the worst thing you’ve ever seen and B) super hand-made meaning super-badly-made meaning built like a tank. I really did think I could just take this whole thing out as a single unit, and I’m pretty sure it ended up as just a pile of splinters, infused with my rage.

undersinkwoodprying

Once it was gone, I got to wondering what the deal was with the platform that the sink base was sitting on. In another room, there’s something like this under a radiator, which the wood floor was clearly laid around, so I figured that this was the same kind of deal all along. Then, whilst demoing, I had the following conversation with myself:

Me: What if this piece of wood is actually on top of the wood floor? What if there is more wood floor underneath it?
Me: No, definitely not. It’s the same as under that radiator. The floor probably rotted out at some point so they cut it all away and added this thing. Or something. Your house isn’t the fucking Secret Garden.
Me: I really think this is a possibility. I don’t know why you’re always so negative.
Me: Because everything is terrible. You know that.
Me: MAYBE THIS WON’T BE TERRIBLE JUST GIVE ME A CHANCE.
Me: You’re going to regret this.
Me: We’ll see about that. By the way, your left arm is bleeding.

So I dug in with my pry bar. And hammered, and pried, and stuff, and probably hurt myself again.

prying2

WHAAAAAT. There WAS wood floor underneath the weird platform thing! I was all:

x-files2

Anyways. Then I removed the sheet vinyl floor, which I was pretty safe about, I guess. It’s possible that the backing of this kind of sheet-vinyl contains asbestos, but luckily there was no adhesive used to secure the flooring to the wood floor underneath. I used a box-cutter to cut it into strips, rolled it up (spraying the backing with soapy water as it was exposed, although the sheets weren’t tearing or coming apart or anything scary like that), and bagged it all up.

By this point, many hours had passed. I guess Max finally got curious about my whereabouts and came upstairs and was all:

scully

And I was all:

mulder

And the kitchen was all:

beforeafter

OK, I know it still looks a mess, but it’s exciting that it’s…not a kitchen anymore? It’s just a regular room that needs a lot of work?

floors

Pretty much the big exciting news is that the floor is actually in pretty great shape! Turns out all those years of being covered up did a nice job of protecting it, so while down the line we’ll probably want to refinish it, it can totally just be cleaned for now and look fine.

after2

I still have to rip out that pantry thing in the corner, but after the sink cabinet…well, at least I’m semi-prepared emotionally and mentally to deal. It’s going to be a pain.

after1

Anyway, this is a pretty good room. It will be a pretty good room. That door leads to a terrible set of exterior stairs that you can see here (which we’re hoping to have removed soon!), and the window has a piece of plexi on the outside, so it doesn’t open. The walls are all made of this weird fiberboard stuff (not plaster, not drywall), which is in pretty lousy condition and has a gross texture, and now half of it is ripped out to make way for new plumbing for the upstairs bathroom (long story, different post…). Basically, it will all need to come down to the studs at some point.

But! Underneath that pillar thing between the window and the door is a brick chimney! Above that super low ceiling (I think it’s 7.5 feet) is nothing! There’s no attic over this part of the house (the kitchen and this room were a later addition, probably around the turn of the century), so someday I’d love to loft the ceiling in here, which will make the whole room feel much bigger. So…refinished wood floor, lofted beadboard ceiling, two windows on either side of an exposed brick chimney——hello master bedroom? That way, that middle room can become a kind of flex space——like chill-out zone with a TV (we don’t want a TV in the main living room, but…I like TV. So.) and a pull-out sofa, which will eliminate the awkwardness of having the access to this room attached to another bedroom. Here is a diagram to better explain what the hell I am talking about, lest you have not memorized the entire layout of my house:

floorplan2

Something like that? I am tired just thinking about getting there. Let’s hope for more magical X-Files alien time lapses, yes? Skip ahead to a time where this is all done?

Cool. Great plan.

Celebratory Post-Kitchen Vestibule Demo!

This is how I do it with our poor, unsuspecting friends. They come to visit for a couple of days, maybe to get away from the crushing heat of a New York City summer, or the hustle and bustle, to a place where we can all drive from place to place and feel less like dying all the time. They think they’re going to have a nice time. Slow down a little. Relax with friends. That’s why I like to plant the seed early on——in Emily’s case, it was on our way back from the bus stop. “You know,” I explained, “remember that vestibule wall? The one right inside the door? I’ve been saving it for you.” It helped that Emily at least feigned excitement, which gave me the opportunity to really hype it up. We’d have so much fun demolishing it! It would be both catharsis and a work-out! Our home would thank all of us!

vestibulebefore2

While I deeply admire the energy it must have taken to erect this wall——a wood-paneled monstrosity the previous owners added in an effort to retrofit the house with a vestibule, thereby bisecting a perfectly good foyer——it was more than a little awkward and fell a tad short on the historical-accuracy front. I’m not really an old house purist, but this belonged on the Brady Bunch. And not, like, at the Brady’s house. I’m sure there was an episode in there when Marcia found herself alone and on the wrong side of the tracks, and that’s where I see this wall. Just hanging out in the 1970s with a very alone, very afraid Marcia Brady. She’s crying in this vision of mine, always.

This was the day after we finished the kitchen, and we’d spent the afternoon going to pick up everything we needed to cook a meal in the new space. Due to her Italian heritage and a highly developed talent for cooking, Emily is good at these things. She has a more refined palate for red wines than I do, but the bottle we chose was selected mainly for its low price and the size of the bottle, which Emily referred to as a “magnum.” The goal here was to enjoy the new kitchen, and the means to that end would be this enormous bottle of wine and a large Italian meal.

With both the meal and the wine consumed a few hours later, the night was still young. And Drunk Daniel got ideas. I put down my glass of wine and cleared my throat. “So. About that wall.”

“I’m so ready.” Emily refilled both of our glasses halfway, finishing off the bottle. “What do we need?”

I gathered the tools and we dove in with the same strategy I’ve been using on demolishing the other add-on walls in the house: remove components from the outside moving inward. Deconstruct it the way it was built. Less mess, less risk of damaging parts of the house that are important.

demo1

I even had the foresight to cover the windows with tape, lest in our drunkenness we were to shatter the glass. That’s one thing you have to know about me——I’m so smart, even when I’m an idiot.

Things started out great: we got both of the bottom windows out by removing several intricate layers of different sizes of finishing molding surrounding them,  and then started to pry off the paneling. The paneling, of course, was glued and nailed to a layer of 1/2″ plywood underneath, which was nailed into a very complicated and non-standard framing system underneath. I was more or less prepared for this wall to be as much of an asshole as the other walls had been, but I wasn’t super prepared for it to be even more of an asshole. Everything was hard. Nothing was coming down quickly or easily.

At some point the system fell apart a little when I grabbed my Sawzall and cut through the vertical sections between the door frame and the window (it seemed like it would help?), which I remember being interesting because the whole thing was just a solid block of many pieces of wood glued and nailed together. So beefy.

Shortly thereafter, while we continued to peel paneling and quarter-round and base-shoe off this wood-trimmed explosion, Emily stepped on a nail. She didn’t think much of it until about 30 seconds later, when she stepped on a second nail, this one penetrating the sole of her flip-flop and a somewhat significant portion of her foot.

Just to be clear, I’d told Emily multiple times that she should be wearing different shoes, even offering to let her borrow some of our shoes. She insisted that she’d been around this type of stuff before (she had) and that she wasn’t worried about it (she wasn’t) and that she’d be fine (false). Had I maybe not had a gallon of wine working its way through my system, I might have pressed the issue, but as it was I figured—hey, she’s an adult! Who am I to tell her what kind of shoes to wear while she demolishes walls in my home? What makes me some kind of authority on lady shoes, anyway, or footwear in general? I do almost everything in socks. Flip-flops are probably better than socks. She says she’s fine. I guess she’s fine! 

Like any good friend, I ran to my car to retrieve the first aid kit that’s been rattling around in my trunk since 2006. My mother bought it for me when I got my driver’s license (which is a very Jewish mother thing to do FYI) and I’ve kept it there ever since (which is a very Jewish child thing to do FYI), and I’ll admit to being a little excited about having the opportunity to finally use it. The alcohol sterile wipes were all dried up on account of being 7 years old, but she washed her feet off in the tub and slapped on a bandaid or two and took a seat on the couch. I sat next to her, emoting concern.

“Emily, I’m so, so sorry. My house is a hazard.”

“Are you kidding? I should have seen this coming. In a way, I’m glad it happened when I had been drinking. I’ve always been fucking terrified of stepping on a nail, but it happened, and I didn’t faint or vomit or anything, and it wasn’t even that bad. In-out. If I had been sober, I would not have been handling this.”

“That ‘s a positive way of looking at it.”

We sat there for a moment, reflecting on the hidden merits of alcohol.

“Do you want to take a turn with the pry bar?” I asked. “I think it’s easier than the crowbar.”

“I think I might have to just be done for the night.”

“Right, no, obviously. I mean, I wasn’t saying right now.” I did mean right now. I’m blaming the booze, but really, I’m naturally selfish this way. I assumed that Emily would feel fine putting a nail through her foot, taking a little breather, and just getting back to it. I mean, sure, you need your feet to stand up and all that, but demolition is really about arms and back. I didn’t see any nails there.  “Just, you know, if you ever want to, like, destroy anything again, I’m saying the pry bar might be more your speed. That’s all I was getting at. Definitely, tonight just chill out. I’m not a monster.”

And then I really took it to the next level of douchebaggery:

“Well, do you need anything? Because I kind of want to get back to work.”

What is wrong with me?? It’s a wonder I have any friends, or any people who are willing to talk to me or be around me or associate with me in any direct or indirect way.

“No, not at all,” Emily assured me. “I’m just going to sit on this couch for a while and try not to faint.”

“Cool, holler if you need anything.”

So there I left one of my best friends, possibly dying on my sofa, slowly bleeding through a hole in her foot caused both by my property and my ambition, while I made my way back to the power tools. I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I wasn’t that drunk, I promise. It just wasn’t that memorable), but I do remember waking up the next morning and going to inspect my handiwork and realizing that I forgot I’d left things like this.

demo2

Oh, Daniel. Really? In my excitement/inebriation, I may have put a little too much focus (all of it) on the bottom half of the wall that I could reach, and not enough focus (no focus at all) on the part of the wall that I would have needed a ladder for. This left things looking super stupid and super not-pro. Demolition fail.

max

Max, who missed every part of all of this, was not impressed by the changes.

I know all of this looks very precarious and like it should fall at any second, but I assure you: not only were the outer support studs still in place, but this whole thing was solid. There was no way that it was going to just fall. The construction on this wall is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen, and I once saw a drunk girl in flip flops step on a nail in my foyer.

demo3

See? Insane construction. All of this took me several very long hours to remove, and not because I’m so careful and cautious. It was just really intense, like in a way that I can’t adequately explain in actual words. Just trust. It was the mother of all weird 1970s sobbing Marcia Brady walls.

viewfromdiningroom

BUT! BUT! BUT! LOOK AT THAT! OMG. OMG. OMG.

OK, so I know I say this every time, but…ceiling height like woah. Space like I didn’t know existed. LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. House can breathe. It feels SO GOOD to have that awful piece of garbage gone.

I know a lot of people thought I should keep the wall, or paint it, or do something with it to allow it to stay since it’s probably a nice thing to have in the winter, but I hope this view explains why that just wasn’t an option. We’ll do what we can to weatherstrip the doors and keep things from being too drafty to the best of our abilities, but you guys. This house is just supposed to have an amazing entryway. It just is. And after like 40 years of not having an amazing entryway, this feels really, really good. I speak for myself, here, and I speak for the house. The house is happy about all this.

entryway-wall

Check out how long that wall is! You can see on the baseboard and the ceiling where the old wall was, and how it just cut up this amazing amount of space into two small spaces. Of course, now we’re left with a really arbitrarily placed light switch, but that’s OK. That little tiny sconce is the only light source in the entire hallway, so we’re going to have to have some work done in here to have a ceiling box put in for a chandelier and some other stuff. We’ll get to it when we can——right now, it’s OK.

Speaking of the walls——check out that plaster! My friend Nora came back for a couple days, and we started peeling off all the wallpaper that had already separated from the plaster. Some parts are more stuck than others, so we just left those alone for the time being. I borrowed a steamer from our wonderful neighbor last night, though, so fingers crossed that it works super well and I don’t have to mess with chemical strippers and other things that sound like a hassle. There are at least a few layers of wallpaper covered by many layers of paint, so it’s not really the same thing as, like, removing a cutesy little sheet of wallpaper somebody put up in the 80s. It’s really labor-intensive and will probably take a combination of methods to restore the walls, but it has to happen. Luckily we were given a little bit of a head start by the original adhesive being like 150 years old and freezing for two winters when the house was vacant. So…yay?

I know people feel really attached to that wallpaper, but it’s not going to happen. It’s all just in really bad condition, and not in a cool way. Just in a sad way. It’s going to be soooooooo beautiful when everything is fixed up and painted and everything, though. Nobody will actually miss it.

PROMISE.

Entryway-Floor

As for the floor, it’s OK. This floor probably hasn’t been refinished for AT LEAST 50 years or so (if ever?), so while you can definitely see where the vestibule wall used to sit, it isn’t SUPER obvious since the finish is continuous. The flooring in the entryway/hallway is in the best shape in the entire first floor, but the front room and dining room are both a mess. The flooring is all continuous, though, so I kind of think it just all needs to be redone. Anyone have experience refinishing floors? I’m considering DIY-ing it, but it’s also something I REALLY don’t want to mess up. As for finish, I’d love to just sand and seal the wood (no stain), but there might be some deeper water damage in the front room that would make that look really bad. This wood flooring isn’t original to the house (it was probably added around the turn of the century, maybe later) so I don’t feel SUPER precious about it. There are lots of cool things you can do with wood floors that don’t involve staining them medium-dark-brown.

before

entrywaywide

Anyway, I’m so psyched about this entryway space. I think it needs a nice big worn oriental rug (duh) and a nice bench and a nice chandelier and super pale gray walls with white molding and black doors! I know I mentioned stripping the front doors down to the wood and staining/sealing them a while ago, but I don’t think these doors were ever not painted, and I don’t think I’d love them enough for all the work to be worth it. I think I will love them painted black, though, so I’m pretty excited about that.

p.s.– thank you so much for all the amazingly kind comments about my kitchen last week! It was overwhelming! I do read everything, though, and I really appreciate it all so much. You guys are dope. 

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!
Me + Them: GO TO HELL, HEATHEN.
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:

[gickr.com]_2c5af7b5-92da-4d24-9129-57b647dc4dad

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

beforehallway

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.

demo1

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.

downstairshallwayafter1

downstairshallwayafter2

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.

stairs-at-top

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!

demo2

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?

framingupstairs

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.

hallwayafter2

hallwayafter1

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.

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