All posts tagged: side elevation restoration

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

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!

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.

The Solarium is Gone!

demo1

 

So this is exciting: I think I’m done tearing additions off this house! Forever! Tearing off entire structures like the mudroom last year and the second floor bay window this year is, as you might imagine, kind of a big deal. The payoff of restoring at least a close resemblance of the original construction is super exciting, even when it technically means sacrificing a little square footage, but the process can be a little…intense. Which is to say, I’m glad I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore. We already demo’d the interior of the one-time solarium down to the studs, so it was time to actually get this non-original thing off my house once and for all!

roofdemo2

This started with the roof, which was a total mess. I intentionally didn’t have this roof redone when the rest of the roof was replaced almost 3 years ago because I was pretty sure I’d be taking this addition down soon enough. “Soon enough” ended up being a little longer than I thought it would be, so for three years this thing has been hanging off the side of my house, leaking every time it rained (despite efforts here and there to patch certain areas) and looking super nasty.

While the tear-off was going on, a neighbor strolled over and told me that the previous owner would go out onto this roof every single year and smear on a new layer of tar, so this is literally FORTY YEARS of tar-build up that we had to remove! In some areas it was about 3″ thick and EXTREMELY heavy, even when broken into small pieces. Poor house. I gotcha.

roofdemo

The rusty stuff you’re seeing underneath was what was left of the original metal roofing. It’s so corroded that it basically fell apart like an old newspaper.

Underneath that you can see what’s left of the roof sheathing, some of the framing, and the original box gutters. If you need a toothpick or something to jump-start your compost pile, I guess this might be good? But as a roof it was not so good.

On top of it all, you can see Edwin striking one of his sexy poses.

demo4

In credit to all the rot, the roof came down fairly quickly and easily. Look! Sky! Cool.

demo5

If you can decipher a little of what’s going on with the framing here, you can tell that it’s not so good. The window framing is far from sound, and the entire roof structure was being held up by some short lengths of very rotted 2×4 studs, resting on a horizontal 2×4  stud, and the roof rafters were being supported by…

rot

THIS. Part of the reason I really wanted to get this done NOW was because I feared that the amount of weight in tar, combined with a heavy snow-load might result in this thing literally collapsing. Which would turn its demolishing from an exciting decision I made during a semi-convenient time of year into a huge nightmare.

This is also part of why just tearing this non-original component off the house entirely made a lot more sense than trying to restore it. Bad roof, bad foundation, bad walls, no original windows left…if it had even been possible to salvage, it would have demanded a ton of serious structural work and money and that just never seemed remotely worth it.

demo3

We removed almost the entire cornice in one enormous piece which I dragged into the backyard. We’ll harvest various trim pieces and corbels from it in order to build the cornice on the new formerly-missing third side of that first floor bay window! Because the solarium was added onto the bay window, the cornice on the other side and front of the bay remained totally intact! Yay! We do still have to do some roof framing and put a new roof on the bay window, so don’t be fooled! Lots of work ahead.

We took down the walls section by section, using some quick temporary bracing to keep it all from just collapsing onto the sidewalk or back onto the house.

diningroomlight

My dining room is looking pretty torn apart obviously, but even with just the solarium’s roof removed, the newfound amount of LIGHT in this space—which has always been fairly dark—was thrilling. I’m still shocked every time I walk in there by how bright it is now that the window faces the outdoors instead of into the super yucky solarium. It’s a really dramatic change in real life. It’s hard to get the same sense in the kitchen because it basically no longer has walls or a ceiling so the light gets swallowed up, but I’m sure it’ll be one VERY bright space when it’s put back together.

demo2

The entire demo from start to finish only took about 4 or 5 hours, and we even had the truck loaded and off to the dump before they closed at 3 PM. Teamwork!

democomplete

So…EEK! This is the first time I was actually able to get a good sense of how the house would look with the solarium torn off. The new kitchen windows were making me nervous without being able to really see them in relation to the rest of the house and the dormer window above them.

I’m getting used to them. They’re 4.5 feet tall, and they look so little! I think the real problem is that I just don’t like that dormer window (it just feels so out of scale with that back part of the house, and the shed roof and the fact that it’s flush with the exterior wall and interrupts the cornice is kinda just all wrong). I wish the new kitchen windows were closer in size to the rest of the first floor windows on the front section of the house, but it felt like the most natural solution was to match the header height of the other windows (so the tops would all align) and shorten them because this is, after all, a kitchen and I need to be practical and be able to fit a countertop under the bottom of the windows. Ya dig? I think it would be nice to put window boxes below those two kitchen windows, too…both to visually elongate them and because, ya know, herbs and stuff!

Honestly, once everything is put back together and painted and done, I’m sure I won’t even be thinking about this anymore. It’s FINE. The front part of the house is the real showpiece here, anyway, and that’s going to look goooooood.

rendering

LOL LOL here is a half-hearted attempt to Photoshop the previous picture into a better idea of where things are headed, so we can all stay motivated. You don’t have to pretend that it’s very effective or convincing but WHATEVER, at least you can see where the windows go and stuff. The real thing will be significantly better looking, I promise.

It’s starting to get cold, which is freaking me out. Pls pray.

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.

demo7

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!

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