All posts tagged: Restoration

Finishing the Side of the House: Part 1!

I didn’t really know when I embarked on this ~journey~ that the first five years of renovating my house would fall into two fairly distinct phases: before restoring the side of the house, and after. At the beginning it felt more linear—after the major, non-DIY work of replacing the roof, replacing the boiler, and upgrading the electrical system was completed, it felt like things would proceed at a steady and fluid pace as time and money allowed. Living in the house would certainly never be more difficult than it was in those first few months, so if we could just get over those early hurdles it would be relative smooth sailing afterwards. Not easy by any means, but not trying in that way where you question all of your life decisions and rue the day you ever thought homeownership was an appealing goal.

That’s not exactly how it worked out. Some projects are bigger than others, and restoring the south side of the house—a project that began over 2 years ago at this point—was HUGE. Primarily because walls have two sides (fancy that!), so it’s not as though this work was isolated from the interior of the house, too. At this point I think I’ve written more about putting the inside of the house back together after all of this—starting with the bedroom (which saw the addition of a window) and then the den (which lost a bay window but gained a regular window). This is also when the kitchen went from pretty shoddy to totally gutted, and the dining room—though the least affected in terms of actual construction—turned into a total renovation war zone.

WTF am I even talking about? I’ll try to go through this fast, since it’s been a while and it occurs to me that maybe 2 years is approximately 2 years too long to expect anyone to remember the elaborate details of my home renovation. Perhaps.

Above is the back and side of the house pretty much when I bought it. This was after the roof replacement so the fire escape and little roof over that 2nd floor door have been removed, but otherwise this is more or less where things started. Demolishing that single-story box off the back of the house was the first major demolition project, which we’ve talked about a lot—including the two ways that elevation has been rearranged now!

Removing that back addition did a lot for improving the proportions of the house (and bringing natural light into the kitchen!), but the south side is where I really saw potential for major improvement—both for the interior and exterior. The more I lived here, the more I tried to deduce the series of events that had transpired here—seemingly taking a neoclassical house and making it look like…this. It’s an easier task when additions are more modern—where you can really easily see how things don’t match, or are made of completely different materials—but everything was some level of old here except for those three vinyl windows on the first floor. I put a lot of thought into how I might be able to repair and renovate these parts of the house that were old but not original, but ultimately I couldn’t shake that this elevation of the house (which is really more visible than the front to a passerby) just looked wrong. And I really wanted to make it look right again. Not new. Just…as it ought to be. And that meant tearing some shit down.

YOU KNOW, JUST THIS?! On another project you might, ya know, have an architect or something render this out and have something legit and precise for the contractor to work off of, but…I’m the contractor. It’s all in my noggin. What else could we possibly need than this beautiful mind?????

So, um. You know I like a story, so I’ll tell you a story.

I wasn’t planning to do this project when I did. I was considering it “someday” work that I would merrily undertake at some future date when the finances and the time and the pre-planning stars aligned to make it possible. But then there was a glitch in that plan, and that glitch was basically me being dumb.

Here’s some context: I was at the end stages of what had unexpectedly become a very large and very time-consuming freelance project. As a result, I hadn’t been able to do any significant work on my own house for a long time—which sucks when you’re living in a house in need of so much work. I’m not talking about, like, painting walls and swapping out hardware for something so fresh and cute. I’m talking major work. Needed work. Never does a house feel more like it’s falling apart than when work hits an extended stand-still, especially when you’re actively pouring everything you have into someone else’s home while yours feels increasingly hopeless. The job was stressful, the house was stressful, everything was stressful.

Suffice to say, I was not in a great headspace. Like on a scale of Bad to Very Bad, I’d rate it Pretty Fucking Bad.

So we’re at the end of this project, and in my experience something happens at the end of big renovation/construction projects. Things get really slow. On TV we’re used to seeing a mad dash to the finish, but in reality I’ve never really seen this come to pass on a big project. Because you’re waiting for some product order to come, or for the countertops to get installed so the backsplash can go in, or a homeowner really wants to see something in person before committing one way or the other. It’s just…like that. People often talk about how difficult it is to keep contractors “on the hook” while they work through those final items big and small on a project, and it’s often cast as contractors just being selfish or unethical—which sometimes is actually the case (dealt with that shit, too!), but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Because everyone has to make a living. Say you have a full-time job, and then your boss announces that you’re going down to part-time and your pay is getting cut accordingly. This isn’t great but it’s pretty normal for your industry, and so you need to find another job to make up the lost income. The problem is that the first job—now part-time—expects you to be like a doctor on call, ready to make an appearance and do good work with little notice. This doesn’t jive so well with your new job, which expects your consistent attendance, and promises WAY more in the way of future income than your first job which you know is going to end pretty soon anyway. So you do the thing that’s in you and your family’s immediate best interest: prioritize the new job that offers more consistency, money, and satisfaction, and get back to the first job as time allows because your old boss won’t leave you alone and just finishing is easier than getting sued or whatever.

FOR INSTANCE.

So that’s kind of where we were with this very large freelance project. Lots of finishing touches that had to be done but couldn’t be done all at once for various reasons, clients who had very little patience for that, and contractors who wanted so badly to be OUTTA THERE, that last couple thousand dollars in their contract be damned. At the center of this stood me, trying to keep it all together and afloat with everyone getting along (ish) and the project actually getting completed. Which is how an idea was born.

I needed to keep everyone busy in order to keep everyone paid full-time so nobody was scrambling for other work. Must keep contractors in my clutches.

But I could only keep everyone busy a little bit at the freelance project.

But I could keep everyone busy a lot at my own house by just hurriedly embarking on the largest renovation project this house will likely ever see! When we couldn’t be working at the freelance project, which was most of the time, we’d be at my house. And when that product order came in or the counters got installed or whatever, I could transition everyone back to the freelance job at the drop of a hat, which in turn would keep the clients satisfied that things were proceeding at an acceptable pace.

And so. A mess was made. Here, Edwin stands in the new south garden, created by removing what was once a long skinny solarium space.

Behold! My cozy relaxing den and its new window.

Here’s more or less what remained of my kitchen and pantry.

Then my bedroom joined the fun!

MEANWHILE, the outside of my house is looking something like this, and something like this is not going to fly for a Hudson Valley winter. The idea of really doing anything with the interior before the exterior was totally buttoned up was ridiculous—this had to take priority. You know, behind the never-ending freelance job but ahead of having a decent place to sleep or cook or really do anything at all.

Some of this might seem exciting, and it kind of was, but I can tell you firsthand…IT. FELT. FUCKING. TERRIBLE. Exactly zero square inches of the house felt clean or OK to be in. I didn’t really doubt the vision so much as deeply regretted the process and the lack of preparation—which included financial.

Oh my god, THE MONEY. MONEY IS SO HARD. IT IS SO HARD TO SAVE BUT SO EASY TO SPEND. I thought I was such hot shit because I’d managed to squirrel away about $12,000 to put toward the house before this, and before I knew it, it was gone. Then I did the super fun and advisable thing of maxing out my credit cards! Yayyyyyyy! This is exactly what I needed during this terrible time inside my brain and also inside my house! Everything at once!

So, I’d say around the project’s midway point, I realized I had to start being very strategic about what work I’d be able to pay someone (Edwin) to do with me, vs. work that by economic necessity I’d have to complete alone.

Which was…a lot of work.

Which I think is why EVIDENTLY this is the last image I shared of this !!huge transformation!! 2 years ago, because all I really wanted to do was to go from this directly into sharing a big reveal which never came. It didn’t come because…well…I didn’t finish.

A big part of the reason this took so long and cost so much was the amount of particularity that went into reconstructing the original details without going totally broke. Half the point of this was to bring the house back to a closer resemblance of its original construction, so new work had to blend seamlessly with the old to pull it off—end of story.

Demo had fortunately left me with the cornices of the old 2nd floor bay window and the solarium, so I was hopeful that these parts would provide at least most of what I needed in order to reconstruct the third side of the bay window and patch the cornice upstairs. A lot of this wood was too rotted to be useful, but the corbels and various lengths of trim were generally salvageable.

That being said, there were three major pieces that I just didn’t have. The first was the decorative drip cap above all of the windows. The original windows still had them, but they’re meant to have returns on the sides—these were hacked off when the previous owner had the house covered in vinyl. Sigh.

I had one relatively intact piece, aside from that notched out part, which had escaped the same fate because it was above the dining room window which faced into the solarium. I carefully removed it and brought it to Spiegel Architectural Woodworks—right here in Kingston!!—which is ESSENTIALLY the point of this post; it’s just taken me 2,000 words to get there.

SO. I did not know how getting woodwork reproduced generally works, but now I do so I’ll tell you.

When a place like this has to reproduce a molding, first a knife has to be created from an example of the molding profile. Sometimes this is done in-house and sometimes it’s contracted out–in this case it’s sent out, which is only really notable because obviously it affects lead time.

The cool thing is, once a knife has been made, it’s catalogued and stored for future use. That means that if you need more than you thought, you don’t have to start the process over entirely, and it ALSO means that it’s possible somebody has had the same profile replicated before. The reason this matters is that there are two flat fees that will come along with any amount of molding you order: a fee to fabricate the knife, and another fee to set up the knife at the mill so the work can be done. If your molding has already been replicated, you should only have to pay that second set-up fee, plus the cost of the material you’re having made! The material is typically priced by the linear foot, and there’s a big range depending on the type of wood. For the window drip caps, I went with Western Red Cedar because it’ll get the most exposure to water/snow.

So. Because getting these details wrong would be so so very sad, I was adamant about getting them right. Close enough wasn’t going to cut it! And then, sure enough, someone in the past did have the same molding profile as my original drip caps reproduced!

ALMOST.

SO CLOSE. SO SIMILAR. The difference was that the rounded part on mine is a little oblong, whereas the existing knife was a more perfect quarter-round.

Remember that thing I said about close enough not cutting it for my fancy obnoxious ass? A $200 knife fabrication fee for the tiniest, most imperceptible difference was, apparently, enough for close enough to be JUST fine. Funny how that happens.

That left this nice simple crown, which is part of the cornice all around the house. I love that simple profile so much! This one required a knife to be fabricated for $200. But then they made me 150 feet of it! For cost purposes, I went with pine.

This is the uppermost crown molding below the roof, and this is where “close enough” was really not going to cut it! Here’s kinda why:

My house has classical eaves returns, which to me is a super important detail to be preserved, and says something about the quality of the craftsmanship that went into its beautiful details! With a “poor man’s return,” you could probably get away with replacing rotted crown molding with a similarly scaled stock molding and nobody would be the wiser, but a classical eaves return requires two variations on the same profile—one for the flat parts and one for the raked parts. Using a similar but different molding for the flat sections would completely ruin this transition to the raked parts and I couldn’t live with myself! And so, because this molding was the biggest, the knife fee was $300. Ouch!

If you thought $12,000 seemed like a lot of money to do this project, here’s a good example of why it wasn’t. I spent like $3,000 that summer on reproduction moldings. That’s completely separate and apart from other lumber, trim boards, stock moldings, siding, windows, primer, paint, nails, roofing…just three molding profiles.

ANYWAY.

Between salvaged pieces, reproduced pieces, pieces we could mill ourselves with saws and routers, and stock pieces (or just parts of stock pieces, as the case may be, like in the image above!), we sorted it out! I actually like figuring stuff like this out.

Here you can get a sense of it—the basic structure of the cornice was there because the second floor bay window was added, but all the details were missing. I had hoped for a more seamless, staggered patch job, but to be honest…truly restoring the cornices is a project for another time, and I didn’t want to start tearing into existing stuff because that is a goddamn can of worms if I ever saw one. That job is going to require scaffold and a tonnnnnnn of time—but after patching and paint, I can TOTALLY live with this.

Recreating the third side of the bay window was…intense. SO MUCH MOLDING. SO MANY LAYERS.

To reconstruct the cornice, we tore off the roof to try to recreate how the original two sides were built. Like the rest of the house, this bay window has box gutters so there were definitely some uncomfortable flashbacks to the roof replacement of a few years before. Luckily this time I was much more prepared for the near-inevitability of rotten gutters so I was able to move a little more efficiently into just fixing them instead of freaking out.

You can also see how deteriorated the top of the crown molding is—luckily, by this time I have more!

I’m not sure what we call the framing that creates the structure of the box gutter, but it looks like this! The originals were all in various stages of decay, so we used one as a guide and recreated a bunch of them out of 2x4s, which are thicker than the 1″ thick boards the originals were made from. Because the gutter needs to pitch in a direction for drainage, we had to be very careful about cutting and fastening these pieces to avoid low points away from the downspout outlet.

Once we’d sistered in our new pieces, it was just a matter of following the same principal to rebuild the third side. It was hard, not gonna lie.

I think we did well, though! There are a couple pieces still missing in this photo but you get the idea. The new reproduction crown wasn’t installed yet, either, and we basically threw a piece of ice and water shield over the roof until the roofers could come.

This is now mid-October. I really can’t afford the help I’d, ya know, ideally have. Especially because it’s getting late in the season and half the house still doesn’t have siding installed (let alone caulk, paint, downspouts, the list goes on). I took on installing all of the siding on the first floor by myself, and then Edwin and I did the second floor together.

Cutting and installing siding alone is not a good time. It’s very much a two person job and not only will it be slow, but you also MIGHT fall into a depression spiral of feeling so super alone in this exciting restoration journey! you’ve undertaken that has taken all of your money and all of the years of your mid-twenties and left you chasing daylight on a crisp autumn evening, shivering outside of your barely-habitable house where there’s nothing inside but destruction and more aloneness.

NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ABOUT ANY OF THAT. I’M JUST SAYING IT MIGHT HAPPEN.

Ten days after that last photo was taken, this one was taken. Snow. Winter had arrived. This text exchange with my mother pretty much tells you what you need to know:

Oh right and the freelance job was somehow STILL going on.

The deal with the roof was essentially this: I could not, for the life of me, hire a roofer to come and do this roof. I called all of them. I think one or two showed up for give an estimate, but then never got back to me. That feeling—of not being able to give somebody money to do the thing that they do to make money—is so lousy and helpless. I feel it with plumbers constantly. I think the job was just too small and nobody thought it was worth it.

SO. You can kinda see above the bay roof, about 5 courses of missing siding. This was left intentionally to allow the roofer to flash up the side wall, and we’d patch in those missing courses once the roof was done.

Except there was no roofer and it’s now November. I had wanted/assumed I’d do a EPDM roof, which is how my box gutters were lined on the rest of the house and is a common way of addressing flat/low-slope roofing and box gutters here. The problem was that—at least at the time—I had an IMPOSSIBLE time sourcing the products. It was crazy! The rubber, the underlayment, the fasteners, the mastic—all of it! I KNOW IT EXISTS. NOBODY CAN SEEM TO SELL IT TO ME.

Cue more anxious feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. I’m a lot of fun.

And so, eventually, I gave up on finding a roofer. “Edwin,” I asked. “Do you think we can handle this?”

“Of course we can. Done it a thousand times.”

Mostly due to ease of availability, we went with this torch-down rubber roofing product. So listen. We know I adore this man, and have worked with him on many projects for years, during which his experience has been a tremendous asset. Which is really why I bring this up, because it’s a good reminder that when you’re working with ANYBODY, on ANYTHING, EVEN if you know and trust them—KNOW HOW THE THING IS SUPPOSED TO BE DONE. You have nothing to lose by being an informed consumer but a whole lot to gain.

At this point, I was so drained. Financially, emotionally, physically just beat. Edwin said the roof was no problem, so we bought a roll of this stuff and got to work. About midway through, it occurred to me that our installation process just seemed…not right…and THAT’S the first time I googled how the fuck this stuff is supposed to work.

We were doing it very wrong. Edwin told me not to worry, I told him I was worried, he told me it would be fine, I told him it didn’t seem fine, and so forth. But we were halfway through, and an incorrectly installed roof had to be better than no roof at all…so I just…went with it.

I don’t really know how, but before winter really, really hit, we got the bay window roof done, the rest of the siding patched, and everything got at least a coat of primer if not caulk and paint.

And you know what? Everyone survived. The house survived and I survived, and even the bay window survived.

I’ll cop to this, too: you might expect that during the next summer, I was able to circle back and do that last 10-15% of the work and really get it finished off.

I did not. I was super busy, this time on a different ever-expanding freelance job, and when it came to my own house I decided to focus on redoing the back again instead of wrapping up this side, because both things definitely weren’t happening and getting the window and door arrangement right on the back was standing in the way of much further progress on the kitchen.

ROUND AND ROUND WE GO.

I actually think that little roof was OK for about a year, but then it started leaking. OF COURSE it started leaking.

So. I am bound and determined to get this side of the house really finished off this fall. A few weekends ago I replaced the roof all by myself (BOY WAS THAT FUN AND NOT AT ALL THE WORST THING EVER), and I’ve been working my ass off on sanding, scraping, caulking, priming and painting the entire thing. It’s an assload of work but really does feel good to circle back around and really give everything the care and attention it needs! And I gotta say—it’s looking goooooood. Give me a little more good weather and it’ll finally, at long last, be time for the AFTER!

Den-ovation: Moldings and Paint!

There are several different molding treatments in my house, and—like many old houses—they follow a formal hierarchy between rooms. Basically the fancy rooms have the most ornate moldings, and the less fancy places have more modest ones. When renovating, I try to be very careful about this stuff, because even if everything is new and looks great it should still be appropriate to each individual space!

For instance! This is a decent view of the moldings in that funny upstairs room I turned into a little home office, where you might be able to tell that the baseboards are a very simple profile and the window is cased out with a stool and an apron rather than the panel molding, like you find below the windows in my bedroom. The piece that makes up the foundation of the window molding is actually slightly different and narrower, too. The baseboard is similar to what’s in the den, except the den has a more decorative cap piece on top. Essentially, the moldings in the den are more formal than this little room, but less formal than my bedroom.

Which, for me, begged the question (for months): what do I do with this new window?? A stool (just FYI, because I only learned this recently: a sill is on the exterior, and a stool is on the interior. Both are often called “sills” but now you know better and can be annoying, too!) would be easier to execute, and might look more natural in terms of matching what’s in the adjacent room? But maybe this room would have had a panel, like the bedroom, because it is a more formal space than the little office?

DECISIONS.

I went with panel. I think I made the right call. Someone once told me that when making decisions like this in an old house, don’t be afraid of going too formal. I try to renovate more or less like a purist and decorate like a lunatic, so formal it is!

Naturally, this had to start with cutting out the brand new drywall work right below the window—oh well! It’s just a couple of feet and with the help of my oscillating saw, I didn’t damage any of the surrounding new drywall work while removing what was in the way.

I always have a hard time stopping to remember to take progress shots, but here’s the basic framework of it all! I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of complicated. The back part of the panel below the window sits recessed from even the framing, so I also had to use my oscillating saw to cut that framing down a bit. It would have been better to have done this before installing the framing in the first place, but at the time I thought this window would be getting a sill and it wouldn’t matter!

As usual, this is all salvaged wood! I like using salvage for a couple reasons:

  1. Captain Planet would be proud.
  2. I have so much of it.
  3. I think the most effective way to make something look old (even—perhaps especially!—a surface that’s getting painted) is to use old wood! This wood has little dents and dings and holes from old nails that are just marks of age from its previous life serving as something else, and I don’t worry much about trying to fill in every little thing. Trying to age new material by throwing chains at it and hammering screws into it and stuff is a tricky thing to pull off without it looking overly intentional, but this feels just right.

Even though the individual pieces are fairly simple, there are a lot of pieces! And trying to match new to old takes some serious head-scratching. I have a router and some bits, though, so milling my own simple profiles isn’t such a big deal. Here I had to use the router to create the cove effect on the flat boards, and then I used a large 1/2″ bead bit (I have this set!) to create the rounded profile that kind of fakes a window stop. Then I run it through the table saw to get a 1/2″ thickness, and then it gets tacked to the existing stop that’s part of the window jamb on these new windows. It’s tricky!

The only piece that I can’t really replicate myself (YET!) is the simple-ish but fancy molding that creates the transition between the flat boards and the deep ones that sit perpendicular to them. This is what’s left of my entire supply! Especially when I have precious few pieces to work with, I like to lay them all out on a flat surface in size order, so I always choose the shortest available piece for the run I need. This of course minimizes waste, but also allows me to maintain as much old stock as I can.

There’s a stock molding profile at Lowe’s that’s very similar to this, and I can’t decide whether that’s good enough for the kitchen or if I should get this profile replicated. I mean, I know the answer, but…money.

But there it is, installed! Again, I want it to look original so no need to strip all the paint. I do a little scraping and sanding and then up they go to get caulked, primed, and repainted.

See that dark piece of wood on the innermost part of the casing? That’s an actual window stop, which has been used for the past 150 years as a shim for the lath on the ceiling of my kitchen! Now for the first time, it’s serving the purpose it was milled for. Fun, right? Maybe only for me. I need more stimuli clearly.

Because this room was short on electrical, I added a few baseboard outlets to the new baseboards and the existing ones. Rather than removing the whole baseboard, it’s pretty simple to trace the electrical box and cut it out with an oscillating saw. Then just drive a drywall screw into the center and use a hammer to pry out the cut-out! Then you can insert your box and pull the wires through. For the new baseboards, it’s easier to mark my location, make my cutout with a jigsaw, and then install the baseboard like that—being careful to pull my wires through the hole before attaching the baseboards to the wall.

For the new sections of baseboard, I was really excited to find this piece of salvaged baseboard behind the wall in the upstairs kitchen (boy, we’re overdue for an update on that!), untouched probably for about a hundred years! It’s kind of dirty in this picture, but I believe that’s the original paint color for a lot of moldings in the house, which is kind of a muddy yellow-greige. I kept a small off-cut and I want to try to get it color-matched, because I think MAYBE that’s my new kitchen cabinet color?? We shall see.

The gap between the flooring and the baseboard will get covered with base shoe molding. It would look a lot nicer to do it now, but I’d rather just live with some gaps and wait for the floors to get refinished, and then do all the base shoe at once.

Not so bad, right? I mean it took me two days but now that I’m writing this post, it doesn’t seem so bad. Haha! I think there are 28 different pieces of wood on this window casing, not including a few shims hiding behind the finished pieces here and there.

Even before painting the new moldings, I was starting to feel like the room was so much lighter and brighter than I had expected, and maybe I wanted it to stay that way? I do love a bright sunlit room! I don’t fear dark paint but I also know it’s not right for every space, and maybe I was trying to force it?

I painted a sample. The sample got me excited. Full disclosure: I chose this color solely because I had two leftover gallons from another project, and I liked it in that room, and it was free, and I like free, so there ya go. It’s a Benjamin Moore color called Flint, which was color-matched with Valspar Reserve paint. It’s a really deep inky blue-black-charcoal—very rich but doesn’t really read as black in the space, especially next to black-black.

Then one thing led to another! Ohhhhh shit!

No lie, it was not exactly love at first sight. Painting something a dramatic color is always exciting, but I still wasn’t sold.

I went downstairs to grab something and walking back up the stairs, I was sold! This door is almost always open, and that peek of a really dark room at the top of the stairs is just so nice! Make me wanna go cuddle up to a dog or two. The unevenness is just the paint still drying, don’t worry.

Ahhhhh, yeah. I’m about it! The dark walls DO swallow up a ton of natural light, but in a good way. It feels so cozy! I wanted cozy! This also means this room needs a fair amount of supplementary lighting, which as a serial hoarder of lamps I find appealing.

Circling back to the moldings, all that pink filler is my BFF, Bondo! I’ve never had an issue with Bondo separating or cracking when used on an interior surface, but I wouldn’t recommend it for exterior. Bondo can’t make up for really lousy workmanship, but it can compensate for a lot. It also does a nice job of filling in grain, which makes the wood look like it has more paint on it than it does, which keeps all the moldings looking uniformly imperfect, if that makes sense.

Before moldings ever get a lick of paint, they go through a little rehab. The first step is cleaning: I like to use TSP substitute, following the dilution instructions on the package. These moldings were especially dirty from all the demo work that this room endured.

Then I use my palm sander to knock down any lumps and bumps, then a filler and/or caulk where needed. After the filler is sanded down, everything gets wiped down again and THEN it’s paint time. I tend to favor a 2″ angle brush for cutting in on the walls and painting moldings.

Yes! In this picture, the new casing and baseboards just have primer on them, and the rest of the moldings still need paint, but you can get a sense of how the room is going to look! I’m really happy with it. I also put up a ceiling medallion (the same one I used in my bedroom) and the light fixture, although the shades aren’t up so don’t judge yet! The pink glass shades really make the fixture.

It’s going to be way cute. I know because the room is basically done now! It came together so fast, at least given how long it usually takes me! These photos are a few weeks old so the room has furniture, art on the walls, a working television set, and now it’s my new favorite room in the house! I have to photograph it and then I’ll show you the whole thing soon! Eek!

BREAKING: My Kitchen has a Fireplace!

demo4

I decided to just tear the band-aid off and fully demo my kitchen. I’m not positive that this was the smartest idea but given that the pantry was already torn out, two of four walls were down to the studs, the ceiling was gone, and the floor was some mix of original tongue-and-groove subfloor in some places, a first layer of plywood subfloor in other places, and a second layer of plywood subfloor with my black VCT flooring in other places, it felt stupid to be holding onto what was left! Which was really just a wall with some cabinets and a kitchen sink.

So now I really don’t have a kitchen, but whatever! At least now I can easily-ish and efficiently-ish level out the subfloor and put in a new floor, run my new plumbing, electric, and gas (YES, GAS! SEE YA, 40 year old electric stove!), insulate, and start putting things back together. I don’t honestly know how far I can stretch my dollars so a real finished kitchen with fancy things like permanent countertops might still be a ways away, but I’m hopeful that I can at least at least get the foundation in place and achieve something usable in the near-ish future. I’m dealing with a lot of -ish right now because I don’t totally know how this is all going to play out. At least I have plenty of time to plan? Which sounds absurd since I’ve been mentally planning this kitchen renovation for over three years. It still changes on a nearly daily basis.

chimney2013

Now here’s a throwback! This is my kitchen after living in my house for about 2 days. Note the brick-patterned vinyl wallpaper! That always struck me as funny since the entirety of that wallpapered part is, in fact, a plastered-over brick chimney. When I bought the house, this chimney was being used to very unsafely vent a hot water heater, but now the chimney doesn’t do anything.

One thing I’ve known and continue to know for sure is that the layout of this space is completely changing. The stove will no longer sit on this wall where there’s very little room for any prep space adjacent to it. The sink is moving, all the cabinets are moving, even the exterior door is moving! I’ll share full plans ASAP when I can pull a sketchup together.

2chimney2013

Anyway, first order of business was tearing off the vinyl wallpaper and taking out the drop ceiling. Behind it was this color-blocked plaster which I actually kind of loved the look of, leaving aside how nasty it was.

3chimney2013

After lots of paint and stuff, things started to look more like this! See that round hole in the chimney up toward the ceiling? That’s a vent hole for a wood stove, which is how I always assumed this room was originally heated. This house was built before radiators, so the original heat sources would have been in fireplaces and wood stoves.

This is how I was planning to leave things until a bigger kitchen renovation down the road when I could expose the brick, but then I got subway-tile-happy. I thought I’d be working with this kitchen longer than I did (I was expecting it to be about 5-10 years, but the whole side-of-house-restoration and its effect on the kitchen have bumped this priority up significantly!), so at the time doing the extra subway tile seemed like a nice way to enhance this space in the short term. It was. I liked it. No regrets.

basementfireplace

I’m sorry to say I don’t have a good picture of it, but here’s what’s happening directly below, in the basement. See how there’s a whole fireplace (which is actually quite beautiful) down here? I thought this indicated that this room in the basement was probably the original kitchen—which could still be true, as there are also remnants of an early plumbing system). Fireplace in the basement, wood or coal stove in the kitchen, and possibly another one in the room above it was what I always imagined.

4chimney2015

All of this is to say that I felt pretty certain that the only thing behind my subway tile and the plaster would be a solid brick wall, which I always planned to expose during the eventual kitchen renovation. I had this idea that maybe I’d try to preserve my subway tile and expose just the brick above it (and probably paint it), and I also had this idea that I’d place a longer, lower radiator across the width of the chimney, which I hoped would look great and heat the room better.

demo1

Trying to preserve the subway tile was kind of not worth it because the chimney had been furred out on one side so that the kitchen sink would fit snugly in that space, and it definitely wasn’t the best tiling job in the world to begin with, and I did want to see what the whole chimney looked like before committing to keeping half of it tiled, and…who cares, tear it all down.

demo2

This is what my 27th birthday looked like last week! My life is so cute.

demo3

But look, brick! The plaster came off the brick REALLY very easily using just a hammer and a pry bar. The key is to take your time because old bricks will break if you get impatient and start hammering away too hard. The hardest part is just hauling the debris out of the house, because plaster is super heavy stuff! I’ve brought about 2,500 pounds of plaster to the dump just in the past two weeks.

demo4

So I’m chipping away at plaster and tile and all of a sudden I see THIS! WHATTTTTTT. That’s pretty unmistakably the curved top of an actual firebox!! I was amazed. I was stunned. I’d long accepted that all I was uncovering was an old and probably pretty brick wall with a hole in it for a wood stove. I literally had to take a break to get my breathing under control.

demo5

Before long…OH HELLO! Obviously the whole thing was bricked over at some point, I guess when they switched to the wood stove set-up, abandoned the fireplace, and plastered the chimney? I don’t really know a ton about this so I have some research to do.

clean-out

You can see this in the third photo of this post, but there was this funny cut-out in the plaster toward the floor, lined with metal and with this flimsy metal cover. I took the cover off exactly once when I was  painting this wall, saw a dark pit of despair with a bunch of dirt and leaves and stuff, and put the cover back on and tiled around it because I didn’t know what else to do! I figure it’s basically a clean-out for anything that might come down though the chimney or soot from the wood stove.

demo7

Now that I could see that it was part of a whole firebox, I removed the metal lining and started tearing out brick!

demo6

Inside was pretty nasty! The old soot and stuff was packed in a few feet high, along with some broken glass (??), a bunch of leaves, brick fragments…nothing fun, just yucky.

chimney2016

But now! LOOK! LOOK! LOOOOOOOK! In case you couldn’t tell, I’m VERY excited about this discovery. One of my big goals with the kitchen is to make it look and feel more in keeping with the original details found in most of the rest of the house, so being able to uncover this fabulous existing feature is SUPER motivating.

As to what I’ll actually do with it, I don’t know yet! I’ll definitely be adding a hearth stone in front of it (not sure what…I guess conceivably it could either be a slab of something, continuation of the brick, or tile?). The firebox is only a foot deep, so in terms of making it at all functional, I think gas logs might be the way to go here. I’ll call a chimney person to see what can/should be done in terms of a cap at the top of the chimney, probably a new liner, I guess some kind of damper to keep the heat from all escaping out the flue…like I said, research time! I’m just still so shocked and excited that it’s even there that my mind can’t process all this activity at once.

My kitchen is going to be the best kitchen, folks. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

Found in the Wall!

One of the cool things about living in an old house is the constant possibility that you might find something left behind—intentionally or not—by a previous occupant. Open up a wall and you might see century-old bank bonds or a pile of cash or gold bricks or a diamond ring or…ya know. We’ve seen the news stories. Some asshole goes a-renovatin’ and finds some shit worth more than the house itself.

Well, I’ve done a fair amount of renovating, and my house is a hidden-treasure-failure. I found a couple of plastic combs behind the wall in the downstairs bathroom. A matchbook in the attic. A business card for a hat shop in the entryway ceiling. Several mummified mice. Until recently, I think probably the coolest thing I found was half of a shutter hinge below the solarium. BFD.

bayinside

You know how on the first floor of my house, there’s this amazing panel detail below all of the windows? The incredible moldings were one of the big reasons I fell so in love with my house. So beautiful! It makes me feel bad about putting furniture and stuff in any of my rooms because I always feel like nothing I own is prettier than the house itself and therefore I should just leave it empty.

panelbackside

One of the cool things about taking so much of the house apart and putting it back together again—which is really what the exterior restoration requires—is getting to see what’s behind my walls without tearing out the plaster and moldings on the interior. This is the backside of one of those below-the-window-panels, which I spent a while staring at and trying to figure out how to reconstruct for the new dining room window. This picture doesn’t really show much, but the craftsmanship here! The whole thing is mortise-and-tenon’d together at the corners and there are flathead screws holding things together from the inside and…I don’t know, it’s all very cool to me. In an age when strips of MDF held onto drywall with liquid nails qualifies as board-and-batten walls, I always like seeing this kind of thing.

SO ANYWAY, I was staring at this and looked down, and right there, tucked between the stud and the backside of the panel was a little piece of paper! It’s somewhere between the size of a business card and a postcard, beautifully preserved, and sitting right there waiting to be discovered!

hanoverfront

How cool! Here’s the front of the card. Look at that building! I actually first assumed that this building stood in Kingston (we also have a Broadway and Cedar Street, and they intersect at a corner!) and immediately got sad about all the incredible buildings lost to urban renewal efforts and whatnot, but a quick google searched turned up that this was actually the Equitable Life Assurance Building in Manhattan, which I guess stood at a record-breaking height when it was finished in 1870 and was the first office building to feature passenger elevators. Like many other “fireproof” buildings built in lower Manhattan around that time, turns it out was not that fireproof and burned down in 1912. Look at that!

hanoverback

And on the back my eyes immediately settled on the text at the bottom, because that’s the name of the original owner of my house!* I knew from census records and stuff that he was an insurance salesman (among other things—it sounds like he was a real man-about-town and total badass), but there’s something kind of different about holding his 150 year old business card (is that what we call this?) in my hand. So fun. In case you’re curious, that $726,399.94 in 1870 translates to about $12,700,000 in 2016.

*this could be false. Almost every person who knows a lot about old houses tells me the construction of the original section at least of my house appears to be more circa 1830s, and looks like it got a couple of additions and maybe a big aesthetic overhaul in the 1860s or so. The 1905 obituary of the owner whose name appears on this card notes that he built the house “forty years ago,” which brings us to 1865, but maybe “built” refers more to a major renovation? It is, after all, an obituary in the local paper, not a real estate record. I need a time machine or somebody who’s really good at research.

SO THAT HAPPENED AND IT WAS EXCITING FOR ME BECAUSE THAT IS THE KIND OF THING I LIKE. NOW HERE IS ANOTHER THING I LIKE.

baywindowframed

Remember this view? It’s the new window installed on the missing third side of the bay window on the first floor. Great, cool.

windowframe

Remember this view? It’s the opposite end of the solarium, where under some wood paneling was clear evidence of another window down at this end. The sashes are long gone and the jamb is pretty hacked up, but it’s definitely a window jamb.

When I found that hidden window, I measured it…and it seemed like just the size of the one that would have been on the third side of the bay window, where I’ve now put a window back. Which lead me to wonder…was this window moved here from the bay window when the solarium was built? I think it’s totally possible. Why throw out a perfectly good window when you’re adding more windows? Huh.

backsideofpaneleddetail

Fast-forward to solarium demo of a few weeks ago, and after removing all the brick and mortar nogging…look there, below the window jamb! Doesn’t that kind of look like the backside of the panel detail I was talking about earlier? That’s neither siding nor sheathing, so I got all excited.

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Because don’t forget, the bay window has that detail on the inside and the outside.

clapboardcoveredwindow

It didn’t take me long to head to the exterior and rip off the vinyl on this wall. I was expecting to see a big sheet of plywood where the window used to be, but I actually found…wood clapboard? Huh! I guess this window was removed longer ago than I thought.

Said it before and I’ll say it forever…check that mold out. THAT IS WHAT IS UNDER VINYL SIDING. Moisture and rot and yuck yuck yuck that is terrible for your house. Luckily the clapboard actually wasn’t rotted here, but I’m sure in a few years or so you’d start to see that. Which of course can then affect sheathing, and framing, and the backside of your walls, and vinyl siding ought to be illegal.

paneldetailcovered

Anyway. Then I took the clapboard off board-by-board, like I do, and that’s when I found the plywood. OK. Starting to make some sense.

paneldetailexposed

AND THEN UNDER THE PLYWOOD LOOK LOOK LOOK! That right there is the same panel detail found on the other two sides of the bay window that I’m restoring, in really pretty great condition from being covered up all these years. SO EXCITING. Hopefully I can just move the entire thing back to its rightful position under that new window, and that will be one big step closer to making that once-beautiful bay window whole again. That thing is trimmed out with a lot of fancy moldings, some of which will probably still need to be replicated, but having this one thing taken care of by the house is just so cool, at least to me. I love those super rare times when things might actually be easier than you imagined they’d be.

Yay!

See ya, Second Floor Bay Window Thing!

If you read my post last week, you already know that I’m in the process of slowly destroying my house. Fun times! In some ways, it would have been very nice to have had the money to do all of this when I bought the house three years ago, but of course three years ago I wouldn’t have had the same plan I have now and would probably have screwed everything up and regretted it forever, so it’s all good. I probably would have also been TOTALLY overwhelmed and intimidated by a project like this and spent the whole time freaking out and panicking and feeling miserable, but now it’s all pretty familiar. It’s fun. It’s exciting. There’s something to be said for taking your time, I guess!

baywindowframed

As mentioned, this big old side-of-house-restoration involves 4 major spaces: my kitchen, my dining room, the second floor bedroom above the dining room (where the bump-out/bay window/”tumor” lives), and my bedroom at the front of the house. That’s inside, of course, which is to say nothing of the enormous exterior overhaul that really has to take precedence! It’s almost mid-August and I’ve gotten myself into enough pickles to know that winter’s a-comin’ and I gotta get this shit done!

ANYWAY. Aside from basically totally dismantling the dining room of all my furniture and pretty things so everything doesn’t get totally destroyed, the work is fairly minor in there, and we already kind of saw it on the window post a few weeks ago. Here’s the window installed from what will soon be the exterior, though! There seems to be a lot of confusion about which parts of the house are staying and which parts are going…I’m trying my best to explain, but you might just have to wait and see if you’re still confused! The wall to the LEFT in the photo above is the old exterior wall of the solarium, which will be eliminated. The wall to the RIGHT is the wall of the house which obviously stays. The ladder is sitting in what will be part of my side yard. More space to plant! Kinda make sense?

middlebedroombefore

Meanwhile…it was time to start taking care of this room on the second floor! This is the decent-sized bedroom where the bump-out is, which I think I’ve only showed once right after I bought the house because I’ve done almost nothing to it except tear off about 1/3rd of the ceiling tiles which revealed a bunch of furring strips nailed to an extremely damaged plaster ceiling. Not terribly surprising. I know that bump-out seems like a fabulous design opportunity but it was in such poor condition, not original to the house, and resting entirely on top of the very structurally unsound former-solarium, so it’s gotta go. Bye!

bumpoutdemo

Demo always starts somewhat slowly, with the careful removal of moldings and anything salvageable. The drywall is down here, so you can see where there used to be windows on either side of this thing, now covered over by OSB sheathing. Those one-over-one windows will not be getting reused, but the old wavy glass in them is valuable for me as I have to repair broken panes in the original windows around the house! Cutting glass isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds (score and snap kind of deal) so they’ll definitely get used.

wallpaperboarder

Underneath the casing around the bump-out was what I’m assuming is the original wallpaper for this room, nicely preserved! In person, those yellow parts are metallic gold, and actually still very shiny! Such a cool pattern, right?

floorcutting

After that, we cut the floor flush with the rest of the house! That was just a matter of snapping a chalk line and running a circular saw down the line, with the blade set at 3/4″ which is the thickness of this floor. The flooring from the bump-out, of course, was then carefully removed for reuse later (little patches I have to do where radiator pipes used to be, maybe the downstairs bathroom…no reason to toss it!).

cornicevestige

One very exciting moment in all of this was removing the ceiling of the bump-out, under which you can see…the original cornice! Some parts like the crown molding, the corbels, and the frieze were removed when this was built, but the main structure (which is also my box gutter!) is intact, which is just fab news. Hopefully this means that patching in and reconstructing this section of the original cornice are also significantly easier than I’d anticipated. Yay!!

framedbumpoutwindow2

Then it was time to frame the new window, which…look! I hope this is all starting to make sense. See how nicely it lines up with the adjacent window in my little office?

preceilingdemo

Once that was more or less done, Edwin offered the suggestion that we just go ahead and demo the ceiling in this room. The plaster is really beyond repair (those furring strips are held up by about a million nails, and removing them takes the plaster along with them), and it has to happen anyway, and…fuck it, let’s just get it done. Plaster demo sucks so while I have help and muscle on my side, I’ll pay for a few extra hours to just get it over with.

middlebedroomceilingdemo

Hot holy damn. In preparation for doing this, we carefully removed the attic floor boards and shoveled out as much of the old blown-in cellulose insulation as we could, because having ALL of it raining down on us while the ceiling got demolished sounded like the worst idea ever.

ISN’T IT GORGEOUS?! Yikes.

framedbumpoutwindow

But after adding sheathing on the exterior and cleaning up, the room is starting to take its new shape. It seems counter-intuitive but returning the room to its rightful proportion makes it feel so much less awkward and honestly more spacious. Of course that could also be an effect of my new (temporary) 16-ish foot ceiling height since you can now see all the way up to my roof sheathing in the attic. Everything is crazy.

demo1

On the exterior…here’s how things stood earlier that day, I believe. All of the clapboard on the back section has been removed and 1/4″ sheathing put up. Adding and removing windows and additions and stuff means there would be a LOT of clapboard patching, so I think it really is easier and ultimately better to just remove it all, give it the spa treatment, and put it back up. That way there won’t be any obvious patchwork. You can kind of see the original boards going back up in the lower right corner!

demo2

Not going to lie, demo on this thing was pretty stressful! The structure was iffy at best so there was a lot of head-scratching about the safest way to go about it.

demo3

Oh Edwin. Always giving me bedroom eyes. We removed the sills that came with the windows and replaced them with cedar that we milled from 4×4 posts to match the dimensions of the originals.

demo4

Much like interior demo, everything that can be saved gets saved! Don’t forget I now have to patch in the cornice, so having those corbels and various pieces of trim work intact should make it much easier.

demo5

I climbed onto the roof and ran a circular saw through the rubber lining on the box gutters and the roof sheathing. Then I got my ass down because NO THANK YOU.

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Roof, gone! Holy moly.

Side1

Here’s where we started off again, for comparison’s sake…

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And here’s where we’re at! Oh my! I’m hoping to patch the cornice this weekend and probably remove some more siding, so hopefully weather cooperates and I can get it done. I know at this stage this hardly looks like an improvement, but there’s still a ways to go here, so bear with me! It’s gonna look great. Remember that there will be another window between the first two on the top, which I think it going to be really transformative. I’m so excited to get that one in! And there will be a false window below that (directly to the left of the bay window in this picture), which I’m weirdly EXTREMELY excited about. I’m picking up the (purely ornamental) shutters for it today!! Adding a real window there is not an option because there’s a pesky wall in the way, but that’s fine. I like my walls.

Also, check it out! I sorta last-minute decided to drop a corner board between the larger original section of the house and the smaller kitchen addition on the back. I was worried that this would look totally weird, but it felt like the right way to subtly articulate the two structures and let the original section of the house maintain its correct proportions. I really like how it’s looking, though! The top where it meets the frieze will get trimmed out with some fancy molding, and I think once the solarium addition comes down and everything else gets done, it’s going to look just right.

After looking at a lot of local examples and lots of debate, I think adding wider corner boards to this house is the right move. The original corner boards are only 4″ and these are a whopping 12″ (which looks tiny now that it’s up, but it’s huge!). It’s been posed that the original house might have been built closer to 1830 or so as a late federal-style, which got a Greek Revival/Italianate kind of overhaul in the 1860s, so I’m guessing when they added the cornice and the portico and the columns (and probably the first floor bay window, which I’m keeping), they didn’t want to re-side the house so they left the original corner boards…which I think makes the house look a little top-heavy with that huge elaborate cornice! Kinda cool, right? So even though they aren’t original, I think wider corner boards will go a long way toward really manifesting the intention of that (possible) 1860s renovation.

Fun? Not fun? I’m having fun.

 

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