All posts tagged: Opium Den

Introducing: The Den!

I’ve been working on another room! In my house! Capturing some of the momentum from finishing the renovation work on my bedroom (well, mostly), I started working on one of the other most torn-apart rooms in the house a couple months ago, and have just been chipping away at it when I have time.

(No, I haven’t really started the kitchen renovation. No, I haven’t finished Bluestone Cottage. It’s a long story. We’ll get to it. But I can only do so many things at once, and after a long time of barely doing anything to the interior of my house except further destroy it while I was just a tad busy with some other projects like building an entire house in under a year, I needed to get a few things back in order with my own space to maintain a semblance of sanity. These things happen.)

This is the room, which we’ve rarely discussed here because it’s never really been a space I used! I think maybe the last time we talked about it was when I bought the house? At the time I called it the “middle bedroom” which is how I’ve continued to refer to it until now.

One sort of funny thing (maybe that’s not quite the right word) about renovating this house has been that even though it’s a pretty big house, it’s never felt all that much bigger than, say, my Brooklyn apartment. Much of the house is still unrenovated and not in use at all, aside from maybe storing stuff: the big living room, the downstairs bathroom, now the kitchen, the room above the kitchen, and this space. Some spaces haven’t been renovated but are chugging along in spite of that, performing their very basic and necessary functions. Until very recently that included the bedroom but also the only bathroom (it’s so bad, omg), the nursery, all closets, the hallways and stairs. And then there are the spaces that I have renovated, which can be difficult to maintain while other areas get renovated, such as the smaller living room, the dining room (which also currently houses the kitchen, haha), the laundry room, the little upstairs office, and now (thank goodness!) my bedroom!

A lot of the more recent and money-draining work on the house has been dedicated to exterior projects, which makes a huge difference in the appearance of the house from the outside and affects the interior—especially when we’re talking about adding windows or demolishing additions—but doesn’t tend to immediately improve the inside of the house. In fact, in the case of this room, it turned it from unrenovated-but-serviceable to…ruins.

So anyway. I guess what I’m really saying is three things.

The first is that my life is a mess.

The second is that while recovering from the fun and exciting financial strain of big exterior projects (and trying to save for upcoming things like the kitchen!), getting some simple rooms completed that can be finished on a “paint and joint compound” budget has been a good strategy for me. Even if that means renovating out of order in terms of need—in case you were wondering why this is coming before the kitchen. Kitchens cost a lot of money but rooms like this don’t.

And the third thing is that I’m almost at the four year mark of owning this house, and just starting to feel like I can…spread out a bit. Treating the house more or less like a much smaller apartment has led to things feeling kind of compacted and condensed—like using the bedroom as a place to sleep but also often as a place to watch TV, work, and eat. Increasingly there are separate spaces for doing different stuff, which just feels CRAZY. I used to have this recurring dream when I lived in New York, where I’d open a previously-unnoticed door in my apartment and find a whole other space behind it that I had no idea existed. It’s kind of like that, but in reality!

To orient ourselves a bit, the room we’re discussing is #4 on the floor plan above, highlighted in pink. It’s a decently sized room (about 10’x14′), but it’s kind of tricky—you have to walk through it to get to both the little office (#3) and the room above the kitchen (#5). I thought for a long time that I’d make this room into a guest bedroom, but that’s also the plan for the room above the kitchen, and it’s pretty awkward to have to walk through a bedroom to get to another bedroom. A bed does fit in this room, but doesn’t leave much space to maneuver around it (which you have to do to get to the other two rooms off of it, of course), so I realized that a guest bedroom in here might be a poor use of space.

Then it occurred to me: cozy den, please. One of my friends and fellow old-house-dwellers has a room on the second floor of his house that I like to refer to as the opium den. While the living room on the first floor is well-used but more formal, this secondary den space is where the TV lives, a big comfy sofa, a big upholstered ottoman, walls painted almost-black and covered in art and curiosities…it’s inevitably where the party ends up at the end of the night (not coincidentally, it’s also the room in the house where you’re allowed to smoke pot), and just a super cozy space to curl up, watch a movie, and eat chinese food.

Gimme dat.

SO. Like every other space, this one has marched through some changes as the rest of the house has gotten some updating around it. The room-by-room strategy to renovating is a myth because of this kind of thing. First off was addressing this radiator, which had this situation going on when I bought the house. That vertical pipe was a remnant of an older heating system and could be removed, and the radiator supply and return pipes that once ran up the corner of the dining room were removed and buried in the wall. I like to re-route radiator lines through walls and ceilings where possible—this house was built before radiator heating (or indoor plumbing, for that matter), so even though the radiators themselves aren’t going anywhere, it’s nice not to not see the pipes all over the place.

While the plumbers worked on re-running the lines, I patched in the floor! This is the only radiator in the house installed this way—over a painted panel instead of the flooring running below it, and I kind of wanted to center it on the wall (now I kind of wish I hadn’t), so anyway. The plumbers were sort of amazed to find that the whole subfloor had been cut out, too! And that the whole thing hadn’t ever come crashing through the dining room ceiling, since—newsflash—radiators are reallllllly heavy.

Anyway—I installed ledger boards on the joists below, patched in a new piece of subfloor, and then feathered in floorboards over that. I used boards from the downstairs bathroom, which look totally different but are the same size and species of wood (douglas fir), and should look the same once the floors are eventually refinished. Someday. I didn’t worry about the two boards closest to the wall being feathered because the radiator sits completely over the seam, and I was rushing to get done before the plumbers had to put the radiator back!

The room also got some electrical upgrades as parts of other projects, and then it sat for a couple of years. More or less untouched. Sad times.

Then toward the end of last summer, some big things happened. Like this bay window going away.

I know. I know. At first glance, you’re like—holy smokes, that’s awesome! What a fun feature of this room!

I also had that thought. Slowly, over time, that thought was replaced by other thoughts—not the least of which being that the whole thing was constructed on top of the collapsing solarium, and that was probably bad should the solarium ever decide to give way. Also it wasn’t original to the house. Also it was in very poor condition—missing the windows on each side, a terrible drywall job to cover up water damage from the leaking roof above it, some creative use of 1x lumber, noticeable settling…this was all done before I bought the house, and none of it was good. It also just felt…strange. I think because it wasn’t original to the house, this room isn’t really big enough to handle it. It felt proportionally totally off. And looked like a tumor on the exterior.

BYE.

So we cut it off. Kind of. It was slightly more complex than that. You can read about it here.

Then we framed in the new window. I tried to do as much of the exterior work from inside the house as possible so that I could minimize the amount of time that anything would be exposed to the elements or looking a damn mess for the neighborhood.

But look! I like this view because—really—it’s how the house is supposed to be. The way this new window lines up perfectly with the adjacent one in the little office feels emblematic of the organized way that a neoclassical house is designed and constructed. It looks right from the outside and feels right on the inside.

Once that wall was taken care of (structurally at least—clearly there is still work to be done!), we got a little demo-happy and ripped down the ceiling. I hate demo’ing plaster because it’s a horrendous mess but also because plaster and lath walls are better than new material options in a number of ways, and once it’s gone it’s gone. Unfortunately this ceiling had furring strips nailed into it and acoustic tiles installed onto those (likely installed in the 60s, when the original ceiling was probably showing signs of failure), and pulling down the furring strips tends to take a ton of plaster with them, at least in my experience. Of course, there’s blown-in cellulose insulation between the second floor ceilings and the attic floors, which is only really a bad thing when you have to rip out a ceiling and you don’t want all of it to come down with the ceiling. So the solution Edwin and I came up with was to take up the attic floorboards over this room, shovel out as much of the cellulose as we could into big contractor bags (BOY WAS THAT FUN), spray it all down with a garden sprayer to contain some of the dust, and then demo the ceiling as normal from below.

The worst.

Also, it was kind of nuts to be able to see the underside of my roof at this phase.

After some major clean-up, we put down new 3/4″ plywood subfloor in this section of the attic. The original boards are all varying widths and some cracked or splintered during removal, so re-laying the original floor is a project for another time. Also because I’m crazy I can’t guarantee this will be the last time I have to remove sections of the attic floor, and I’d rather be messing up new plywood than precious 150 year old pine planks.

This was all happening during the side-of-house restoration project, so the name of the game was doing just enough in here to make things OK, but all real energy and funds went toward getting the exterior buttoned up before winter hit. And that left…

This! Which I know looks like a sad, sad state of affairs but really represents a huge amount of progress! Framing is done, new attic subfloor is in, new electrical is run, and the reconstructed exterior wall is insulated (ceiling insulation comes next!)—so now the fun work begins! This room has a little bit of everything: carpentry around the new window and patching in the baseboard, new drywall work, plaster repair and skim-coating on the remaining three walls, and of course painting and furnishing and all that child’s play.

So here’s an idea of what I’m thinking! That’s the wall color in the upper left hand corner, followed by the trim and door color. I think I’m even going to try to paint the ceiling the wall color too and see how that goes! I’ve tried a couple times in the past—unsuccessfully—to paint a ceiling super dark and it’s never looked good, but I think this room will turn that streak around. Then we have another new medallion and another black radiator. The light is just something I dragged off the internet and then turned pink in Photoshop, but I do have a vintage light fixture with pink glass shades that I’m so excited to use! The sofa is also a Photoshopped version of this sofa from Roger and Chris, which is just sort of similar to the sofa I’m getting from…the Brinson’s! I’ve recently become friends with fellow bloggers and upstate NY dwellers Susan and Will, and they’re getting rid of their big boxy super-stuffed leather gigantic mass of a sofa, and something tells me that Mekko is never going to leave it. Then my little bright blue Eames rocker (which hasn’t been used since I moved from Brooklyn! I missed it!) and a side table I’ve hoarded for a few years from JC Penney, which was part of the Terence Conran collection and I bought when it went on sale, even though I didn’t know what I’d do with it! Sometimes you just gotta! Then there’s the Rise Floor Lamp and Balla Sheepskin from Article (this post isn’t sponsored, but they did provide those two products for an upcoming post that will be), and another old oriental rug because that’s how I do.

Yay, opium den! Let’s do it!

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