All posts tagged: Exterior

So I Re-Did the Back of the House (Again).

Here is a shocking bit of information that you have likely already deduced if you have read this blog for any amount of time: I’ve been chasing my tail a bit with my own house renovation. I’m not proud. A couple of years ago, I bit off more than I could chew. I should have known better. I did it anyway. Unsurprisingly, it bit me in the ass.

Let’s talk about it.

I bought a house with an old and truly yucky kitchen. The kitchen was the very first thing I tackled, and ya know? That was a good renovation. The improvements were inexpensive but impactful (new paint, a little subway tile, and VCT floors for the win!), and the kitchen worked fairly well.

It wasn’t the dream kitchen but it was a fine, serviceable space, and one that could have easily lasted several more years. The kitchen took kind of a beating as other renovations unfolded throughout the house, but I’d renovated it with that in mind! It would all get torn out someday but, I figured, when everything else had been done, by which time this kitchen would certainly be falling apart.

Fast forward less than two years, and I found myself single. One night, I also found myself a little drunk (related: pls excuse the quality of these photos). With the contents of my kitchen cabinets now significantly slimmed down as a result of the break-up, I was suddenly overcome with the urge to slim down the cabinets themselves. I didn’t NEED all these cabinets! And if I just took down the upper cabinets, then I could also just rip out the enormous soffits above them, and then my kitchen would be brighter and more open and happier and maybe I’d put up a nice shelf or just a cool piece of art and HOW GREAT WOULD THIS BE?!?!

Don’t drink and demo. Or do, but with supervision so you don’t do anything stupid. Like meeeeeeeeeee.

So I took down the uppers and the soffits. Briefly this felt good.

I had to re-route the electrical for the little over-the-sink light, and drywall the area that had been behind the soffit because the plaster was too far-gone. I just had to do some more patching, sanding, repaint a couple walls and the kitchen would be good as new!

I really should have taken a bath or something that night. I never did patch and sand and repaint. Instead, a few months later I seized the remainder of summer and demolished the rickety old addition off the back of the house.

Boy was that exciting.

This, in turn, prompted replacing the window and vestigial fire escape exit door in the second floor room above the kitchen and insulating and re-siding the back of the house—it was a huge job and one that I wasn’t totally ready for. One of the casualties ended up being the kitchen window, a cute casement that got split up into two casements for the second floor, like so:

So I ripped the kitchen window out, put in a “temporary” vinyl window, still thinking I’d patch up the kitchen and continue to use it for another 5-10 years and this would be good enough for now.

I never did patch up the kitchen. The wall surrounding the new window just remained open to the studs and insulation for the next several months. Elegant!

Then I designed and built an entire house (I. will. show. it. to. you. I. swear.), and at the tail end of that little gig, I circled back to my own. I did this with great excitement because I hadn’t been able to put any real work into my own house for a while, so naturally I took on the biggest and most involved project this house will ever see under my care: the enormous restoration of the side of the house.

This saw the removal of two more additions and the installation of five(!) new windows—two of them in the kitchen, but a different wall than the one from the year before. Round and round we go.

In order to install these new windows, we first had to frame in the openings for them. We probably could have gone about this a couple of more intelligent ways, but instead at that point it just felt like…fuck it. Just gut it. So that’s what we did, and suddenly my kitchen and pantry were reduced to a few remaining cabinets and a sink. Which I then also removed because it felt like they were in the way of completing the next steps, which I was sure I’d be addressing imminently.

So dumbbbbbbbbb, omg Daniel.

But at least I had two windows where I needed them to be…you know, for the kitchen that still has not manifested.

Before I could really even address the kitchen, I had to actually wrap up that whole side-of-the-house-restoration project on the exterior before winter hit. I ran out of time and didn’t totally finish, and shamefully still haven’t, but I finished enough that things have been fine.

I ran out of something else around that time too, though! The money in my bank account! That exterior project was more involved and costly than I’d given it credit for, and it cleaned. me. OUT.

THIS, my friends, was a bit over a year ago, and it was truly a low point. The house was a wreck. What was left of the kitchen (appliances, some cabinetry) had overtaken the dining room. The living room was mostly just exceptionally dirty from the renovations but literally felt unsalvageable at the time, like it might after a flood. The bedroom was missing a wall. The den was missing a wall and a ceiling. I hadn’t managed to get a plumber to come cap a couple of radiator lines and get the boiler going, so I didn’t have a real heat system that winter. I couldn’t figure out how to get hot water running either (turns out the motherboard of the boiler had died!) so I took frigid showers or sponge baths with water from the electric kettle, since I no longer had a stove to heat it. This went on for months.

Guys, it was fucking horrible. In the summer, cold showers and doing my dishes on the front porch had felt kind of quaint and folksy, but now it just felt like I could not be more of a disappointment to myself and to this house. And it was my fault. Decisions I had made myself had led me here. To Grey Gardens, my new home.

We ain’t done.

I guess it was kind of OK to not have the cash to do the kitchen a year ago, in part because there were plenty of low-cost projects to keep me occupied, like the bedroom and the den. You can do a lot with joint compound and paint between bigger projects, so I just focused on that kind of stuff. Besides, there was another huge roadblock in front of really even getting the kitchen renovation started, aside from the money part: re-doing that back wall…again. Already. The one that I already did two years prior, when I thought I wouldn’t have to think about it again for a decade or so. The kitchen design kind of hinged (pun def intended) on moving the location of the exterior door, and replacing the temporary vinyl window, so the chimney could be flanked by two matching windows to the new ones on the other elevation.

I’d hoped, I think, that this would somehow just happen. Like I’d wake up and find windows and doors where my computer renderings had placed them, and then I could move ahead into the rough-ins and the finishing work!

Sadly this did not come to pass. So at the tail end of this past summer, with the goal of being able to really work on the kitchen this winter, I bit the bullet and Edwin and Edgar and I took a week and did it (followed by a few weeks of me working alone every evening/weekend…). I had a better idea of what I was getting into, so it wasn’t as bad as the first time around, and I had a bit more help. So we took out the door and the vinyl window.

Then we removed the siding from the first floor (again) because it seemed a bit easier than all the patching that would have been required otherwise.

All of this pretty much sucked, by the way.

Once that kitchen wall was framed and the windows installed, we moved on to putting the wall back together.

One thing I never loved about the first revamp of this wall was that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to expand the corner boards. The original corner boards are 4″ on this house, which feels kind of dinky below such a substantial cornice and eaves returns, so we popped off the corner boards and cut another 4″ or so off the ends of the remaining clapboard with a circular saw. Inside the house, we added new nailers so the new ends of the clapboard would be affixed to something stable. The new corner boards are 7.5″ wide on this back kitchen addition, and 11.5″ on earlier parts of the structure. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference! And doesn’t really complicate anything if you’re doing all this work anyway.

Boom! Someday I’ll trim out the tops of the corner boards to really finish it off, but for now they look fine.

MOVING. RIGHT. ALONG! Next came the new exterior door location and the windows for the planned pantry space and the first floor powder room. Just rebuilding every goddamn wall. The new door is off-center to accommodate cabinetry in that room, and I think an exterior wall sconce to the right of the doorway will be a welcome addition and balance things out.

By the way, yeah—that new door is in what was my laundry room. Also gutted to make space for this big ambitious kitchen plan. In case you thought things couldn’t get worse! They got worse. They’re getting better again, though!

I swear all of this is in the service of someday being able to live a normal life in this house and NOT just destroying everything on a biannual basis.

That little crooked window on the left was the laundry room window. That little skinny window on the right was the first floor bathroom window. They were a funny weirdly proportioned pair, and now they are history. Down came the vinyl, down came the clapboard, out came the brick nogging and old windows, and in went some new framing and new insulation and sheathing and windows.

This is definitely the most awkward (and, thankfully, least visible!) elevation of the house, and I think it’s just always going to be something less than gorgeous. I hemmed and hawed a lot on how to make this window arrangement feel natural inside and outside the house, but ultimately the architecture is just weird—it’s always going to look like an addition, and that’s OK! I love to tear off additions, but sometimes you need them. Like, say, when they contain the only bathrooms!

So with these new windows, I aimed to make it look like a slightly more elegantly planned addition than before, like maybe a porch that was enclosed at some point. The windows themselves are the same proportion as most of the other windows on the house, but smaller (larger than what was there, though!), and the top of the windows align with the top of the newly installed adjacent back door. I also chose 2-over-2 windows, which I kinda pulled out of my ass because it just felt right and a 6-over-6 in that size is a bit much with all that lite division.

I can kinda dig hanging something between them and planting some fabulous climbing rose bush or something? That feels like a very distant goal so we have time to brainstorm.

Annnnnnnd, this is as far as I got out there! Clearly there are various things that still need doing, but all the big stuff is done. A little odd, but I’m pleased with it!

Do you like my little deck? It’s fancy. I built it in an afternoon out of scrap wood. The post rests on a piece of bluestone from the yard. Obviously I want to do something better but I had to get rid of that big drop ASAP and “something better” is not in the existing time or money budgets.

So to review, in the space of 4-ish years, we have now gone from this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

Clearly there is some finish work to return to in the spring (we don’t need to start listing it, do we?), but HEY! I know I seem crazy. My neighbors would probably concur on this. But NOW the kitchen/pantry/half-bath work can continue and—good lord willing and the creek don’t rise—I should never have to redo this again for as long as I am alive and kicking.

Let us pray.

The Bedroom has a Fourth Window!

bedroomwallbefore

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

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

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

house-thenbrwindowhighlight

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

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

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

ghostwindow

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

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

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

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

bedroomwindowframing

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

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

vinylremoved

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

sidingremoved

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

bedroominteriorno-sheathing

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

insulation

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

sheathing

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

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

sheathingwithhole

Boom! Look! A hole!

windowinstalled

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

before

Almost there, house. Almost there.

Spring Garden, 2016!

gardenwide

Now that it’s super nice outside, I’ve been trying to spend a little bit of time every week in the front yard, tending to the set-up I call a garden. Last summer was much more about trying to get the backyard in order, so not much happened out here aside from maintenance and a couple new plantings. That means that this is Year 3 for most of this stuff, and I feel like I’m finally getting a better sense of what I want with this space! Which, of course, isn’t really what I have. These things take a long time! Getting to know your plants, your soil, your light conditions, how different plants look together…it’s a long process. But it’s fun to see things grow bigger and bigger as the years go by, and I think most of it will tolerate being moved when the timing is right for both me and the plants.

Anyway! I’m not winning any landscape design awards (YET) but I’m still kind of like a proud little kid walking around the garden. I know what everything is, I remember planting it, I cared for it (slightly, let’s be honest)…I love that feeling in early spring when things start to pop up out of the ground and I really love when stuff flowers. It’s all very satisfying.

hostahedge

I had this idea last year (inspired by a nearby house I love) to change up this border between my sidewalk and my fence, which I think I still want to do. The hostas are perfect here because they die off in the winter (an evergreen would probably die from getting buried in shoveled snow) and are hearty enough to deal with the pedestrian foot traffic on my street and my lazy watering schedule, wherein I don’t water anything, basically ever. Anyway, the idea is to split these plants and add some more (probably the ones remaining inside the fence), so it reads as more of a single hedge of hosta instead of having big spaces between them like they are now. I aimed to tackle it last fall, which didn’t happen, so now I’m aiming for this fall! My experience with hostas is that you can kind of move and split them anytime and they’ll be fine, but they’d look sad and wilty all summer if I did it now.

hosta

The creeping jenny planted intermittently between the hostas does OK! I think it’s finally starting to creep? I got a lot of comments about planting creeping jenny that it would totally take over and destroy my gardening dreams, but that’s definitely not been the case with any of mine! Definitely bigger than when I planted it originally, but nothing crazy. I’ll probably transport a lot of it elsewhere in the front and into the back when I do the whole hosta hedge project.

bleedinghearts

The bleeding hearts have come and gone, but the foliage is still nice for now! I’ll have to cut it down in a few weeks…it’s really just an early spring plant here, but quickly withers and dies when it gets too hot.

oakleafhydrangea

I snagged a couple of oak leaf hydrangeas last year (reader recommendation!) that are in the process of reemerging! Not sure if I can expect them to flower this year or not, but I like the weird foliage.

falseindigo

Ahhhh, my false indigo! I looooove these. The foliage is such a nice color, the plant has an unusual shape, and the flowers are so sweet while they last. After the flowers are done, it’ll grow these bean pods that’ll stay on until the fall.

peonies

PEONIES! THEY WILL FLOWER! I don’t think these have ever bloomed before, so I’m pretty stoked. There are three peony plants in the yard, but the other two are teensy and will probably take a couple more years to catch up.

irises

My irises had their best blooms to date this spring! There are a lot of them so this was all very pretty for a few weeks. These irises were planted near the garage when I bought the house and I transplanted them up here, and they’ve really taken off. Good going, irises!

weigalia

I don’t think I ever really blogged about it (whoops!) and it doesn’t look very good in a wide angle, but I did finally plant out the other side of the front yard last summer! Now I want to move everything around there, too, but at least it’s nearly all living (I seem to have lost one small hydrangea and another small creeping juniper) and doing well. This is some type of weigela that I bought last year after it was done blooming, so I never saw the flowers! They’re so cute! And there are so many of them! I have a different type of weigela on the other side of the yard that has more purple-y leaves and more hot pink flowers, but I think that one is a little more of a ground cover and this one stands more upright. Cute!

juniper

Creeping juniper is unchanged since last year, but I think these are slow-growers and will take a while to lose that fresh-outta-the-pot shape. That’s ok, though—I got time!

sandcherry

I also planted a purple sandcherry up near the front corner of the yard, which is doing great! I actually didn’t realize they flowered in very early spring so that was a nice surprise. Now it’s just foliage from here on out. They’re super hearty plants and I like mixing in this color foliage among all the various shades of green.

smokebushleaves

That smoke bush is in its third summer and I LOVE it! Some of my favorite foliage.

peartrees

You can see the smoke bush on the far left in this photo, by the bay window. It hasn’t EXPLODED with growth but it does steadily get bigger every year. It’s not planted as close to the house as it appears in photos, so I think the location is fine. But the real focus of this photo is TREES! Last summer I dug all the sod out of this “hellstrip” on the side and planted 3 flowering cleveland pear trees (no fruit). This was based on the one old photo I have of my house, where there were three mature trees here that looked so nice. Pear trees are fast growers, so they’re already much taller and fuller than they were last year. They didn’t flower this spring and I don’t think they will, but maybe in the next year or two or three they’ll get there. Even at this size, they make this stretch of the street SO much nicer, and even make the side of my house more bearable. I’m hoping, PRAYING, PLANNING, SCHEMING to redo this side of the house this summer, which will be SO EXCITING if it happens! Right now it’s a vinyl-clad mess of architectural weirdness that has taken some serious hits over the years, and my goal is to bring it back to how I think it looked when it was built. I can’t wait! It’s not stuff that can be totally DIY’d so I have dibs on Edwin and Edgar for a month or so after Olivebridge wraps up.

(related: anyone want to sell me a bunch of scaffolding?)

peartree

Grow big and tall and strong, tree! Go go go!

rhododendrons

And back on the other side of the yard…the ancient rhododendrons that cause me too much emotional distress. These are planted right in front of my porch and I’m not a huge fan, mainly because they’re too tall for the space, and too leggy to be particularly attractive most of the time. Every year I debate removing them, and then every year they flower and I’m charmed by them. They seem to have just finished blooming, which I guess is the time to prune them, so I lopped off some of the really tall branches in an effort to get them to grow lower and fuller. I think I’ll see how this strategic pruning works out over the next couple of years and if I’m not happy with the results, I’ll replace them. They’re probably too established to be successfully transplanted, but I’m sure I’ll try anyway if it comes to that. Who can say! It’s all a process.

Does this get you in the gardening mood? I hope so, because next on the docket is my Lowe’s Spring Makeover which—spoiler!—I love! Tune in to see a postage-stamp yard of a D.C. rowhouse go from garbage dump to a chill garden-growing, hang-out having, barbecue-cooking party zone of a space! Yay!

Fixing the back of the House, Part 3! (it’s done!)

windowdetailshot

I did that!

If you’ve been following my blog for the past several of months, you’ve been pretty familiarized with the back of my house. I wrote a few pretty detailed posts about the process—which was somewhat grueling in the way that restoration work often is—so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. Suffice to say this was one of those projects that started as a fairly modest proposition and spiraled into a much bigger endeavor than I was prepared for.

Because this area of the house saw a lot of abuse over the years in the form of additions, non-original doors and windows, and the conversion of the house to a duplex with the legally-required fire escape, this is probably one of the more heavy-handed renovations this house is likely to see under my care. Most of the house is an extended exercise in restoring what’s already there, but this wall needed to be re-thought and re-imagined. Absent any evidence of how it looked back here originally, well, I kind of just had to let the house dictate what it seemed to want (with a little help from nearby examples). I know that sounds like voodoo, but that’s how I make probably the majority of my decisions about my house. We’re buds by now and she tells me what she needs.

SO! Additions were removed. Approximately 4 billion pounds of concrete got jackhammered and hauled away by the truck-fullVinyl siding was removed. All original clapboard was removed. All original brick and mortar insulation was removed. Then the walls were insulated. Original clapboard was planed down to remove all old paint and crap, then carefully put back up. New windows were framed, trimmed out, painted, and installed. Cornice details were restored. Siding was primed, caulked, and painted. Even the eavestrough on the laundry room roof was rebuilt. By me! I don’t know why I’m writing all of this in passive voice, because it sounds like it happened by magic.

It was not magic. It was a shit ton of work.

beforebefore

Take a gander at that! This is when I bought the house. I honestly don’t even remember thinking it was so bad but now I think it’s really pretty bad.

before

Fast-forward a year and the roof has been redone, with the overhang over the mudroom door and the fire escape removed in the process. Then that second floor door continued to hang out there, leading to nowhere, for roughly two years. It remained locked throughout the entire duration of that time, but it still looked a little…unique.

Angledviewafter1

BOOM.

I’m sorry I didn’t turn the kitchen light off when I took these pictures. I’m also sorry that the yard is such a total disaster. I couldn’t even move those black trashcans in the foreground because they’re full of bricks and currently frozen to the ground. I’m pretty fancy.

backofhouse1

In the past six months or so we went from this

newboard4

To this madness.

BackAfter1

And finally, to this! Long. Strange. Trip.

And yes, I know I’m crazy, but I still think of this as phase 1. Long-term, I can still see a nice covered porch out here, with that door switched to the other side and a nice 6-over-6 double-hung window where the door is, scaled more like the windows on the rest of the house. Theoretically the porch could have been done during this, but finances were running super dry and it’s not necessary right now. The current first floor window is just a cheap vinyl one that I spray-painted black so that I could use the sashes from the old kitchen window to make those two little windows upstairs. Changes to the door/window placement on the first floor might take place quite a while from now and would be part of a more extensive kitchen renovation than the slap-dash one I did when I moved in.

If I were to do it over again (and considering this is more or less the same process I plan to use on the rest of the house, I should have many opportunities), I’d do a few things differently.

  1. I would have probably sistered in new studs next to the originals to beef up the structure a bit. I’m not sure how much it’d actually accomplish, but it wouldn’t be a ton of money and it’d help support the old bones of this lady.
  2. I would have added blocking—or horizontal pieces of framing that span between vertical studs. This is common practice now, and required for spans of framing that are over 8 feet. It adds more structural stability and aids a little in fireproofing.
  3. I might have tried harder to add sheathing. This house is built with clapboard running right over the studs, and sheathing seems like it would add a little structural rigidity and create a more robust barrier between the inside of the house and the elements. Adding sheathing is complicated here because all of the trim work was installed with the thickness of this clapboard in mind, so I’m still not really sure how to accomplish this without throwing everything off.
  4. I might have experimented with using opaque stain (I like Cabot’s solid-color acrylic siding stain) rather than paint on the clapboard. I didn’t do this because the clapboard is still old with lots of knots, remnants of old finishes, and quite a bit of Bondo was employed to fill gaps and old nail holes and stuff, so I wasn’t sure how the stain would take given all of that. Instead I just went with what I knew, which was to use a good oil-based primer (I like Zinsser products) and two coats of flat exterior paint on top.
  5. I would have added flashing at the butt joints between boards. You wouldn’t see it, but it would be some added protection against water infiltration. I just didn’t know any better.
  6. I went back and forth and back and forth on beefing up the corner boards, and ultimately decided to leave them as-is. It wouldn’t be such a hard thing to change at some point, but I wasn’t ready to commit to it. I’m totally happy with the end result but I can see wider corner boards (maybe half the width of the frieze under the eaves returns) looking nice and kind of increasing the formality and stateliness of the architecture. I think that’s an OK thing to do, by the way—a person with more experience in restoration work than me once told me not to be afraid of getting too formal with old houses. As long as new details are added well and are in keeping with the house, it can be just fine to add stuff that wasn’t there originally. I try to keep that in mind when I get too hung up on just trying to stick with what’s original—those decisions made 150 years ago weren’t always the right ones, the best ones, or the most considered (unless they were, ha!), so who knows. I’ll keep thinking about it.

paintedclapboard

Look. At. That. Clapboard! It’s far from perfect, which is just fine. It makes me like it better. If I weren’t able to do so much of this work myself, it would probably have been totally impractical to try to reuse the original boards, given their prior condition. It might surprise some people to hear this, but my alternative would probably be to use JamesHardie lap siding with the same exposure as the original boards. Hardie (there are a few competitors, but that’s the big brand) is a cementitious wood composite product that does a nice job of mimicking the look of real clapboard, but requires less maintenance because it takes paint really well, is pest and rot resistance, and doesn’t expand and contract like wood does. It’s relatively inexpensive, too—so if you are thinking of re-siding but can’t reuse what’s already there and want to avoid real wood, CONSIDER IT, PLEASE. With all the products out there these days, I can’t fathom choosing vinyl or aluminum!

ANYWAY, I’m so happy (and proud!) that these are the original boards that were put on the house when it was built. I didn’t buy a single piece of lumber for this entire project, which feels both thrifty and environmentally responsible. And really, nothing would compare to these boards…the thickness, the character of the grain patterns, even the dents and divots and imperfections from so many years of use just enhance how right it looks on the house. New siding like Hardie (or even real wood) would have been fine and a huge improvement over the vinyl, but this is just…the best, I think.

backofhouse1

angledviewafter2

HAHAHAHA, OK, we don’t have to pretend like this “after” picture is the most satisfying thing in the world, but WHATEVER. Sometimes you just gotta make sure your clapboard is painted before winter hits and accept that you have garbage cans full of bricks and piles of bluestone and dirt for landscaping. Clearly I did not get as far into my backyard plans as I’d hoped, but progress is progress and I’ll take it!

littlewindowsafter

I don’t feel like it’s translating particularly well in photos, but the difference between the vinyl and the clapboard in real life is HUGE. And by huge, I mean subtly a million times better. The difference is really not that dramatic because the vinyl siding has the same exposure (the part of the board that shows) and is basically the same color, which makes it extra cool just how much better the real clapboard looks. The house looks so…SOLID now. Because vinyl is so hollow-looking I feel like it always makes houses look like they could just whither up and fall over, but the wood siding meeting up with trim pieces and stuff just looks super substantial and…right. Ahhhhh.

By the way, the clapboard was painted using Valspar Reserve exterior paint (flat) from Lowe’s, and the trim is Valspar Reserve exterior paint in semi-gloss. I had the siding paint color-matched to Benjamin Moore’s Simply White, which is a really nice off-white that’s bright but has definite yellow/greenish undertones that keep it from looking too stark. I considered going darker and more grey to create more contrast with the trim, but that kind of seemed like a decision that would serve before-and-after pictures better than it would really serve the house. The trim is off-the-shelf…I think it’s called Ultra White but naturally I can’t locate the can right now.

I love how those little windows turned out, seriously. They might look small but they’re really about as big as they could be without interrupting the rake frieze and still fitting in the room. They need more extensive restoration work (reglazing, a couple of panes replaced, some rotted areas epoxied) but in the meantime I just gave them both a liberal coating of Valspar’s Latex Enamel (semi-gloss) in off-the-shelf-black. I used the same paint on the door, too, and it’s awesome stuff! It’s VERY thick, dries quickly, and looks much like oil paint after it’s fully cured. I highly recommend it!

frontalafter1

The door threshold is the original one, which I LOVE and guarded with my life throughout this ordeal. It’s beautifully worn from foot traffic in the center, and is so beefy! It had some old paint on it that I didn’t want to totally annihilate with scraping and sanding, so I tried hitting it with some wood hardener to see what that would do. Unfortunately it’s turned this hazy white color so in the spring I’ll probably sand it down a little and do a proper polyurethane or waterlox or something to really protect it and bring out the natural tones of the wood. That wood hardener product seems pretty great but I’ve yet to find an application for it that hasn’t given me grief later on. Oh well.

I think that’s about it! I’m so happy with how this turned out. Now to just do THE ENTIRE REST OF THE HOUSE.

I’m going to be renovating this thing forever, right? OK, cool.

Fixing the Back of the House: Part 2!

WELL. It’s December 16th, which is just a little crazy. I feel like we haven’t talking in forever. Hi! How are you? You seem well. Did you get a haircut? You’re glowing.

I know pretending to be shocked about what month we’re in is hardly an original way to dive into a post, but mid-December (oh my god, “mid-December”) feels particularly remarkable right about now because—as of this writing—I still have not wrapped up work on the back of my house. Usually we’re buried in snow by now, but ye olde mercury has been hovering right around freezing at night and in the 40s and 50s during the days, so I’ve been able to continue working on this project (and so many others, good lord) despite what the calendar is saying. This kind of weather is supposed to hold for another few days at least, so if I can keep squeezing some work into those precious few off-hours (when it’s actually light out! it gets dark around 4:30 nowadays), I should be able to get it all finished before winter really hits.

I’m so grateful for the weather on one hand, but to be honest this whole rush-before-winter-thing is getting wearing. I’ve been in that brand of crazy-mode since early September, and all I really want right about now is an excuse to curl up on the couch and write some blog posts and…I don’t know, do winter stuff. Basically, I’m losing my mind. It’s all good.

So anyway, exterior painting in December in upstate New York. That’s happening.

newboard4

It’s been a while, so here’s where we left off with this whole endeavor. I ripped off all the clapboard on the back of the house, poached the old kitchen window sashes for reuse, replaced the kitchen window (yes, in fact that ladder is leaning right on the new one’s glass…whatever, everyone survived including the window), tore off all the original clapboard, removed all the brick nogging between the studs, replaced that with new rigid foam insulation and spray foam, ran the original clapboards through a planer, and then began the fun and exciting process of re-siding with the original boards. That all sounds like a lot of work, right? Yeah, well, it was.

scaffoldpart1

Guess what’s difficult? Standing on a ladder, 12 feet or so in the air, holding a 10 foot long piece of clapboard in one hand and trying to position and nail it correctly by yourself with the other. So until one of you people finds me a husband*, I’ll be forced to improvise…and on this day, that took the form of erecting my own scaffolding. Scraps and leftovers! It looks like garbage but I swear it was shockingly solid and stable. This made things slightly easier…at least easy enough that I was able to do the entire first level solo! Boom!

*preferably super handsome, rockin’ bod, my mother would prefer Jewish and a doctor/lawyer/both, around my age, likes to be bossed around.

edwin1

A few days later, I got Edwin and Edgar to come by and help me out with the top half of the wall. I’d already gutted this wall from the inside upstairs, so this top half had to happen relatively quickly since the house was literally wide open to the elements/animals/bugs/zombies. This part of the job was also a little more complex than the lower half since we also had to remove that door, frame in two windows, install the windows, patch the rake frieze, insulate, and install all the trim and siding. Obviously this was also happening high above the ground and all of those boards from the eaves returns upwards have to be cut at angles at the ends…this would have taken me FOREVER by myself and I probably would have died.

windowframing

While Edwin and Edgar worked on pulling off the old clapboard and removing the old door and window, I built window jambs! I wish I had more and better pictures of this, but I can’t seem to find any. The original frame for the old kitchen casement window was still intact, so I took the whole thing apart and used pieces of it to create the jambs for the two individual casement windows. There was some trial and error but I figured it out and I think they ended up looking pretty good!

dripcap

I also had to make the casings to trim out the windows after installation, but before the clapboard went back up. The casings are 5/4″ thick (1″ in actual dimensions) x 4″ pieces of wood that were easy to just rip down to size on the table saw, but that little drip cap on top of the casing took a little more effort. This is the kind of thing that tends to get hacked off when vinyl siding is installed, and my house is no exception. Argh! I was able to replicate them pretty easily with my table saw, though—first by ripping the board to the right width (I think it ended up being 2 inches?), and then by adjusting the angle of the blade and running the board through again.

rakepatching

Meanwhile, Edgar and Edwin put their brains together and figured out how to patch in the missing parts of the rake frieze—the restoration of which was a big part of why this project happened in the first place. They used scrap 5/4″ lumber (which was slightly thinner than the original board, so they had to be shimmed out a little bit) and somehow got the angles just right and fit the pieces into place. Those guys…they make me so happy.

upstairsgutted

How ya like them apples? Things were looking pretty nuts at this point, but look at how good that patch job is up on the rake frieze! The patches are nailed to the studs and screwed into the original boards—the whole installation seems very secure. After patching and paint…well, just wait!

sidingbeforeandafter

While Edwin and Edgar worked on framing out the rough openings for the window jambs I’d just made, I planed more clapboard! I know we’ve been through this, but man…pre-planed board above, planed board below. SO. SATISFYING.

In case you’re wondering why I didn’t just flip the boards around and reinstall them with the painted side facing in, the backs of these boards are finished totally differently than the fronts—all rough and splintery and not made to be reversible.  Many of the boards that came off the mudroom appear to come from the 1930s or so and those are finished on both sides and could have been flipped, but not the originals. I just went ahead and planed all of them, because whatever.

windowsinplace2

YAY! Placing the windows wasn’t too difficult—it was just a matter of figuring out how large they’d be—including the exterior casings—and leaving enough room in the top corners that everything would fit nicely under frieze we’d just patched in. These windows need some restoration work, but they’re easy to remove (hinges just unscrew) when I have a second to do that later on.

By the way, I decided to use these sashes instead of the ones from the window that was already up there because these were a little bigger—a few inches longer and about an inch wider—and I thought that scale seemed better. These windows had to be relatively small but I didn’t want them to be too dinky. I still want that room to feel really great when it’s done. I’ll do another post on how that room is looking from the inside now, but I really like it! The little windows really change things but it feels very cozy and authentic to this whacky old house. There’s a big dormer on the other side of the room, too, so it still gets plenty of natural light.

windowsinplace

Moving right along! Edwin and Edgar installed the casings that I prepared and everything fit so nicely. Then they went about insulating the wall using the same method I’d used downstairs—2″ rigid foam insulation with spray foam around the edges.

e2siding

And then, clapboard!! This went pretty quickly between the two of them up there and me on clapboard cutting duty down below.

edgarsiding

This kind of goes without saying, but I’m so lucky to have these dudes in my life. I love that I can ask them to re-side my house with 150 year old splinters and they don’t even try to talk me out of it. That they also do nice work is a bonus! Cutting those angles at the top and getting the boards to fall with the right exposure (5.25″, if you’re curious) was sort of math-y so I’m glad Edgar was on deck for this part.

patchingcornice

Look at all that glorious siding! Next, the guys worked on patching the rake frieze and the notched out components of the soffit. They nailed smaller pieces of wood into the notched areas and then approximated the curves of the molding with patching compound, which was contoured further with some artsy sanding work. The patches aren’t perfect up close but you can’t tell that from standing on the ground, so it’s all good! Short of prying the moldings off and getting them replicated, it’s about as good as it gets. edwinandedgar

We used Bondo for all the patching, by the way. There are better products out there for wood patching (Abatron’s line of products is kind of the gold standard now, as far as I know), but Bondo is cheap, easy to work with, and I had it on hand. I’m curious to see how it does—I’ve never had a problem with Bondo repairs and any old-school contractor/carpenter I’ve talked to about it (yes, I’m that guy that strikes up that conversation) hasn’t either, so I hope it all holds up. Worst case, I’ll spend a few days scraping it out and cursing my life and using the fancy shit in its place. Best case, I spent about $12 on Bondo instead of $150 on Abatron.

edwin

So we were all rocking and rolling as your dad would say, and feeling overly confident about our progress. Edwin asked me why we weren’t just doing more walls like this, and started picking at the vinyl siding on the adjacent laundry room wall. I reminded him that this was November in upstate New York and the weather could change and I did NOT need to make this job bigger, and he countered with pointing out how fast things were going with he and Edgar there, and that we were all wearing t-shirts. I reminded him that he was only planning to be there through the end of the day and then I’d be on my own with another mess on my hands, and he told me he could let me pay him for another day or two of help.

Then he batted those beautiful brown eyes and we decided to rip the vinyl off another wall. I mean, just look at that gorgeous man. He just does something to me.

laundrywall2

Damnit. What’s wrong with me? Good news was that this wall was neither much better or worse than the other wall—no super nasty surprises. Ya never know what you’re gonna get!

laundrywall1

I went about removing the clapboard, tearing out the brick nogging, and cutting my insulation to size for the laundry room wall. I was already kind of regretting this move but the damage was done and Edwin had promised me another day or two so I tried to calm down. It’s not that fixing this wall was particularly hard—it’s all basically straight cuts and the whole thing is less than 7 feet wide—but it’s just more work. I still have to patch and caulk and prime and paint this thing!

Edwin and Edgar did not return, by the way. I can’t fault them because they were off doing another job for me elsewhere (different day, different post) but I still like to pretend like this was their fault. Jerks.

primer2

Check it out! Primer! Much to the chagrin of Edwin, I wanted to use oil-based primer on the clapboard. Pro painters seem to agree that it performs better than latex in terms of adhesion, durability, and stain-blocking, but it’s a little harder to work with and clean-up sucks. I like to skirt this issue by wearing latex gloves and using cheap brushes that I can throw away at the end, but it still takes longer to apply than latex.

ANYWAY. It was really, really exciting to see this finally coming together. I tore off the mudroom back in June (!) and hemmed and hawed over this wall before deciding on a plan around early October, so seeing those windows in place with the clapboard restored and the rake frieze patched in…well, that was some gratifying shit right there.

primer1

And this is where they left me! I’m guessing some people will think this looks like a horrific mess and some people will think it looks like it’s almost done, and you’re both right! It’s amazing how long the additional patching, sanding, scraping, priming, caulking, more patching, more caulking, finally painting, then painting the trim, then final touch-ups really takes, but I’m finally ALMOST THERE. Give me good weather tomorrow and I think I can wrap this sucker up!

backofmyhouse

I’m having trouble figuring out how to end this post, so why not—it’s not a full before and after (yet) but it’s still fun to see the change! Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.

Back to Top