All posts tagged: Exterior

Finishing the Side of the House: THE BIG REVEAL!

WELL. This has been a long time coming. About two and half years ago, I embarked on what’s likely the biggest renovation that my house will see under my care, and it was a DOOZY. The goal was to bring the south-facing side of the house back to some semblance of how it was built, which meant demolishing two additions, adding windows (prompting a complete demo of my kitchen, and partial demos of my bedroom and den), insulating, restoring the original clapboard siding and various trim details, re-roofing a bay window (twice!), a ton of prep and paint, adding downspouts…it was a lot of work. Most of it was completed during that first summer, but then the remaining to-do list sort of languished as I attended to more pressing matters. At the end of this past August I was able to dive back in, and over the course of about 2 months I got most of those remaining items completed! There’s still work to be done, but those things could take years and I want to show you what I did NOW!

Did you know that there’s an archive function on Google street view? I did not know! So this is what the Googlemobile captured on its way through Kingston after my house had been put on the market but before I ever saw it! Check out that crazy antenna toward the back of the roof! This was also before the listing agent had a crew of painters quite literally slap a fresh coat of paint over everything (you can imagine how well that’s holding up), which to their credit did fool me into thinking the exterior was in better shape than it actually was. Lol whoops.

Then I moved in, and a few months later had the roof replaced and the fire escape demolished.

Later on I replaced the chainlink fence, demolished that boxy addition off the back, and added a little bit of landscaping. Which left us here! THEN THINGS GOT CRAZY.

More than one person walking by literally asked if we were tearing the house down—that’s how dramatic it looked at times!

I sort of love this photo. That bay window looks so BLEAK. The clapboard is about half new and half old. As in the past, all of the siding was removed, planed, primed, and usable pieces were put back up. I’m not sure why I’m using the passive voice because THAT WAS ME. I DID THAT. It’s a little cuckoo crazy but it feels like the right thing to do, and the old siding boards maintain more character than the new ones do. It would have been nice to have enough stock of old siding to use it exclusively, but I didn’t.

I did take some creative liberties, either where I just had no clue what was here historically or thought I had a better idea. The two new kitchen windows (bottom right) are an example of the former. I don’t feel like they’re especially right, but I was trying to take into consideration the second floor dormer window, which was likely added in the 1930s and isn’t the most elegant thing in the world.

Another departure from history was increasing the size of the cornerboards, which are originally 4″ on this house. What can I say! I like a wide cornerboard on a Greek Revival house! The front/main section of the house now has 12″ wide cornerboards, while the back kitchen addition has 8″ cornerboards. Once the other sides of the house are done, I’ll add some trim to the tops where the cornerboards meet the fascia, which is how they’re typically done to give the appearance of a pilaster.

Speaking of cornerboards, one decision I’m very happy about was to drop a wide “cornerboard” between the main house and the kitchen addition to kind of subtly delineate the two structures. The siding actually was continuous between the kitchen and the rest of the house underneath the vinyl, so it was tempting to stick with that…but I had this eleventh hour idea that I really thought would work, or look completely dumb, so I went for it and I’m glad I did. To me it’s just enough to restore the proportions of the original house without getting too crazy, you know?

Lastly, the windows! Originally, the “window” to the left of the bay and the one directly above it were both faux windows—trimmed with a casing and sill but with a set of closed shutters rather than a window. Purely decorative! People think this is nuts but I SWEAR a) it’s how the house was built and b) it’s actually how a lot of houses were built—you might see it more often than you think! Next time you see an old building with one or two shuttered windows, it might be because there’s nothing behind those shutters!

So anyway, I made the upstairs faux window into a real window, and moved both of them a smidge to the right of where they were originally so that the spacing between all the windows would be more even.

Then I proceeded to take two years to get around to actually modifying the shutters and installing them, so it feels like the whole town knows there’s just housewrap behind them. That being said, literally as I was screwing in the last screw on the shutter hinge, someone walked by and asked why I was shuttering just that one window…so. JUST MAYBE nobody is paying as much attention to me and my house as I am paying to me and my house.

SO ANYWAY.

It was all really intense, you guys. I really didn’t want this to look like the product of recent work (especially major work), so getting those details right was extremely important to me. Moldings had to be recreated, the new windows had to blend with the old, and preserving as much remaining original detail as possible was the name of the game. The whole time I tried to think about how I might react to seeing this house if I didn’t own it…would it look like a new (tasteful, hopefully, at least) renovation, or just a nicely preserved 19th century building? The goal was definitely the latter and…I think I did it?

My, how those little pear trees have grown! Let’s run that back one more time.

Before.

And after!

Before…

During…

After! I don’t miss that skinny enclosed space one bit. The dining room used to be kind of dark and dreary, and now it’s all bright and cheerful! This house already had good natural light, but these changes allowed that to be true in every room and that makes it SO worth it to me. I very rarely turn any lights on inside until the sun goes down—they just aren’t needed.

Recreating the third side of the bay window took some serious patience and even more serious head-scratching, but I’m REALLY happy with how it came out. There are some imperfections if you’re really inspecting it, but I’m considering them part of the history. A professional carpenter might have done a better job, but hiring one would have been too costly and…well, it’s just not the story of this house. It’s not a museum piece. It’s my home. And I do my best with what I’ve got.

In the past when I’ve painted the house I’ve tried to do two colors (bright white trim and less bright white clapboard) in two finishes (flat for clapboard, semi-gloss for trim), and I was never especially happy with it. More and more I noticed that my favorite white houses seemed to be using just one paint for everything, so that’s what I did and I’m so happy about it. It would have been more period appropriate to use a less bright shade of white (evidently they couldn’t make paint THIS white back in the day), but the aforementioned slapped-on paint on the cornices is very white and repairing/repainting those completely is a project for another time, and I wanted it all to blend. Also bear in mind that the front of the house is still covered in vinyl and pretty much untouched, so this keeps everything looking relatively uniform in the meantime. So, white it is!

I can’t give you a color because I got a little frustrated with the color and finish, and ended up combining a few different paints which resulted in a mix with a really nice satin sheen. I wrote down the “formula” so I can recreate it for future painting, but this is what happens when you have a billion half-used cans of paint leftover from lots of projects. I think the color would be similar to Ben Moore’s Simply White mixed at half-strength.

The painting alone felt…ENDLESS. My neighbors started making fun of me after a few weeks because HOW ARE YOU STILL PAINTING THAT HOUSE?! WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH IT?!

Well…enough that it took a very long time, that much I know! I tried to do a REALLY GOOD JOB so I really hope it lasts a long time. Like long enough that I can afford to hire a good painter next time and sit on my ass instead.

I’ve found a couple of shutter hinges in the yard, and you can see where they were mounted on the original window casings. House of Antique Hardware sells very similar reproductions, and I’m really happy with how nicely they match what was here! Someday I’d love for all the windows to have shutters, but for now that’s kind of a pipe dream.

My smoke bush was so tinyyyyyyy.

The shutters themselves I bought new (ordered through The Door Jamb locally), but I had to cut down the length and increase the width. I also added a bead detail to the center, which most old shutters have on the rabbet.

Originally each shutter had two hinges, but they just looked kind of naked so I added a third to the middle. Look at me being so naughty! Original shutters would have probably been black or dark green, but I thought that would look too jarring while the rest of the windows are shutter-less.

The next phase of exterior work will be dedicated to restoring the windows! Four of the original windows still have the aluminum triple-track storm windows, which I’ll remove one by one as I restore the windows behind them. That window on the right was under the cover of that solarium addition for the last century+, so it’s actually in good shape but desperately needs new glazing and paint—it kinda kills me I couldn’t get that one done this fall, but it’ll still be there in the spring. At some point I’ll get around to the little basement windows, too—I think they’ll look much better in black! I’ll also have to repoint the stone foundation down the line, but let’s just pretend I won’t. There’s always something to do.

1950.

2014.

2018.

Thank you for your patience with me, house. I hope you like your fresh new look.

You can read all about this project from start to finish by clicking the links below! I put them in chronological order and everything.

  1. Restoring the Side of My House
  2. Matching My Historic Windows
  3. The Wreckage: Part 1
  4. See Ya, Second Floor Bay Window Thing!
  5. Found in the Wall!
  6. The Solarium is Gone!
  7. The Bedroom Has a Fourth Window!
  8. Finishing the Side of the House: Part 1

Fall Checklist: Pressure Washing Away The Grime!

This blog mini-series is in partnership with Lowe’s! Thank you for supporting my sponsors!

Friends: I have picked up a new hobby. A passion project, if you will. The hobby is obliterating dirt and grime from various surfaces with water from a magic wand. Literally, it’s called a wand and it’s part of my new pressure washer!

Carrying on with the theme of trying to make the front of my house look presentable while it awaits restoration and I wrap up the huge restoration of the side of the house, I focused a little attention on the front porch!

From a distance, the porch looks…pretty OK? It appears to be mostly original, and the fact that it’s still there at all is the main bright spot. It’s going to need a ton of work eventually—everything from the cornice (which may or may not need to be at least partially rebuilt—the rot is bad), to the siding, to those gloriously large 6-over-9 windows, to the door, to the transom, to the floor, to the columns. Literally all of it! I used to think I’d tackle the whole front elevation of the house at once, but now I’m thinking restoring the porch may well take an entire summer to get right. Isn’t that center column crazy looking?

I think that’s what happens when a contractor temporarily supports the roof and removes the original columns to install a new floor (the original floor was almost definitely tongue-and-groove fir, not 5/4″x6″ pressure-treated pine decking!), and then doesn’t understand that the columns are tapered when he throws a level on the side of the original column to put it back. I’m presuming this contractor was male, because only a guy would be this dense. The column is tapered, genius! You’re doing it all wrong! It’s only super noticeable when you look at the porch head-on, but of course it makes me mad whenever I think about it. Poor beautiful house. Who hurt you like this?

IN ANY EVENT. I sweep the porch sometimes. That’s about it. To be honest it’s not like the porch is in constant use—looking out onto the street isn’t the most bucolic view in the world, but I do like to sit out there on warm days with a cup of coffee or a cocktail and my laptop, getting some work done and watching the world go by until I get bored of the world and want to go inside. Sadly over time I’ve definitely used the porch less, not more, which I didn’t think about much until I realized the reason for that is pretty simple.

OK fine I’ll show you.

Please be kind.

I’m sorry in advance.

GASP! I FEEL LIKE A MONSTER! Yes, for real: that’s how the vinyl siding under the porch looked until a few days ago. No, it hasn’t always been that bad. No, I have not doctored this photo for dramatic effect. Yes, I have completely neglected to touch it in five years because if I’m not actively renovating it, what is the point of doing even some light maintenance?

The point is this: restoring a house takes a long time, and in that time you constantly have to negotiate between quick and achievable solutions and long-term, more comprehensive work. Focusing only on the latter means that you’re ignoring the former (guilty!), and so everything starts to actually look way worse than it really is. When I look at things like this, my instinct is to just rip all the vinyl off the wall—can of worms be damned! But then I have to reign it in and remember that I will tackle that project someday, but not today. Today, I just need it to…not be disgusting. And if I’ve learned anything through working on the inside of houses, it’s that a good cleaning is the cheapest and fastest kind of makeover.

Just to cut myself a little slack, the whole house doesn’t look like this, I swear!!! The rest of the vinyl siding at least gets washed down a little when it rains, but these walls under the porch never get rained on, so all that road dirt and pollen and other dirt just kind of accumulates. Let’s try not to think too hard about what this may or may not suggest about my local air quality, seeing as I’d rather just keep living my life than figure out how to insert myself into a plastic bubble.

So. I described my gross situation to my fairy godparents at Lowe’s and asked if I could pretty-please have my very own pressure washer, and they obliged! #2blessed

As I have recently discussed, I have a deep and abiding aversion to equipment that needs gas or oil to work. Whether it’s a lawnmower or a weed whacker or a snow blower, in my mind they are all equally as complicated as an automobile or a fighter jet and I wouldn’t mess around with the innards of those either. I’ve had my car for like 4 years and only recently learned how to pop the hood…while I let the AAA guy replace my battery, which I’d sooner throw into the Hudson River than attempt to jump by myself. Way too risky. Are you nuts? I’ll stick to house stuff PLEASE AND THANK YOU and I just want my tools to work immediately and without hassle and this doesn’t seem like too much to ask out of life.

So anyway! My pressure washer is by Stanley, and it’s a plug-in model! And when you go to turn it on, it does so immediately and without hassle! It’s everything I ever wanted! Unfortunately it’s currently out of stock, but I got the inside scoop and they’re working on restocking them AS I TYPE THIS VERY SENTENCE so all is not lost. There are a bunch of electric pressure washers available, though, including this Greenworks one that’s evidently equally powerful, a little cheaper, and looks much more compact! Why didn’t I just get that one? NOT SURE. I felt like branching out into yellow machines. Like most new tools I buy, I generally don’t need the biggest, baddest, most powerful one out there, but I also don’t want the cheapest one because that often results in disappointment (and needing to replace it sooner). My Stanley machine lands in the middle/upper-end of available options, and seems more than sufficient to do the things I want it to do!

ANYWAY, back to my very disgusting siding. My basic strategy was to start up at the top of the wall and work my way down, concentrating on each horizontal run of siding on my way down. It took a few minutes to kind of get comfortable with it, and then it was ALL I WANTED TO DO for the rest of the day. I mean how satisfying, right? Included with the machine were a few different interchangeable nozzles for the end of the wand, which are helpful for different kinds of cleaning projects.

After giving everything a first pass, which maybe took about 20 minutes, things were looking about a thousand times better! DEFINITELY way more than a hose alone could have done, and way faster and less hassle than trying to do this by hand with a sponge and some rags which was my previous plan I’d been putting off forever.

Not all pressure washers have them, but one of the things I like about mine is that it has a separate chamber for detergent if you need something with more cleaning power than just pressurized water. It uses about 1 part of cleaner for every 10 parts of water, so concentrated cleaners that aren’t too gel-like work well. After I got most of the grime off, I filled the detergent compartment with regular white vinegar and went back for a second pass, figuring it couldn’t hurt and might help lighten some of the deeper staining. Lowe’s also sells a full line of cleaners for different applications—next time I want to add the Krud Kutter House and Siding Cleaner and see how that does! The regular Krud Kutter has become one of my indispensable cleaning products around the house, so I’m optimistic.

SO. TO REVIEW. BEFORE:

LIKE LITERALLY AN HOUR LATER:

I thought it would be cute to switch the coffee out for a cocktail and add a festive little lantern. This backfired because a) you can’t tell that the stupid candle is lit and b) my friend dropped by while this very profesh photoshoot was going on and I had to explain that I was not, in fact, fixing a cocktail to drink at 1 in the afternoon but rather to just take pictures of for the Internet, which I realized as it came out of my mouth just might actually be more embarrassing.

I TRY. But the point here is not my lackluster prop styling. The point here is my now positively LUMINOUS walls of vinyl siding that no longer look like they’ve been left to steep in a swamp for years on end.

It looks SO much better. One thing I didn’t totally know about vinyl siding is the extent to which it really does stain—you’d think plastic wouldn’t but it totally does. Most of the nastiness was surface dirt and staining, but even blasting at the highest pressure couldn’t get the deeper staining out. So it didn’t exactly achieve “it looks brand new!” kinds of results, but I blame the old vinyl (and MAYBE a certain someone’s years of deferred maintenance), not the washer. But this kind of improvement for a very little amount of work? I’LL TAKE IT! In fact, I really think this is a chore I can add to my seasonal to-do lists and do again a couple times a year to maintain it, and I know having my very own pressure washer will come in handy for ALL SORTS of things. I’m already giving my fence, garage and sidewalks side-eye. Also the street. Also my neighbors houses. What if I just start rogue pressure-washing things in the dead of night? Like I know I probably shouldn’t but just…WHAT IF? Watch out, world.

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!

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