All posts tagged: Thrifted & Scavenged

Sink for the Cottage Half Bath!

OOF. I’ve been working on several different posts and a million other things and I can’t seem to get anything done. I’m all over the place. So…hi, folks! Long time no see. Missed ya.

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The big news today? Not that big. I bought another old sink. My life is basically non-stop action and excitement with a heaping scoop of filth thrown in for fun.

I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for a cute cast iron sink to go down in the half-bath on the first floor of the cottage, and this one fit the bill! It’s probably from the 40s or early 50s, super heavy, and—despite the grime and filth, in excellent shape! I love the simple lines (which to me don’t really scream any particular era—just simple and classic), and the flat section at the top where it’ll meet the wall seems like a perfect spot for a bottle of hand soap and a cup for toothbrushes or whatever. It’s a pretty small bathroom, so I like that this particular sink has that little storage opportunity built-in. I’ll still put in some kind of cabinet or shelving or a medicine cabinet or something, but it’s a start!

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The best part? BOOM. $25 dollars. This entire project has definitely come with some unexpected costs, so saving money here and there on stuff like this really helps keep the budget more in check.

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There’s a few things to think about when buying vintage enameled cast iron fixtures, and the first is really to inspect the condition of the enamel. I don’t mind a little etching and minor staining (which can often be improved with non-abrasive cleaners or plain old white vinegar), but major chips, cracks, or areas of damage—especially where water will hit—will rust and degenerate over time.

Damaged enamel doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not a good buy, especially if the shape is super unique or something, but all of the repair solutions that I know about will never really measure up to an original enameled coating. There are epoxy-type patching compounds you can buy at most home improvement stores, which you basically spread on, let dry, and sand smooth, but the finish is never going to look seamless or perfect—it’ll just insulate the cast iron from further rusting. You can also get stuff like this reglazed professionally (typically they come to you, mask everything off, and spray a new coating on the fixtures), which looks nice at first but isn’t all that durable—you generally have to have it redone about once a decade or so, and it scratches and chips fairly easily in the meantime. The most durable solution I know of is sandblasting and powder-coating. In this process, the enamel finish is blasted off until the cast iron is bare, and then the entire thing can be powder-coated, which is essentially a very tough, durable paint treatment that can be done in a million different colors. It also tends to be pretty affordable, but prices vary. That’s the plan for the downstairs bathtub in my house, since it’s in super solid shape overall but the enamel has seen much better days, and I was quoted $300 to have the work done…which is much less than I’d spend on a brand new tub! This is the same process that my pal Anna had done on her bathroom fixtures, a radiator, and some exterior metal work, and all of them have held up beautifully!

I don’t know of a way to actually have something completely re-enameled (anyone?), though, so the best thing is really to try to find fixtures that don’t need this kind of repair work in the first place. It also keeps costs down, duh-sies. This sink is in great shape, so a little scrubbing should take care of it!

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The second thing to think about is the metal cleat that the sink hangs off of. If you’re installing one of these bad boys, bear in mind that they are HEAVY mo-fos and you may have to open your wall and install some wood blocking for the cleat to screw into. Anyway, often vintage sinks get separated from their original cleat. I bought this sink from the Historic Albany Foundation, which is a fun salvage place with good stuff at great prices, and luckily for me they had a big bin of these cleats to peruse, so it was just a matter of finding one that fit! If your sink is still in production (like the Kohler sink I bought a while ago), you may be able to just order the cleat directly from the manufacturer, and if you’re really in a bind, lots of people get them custom-made by a metal shop for a fairly nominal cost. Anyway, there are options! If you love the sink, don’t fret if it doesn’t have the cleat.

By the way, the nice man at the salvage place told me that often you’re better off with a steel cleat than a cast iron one. Cast iron becomes more brittle over time, so sometimes the cleats are cracked or broken either prior to or during installation. I know that rusty little thing looks like bad news, but it’s very solid and I was assured should hold everything just fine.

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Lastly, the taps! As much as I don’t really mind double taps on old sinks, especially for a half-bath, I gotta say I do prefer a single faucet. Often cast iron sinks that are originally made with double taps can be elegantly converted (Anna did this in her bathroom, too), but the cost of the plumbing work and the faucet/knobs/escutcheons definitely adds a few hundred dollars to the price. So potentially your cheap $25 sink really becomes a $300-$400 sink, which is still fine, but maybe not the kind of deal you thought it was.

ANYWAY, I know this thing looks REALLY gross, but I’m guessing some Barkeeper’s Friend and some TLC will clean it up. Maybe a few new little parts, too, but hopefully that won’t be a big deal. The faceted shape of that little faucet is so cute, though, right? I like it.

I’m so glad to report that—I THINK HOPE AND PRAY—winter is pretty much done. There’s still snow on the ground, but it’s melting, and hopefully it won’t be too long before I can really get back to work on the cottage. The lack of heat (or a gas line!) really kind of messed everything up for a few months, but now that we’re more or less out of the danger zone of pipes freezing and stuff, I’m excited to get back in there! Now that things have stalled and dragged out for so long, it’s going to be super exciting to start making real progress again and whipping this place into shape!

Weekend Thrifty Finds!

It’s been a while since we did a good old “look, here’s some crap I bought!” post, hasn’t it? It’s a crying shame.

Well. In case you started reading this blog less than 10 minutes ago and don’t know what I’m all about, first of all—welcome. Second of all, you should know I like to shop. I like to shop but I don’t like to spend a lot of money, so at some point in my life I really embraced that the way to fulfill both of these goals was to shop for secondhand stuff. eBay, Craigslist, consignment shops, weird barns full of antiques, thrift stores, the curb on trash night, auctions, salvage shops…I love them all equally and for different reasons. I’m an equal-opportunity crap collector. Admittedly a part of the appeal of doing freelance design work is that I get to spend more time satisfying these urges, except I get to buy things with other people’s money and for other people’s houses. Even though I end up wanting to keep everything. Life is one big struggle.

I’ve been trying to slow my roll on the thrifty front lately for two reasons:

1. We are running out of space, and it makes me feel like a crazy person. Our basement has extra furniture. The room above our kitchen? Packed. There’s furniture in the garage and furniture in the big, un-renovated living room, and there’s just no way we’re going to use it all—this much is clear. Of course, I maintain that we will use some of it, and therefore we should keep it around until the house is done, at which point I’ll need to find a new excuse to hoard. A client might need it! The cottage might need it for staging! And so on. I’m great at justifying my crap.

2. Buying cheap stuff is only cheap until you buy a lot of it, at which point it becomes…not so cheap. And I’m a little cash-strapped right now between this stupid house and this stupid cottage and being in between freelance gigs the heat bills on our house ain’t cheap and…ya know. Should probably stop buying things that aren’t human food and/or dog food.

BUT SOMETIMES YOU CAN’T HELP IT. SOMETIMES A FRIEND (who you invited) DRIVES YOU TO A PLACE (because you specifically asked him to) AND SHOWS YOU NICE THINGS (which you reasonably guessed would be there in the first place) AND YOU’RE FORCED TO BUY THEM (because otherwise you might feel sad later on that you didn’t).

Ugh. So here’s some shit I bought because the choice was basically between these vintage items and everlasting regret and remorse.

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So, this MIRROR. Or maybe I should call it a “mirror”? Lord knows I do not need more mirrors. My main weaknesses in life are old mirrors, old rugs, old lighting, and old chairs. Also, old houses and old dogs. I have a lot of mirrors and I love them all but I’m especially into this one, and at $60 I felt like I owed it to myself (I did not) to take it home and make me so happy (it did). This beige colored parts you’re seeing, by the way, are just the wall behind the glass, where the reflective foil has just completely worn away and disappeared over the years.

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My major rules with mirrors are these:

1. There has to be something interesting about the frame. If you only like the shape of the frame, you can always paint it, but I like my frames to have some weird Victorian detailing like the one in the office or an interesting shape like the one over our apartment’s mantel, or just have a great patina of wear like the one hanging out in the kitchen. I love the shape and the tone of the wood on this guy, so it’s a winner.

2. There has to be something good about the glass. New mirror glass, even if it’s in an old frame? Kind of boring, usually not worth it. Extra points for a bevelled edge, but not necessary. My real weakness is when the foil backing that makes the mirror reflective starts to disintegrate over time, leaving what some would consider “damage.” That’s just patina, folks! As long as the glass isn’t shattered, I pretty much feel like the “worse” shape it’s in, the better! This guy ranks pretty highly, to the point that it barely even functions as a mirror anymore. You can get the basic idea of looking at a human figure, but that’s about it. It’s oddly flattering. LOVE.

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Also, it tells me what to do at night. Shhhhh.

What else did I buy, you ask? I’ll tell you.

coasters

For a while now, I’ve been on the hunt for some old-school glass furniture coasters. You can still buy these new and there’s a nice selection of vintage on eBay, but for some reason I was stubborn and wanted to just stumble upon a bunch of them in a junk shop or something. For what, I’m not even really sure, but I figure they have to come in handy and they just look a billion times more awesome than a shim or a block of wood or whatever the other alternatives are.

Anyway, I bought 8 in total! The shopkeeper wanted $2 a piece for them (I had to hunt them out of a huge bin of old Atlas jar lids), which was fine I guess. 4 of them are smaller and four are bigger—these are the bigger ones pictured above. I probably should have taken another photo after I washed them because they no longer look like a gunky mess, but sometimes I forget stuff.

Man, I really wish I knew about these back when I bought my first credenza that sat on a very sloped floor, or then when I bought my second credenza that also sat on a very sloped floor. These would have been a much easier and more attractive solution to leveling those things out. Oops! Live and learn.

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Anyway, we had two radiators that needed to be shimmed under the front two legs. Radiators are really designed to be most effective when sitting level, which isn’t always easy on floors that have some slant to them. Luckily the floors in our house are very level for the most part, but there are areas where they do slant downward away from exterior walls for about 1 foot into the room and then more or less level out. Prior to this discovery, the radiators had been sitting on some unattractive old pieces of scrap wood…but now….

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I put the four smaller ones to work under those two radiators, and they look a billion times better! I know that sounds like a bad idea (incredibly heavy objects on top of pieces of glass…), but it seems totally fine and stable and unlikely to cause any problems. So the front of the radiators have been shimmed up a bit, and…I love these things. They’re so pretty! Getting them under the feet was a little challenging, just because the radiator did need to be lifted/rocked a fraction of an inch to get the coasters under the feet. You do have a little play with these pipes, in my experience, though not a ton, so you want to be careful and watch your unions once everything is settled. One of the radiators did develop a small, slow leak at the union after we persuaded the coaster in, but a couple turns on my pipe wrench was all it needed to seal itself up again. No leaks + level radiators + attractive shims = success!

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Oh, let’s see, what else…OH RIGHT THIS LIGHT. I love this thing. It definitely bears a strong resemblance to the large Alabax light from Schoolhouse Electric, except this one is vintage and came out of a prison! At least that’s what the sellers told me. Clearly I have a thing for stuff in my house having dark, creepy pasts. And at $85 vs. $139 + shipping for the new Schoolhouse version, the price was decent.

I think this guy is going to hang in the back of the first floor hallway. We had an overheat light added there since it was SO dark back in that area of the house, but I don’t want to make it too conspicuous. The big nice chandelier with the big fancy ceiling medallion will go at the front of the hallway, where the front door is, but I don’t want to make a big production of a light fixture in this spot. Something small and inconspicuous (but pretty, duh) has been what I’ve been on the hunt for, and I think this fits the bill perfectly. I can’t wait to finally paint out that space and get this thing hung up! It’s already been freshly rewired, too, which saves me a little work.

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Lastly, I picked up this little assortment of pretty porcelain plumbing escutcheons! You see these a lot in old houses with old plumbing, but they should be easy to incorporate in new plumbing, too. The ones with the little holes are for supply lines, like on a sink, and the bigger one should work for a waste line on a sink.

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They need a little work in terms of stripping the paint off and cleaning them up a bit, but I love them! I think I’m going to be greedy and save these two more elaborate ones for the bathroom in my own house, but I’m planning to put the smaller/simpler ones in the bathrooms in Bluestone Cottage. I know I could just as easily go buy some cheap stock chrome ones at Lowe’s or something, but this will just take it up a notch—and at $5 a pop, that seems entirely worth it. It’s the little details that will make these brand-new-but-aspiring-to-look-kind-of-original spaces look appropriately old, so I’m really psyched to see them in place…even if my plumber is going to think I’m crazier than he already does. He loves me for it, and I love him for putting up with me. Bless his beautiful plumber heart.

Kohler Brockway Sink in the Cottage Bathroom!

Once in a while, one of the really awesome benefits of having this blog is that it’s kind of like I have more eyes thrifting for me. This kind of thing is a relatively rare occurrence—I’m not that fancy—but I do feel extra super lucky when I get an email or a tweet or a comment from a reader letting me know that they spotted this or that in a thrift store or on eBay or Craigslist and thought I might be interested.

About a year and a half ago, I wrote about that nice rosewood credenza that a very kind and neighborly reader named Priscilla found and put on hold for me at a thrift store. That was really awesome when that happened. Priscilla has been kind enough to text me every now and then if she see’s something while she’s out and about…and girlfriend just went and did it AGAIN.

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So one day while I was busy working on the living room at my house, Priscilla texted me a picture of this 3-foot wide enameled cast iron double sink over at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, asking if I wanted it since she couldn’t think of a reason to buy it herself. I don’t need it for my house, and it didn’t really fit into the cottage plan either, but come on…that’s a good-looking sink! Originally I was planning on doing some kind of double vanity/double sink situation in the full bath at the cottage, but after thinking it over for a few minutes and looking at a few pictures of this model in use, I started to get really excited about using this instead. The holes accommodate 2 separate faucets, so it has the functionality of double sinks but the simplicity and glamor of a single basin. What’s not to love?

I don’t know how old this particular sink is, but it’s actually still in production! It’s made by Kohler and is called the Brockway—looks like it retails for between about $1,200-$1,600, depending on the source. Mine was only $175! Such a score. It didn’t come with faucets, mounting hardware, or the soap dish that goes in the middle, so that’ll add a few hundred dollars, but that’s OK—it can all be ordered separately from Kohler, which is really nice. I don’t have the budget that would allow for buying this kind of thing new, so it’s exciting to be able to put something so high-quality in this house that will hopefully stay with it for a long, long time.

This sink feels especially meaningful because back in October, Kohler held a small conference for bloggers at their headquarters in Kohler, Wisconsin, which I had the pleasure of attending! Admittedly, I went into the trip knowing next to nothing about Kohler as a company (other than that they made my toilet, which I like…), but I had such an appreciation for them by the time I left. What really struck me was how Kohler has balanced almost 150 years of design innovation (they started by making enameled cast iron bathtubs in 1873!) with a real respect for historic styles and production methods—something that seems really out of the ordinary for such a large, international company.

We got to spend some time in a museum area of one of the Kohler buildings, and while it was interesting to see how much things have changed over almost 150 years in business, it was even more amazing to see how much has stayed the same. They still produce almost everything out of their Wisconsin factories, including so many classic styles that are really nicely suited to historic renovations. It made me so happy to see all that stuff right alongside their sleeker, more modern designs. On the last day, we even got to tour the factories, and I think the highlight for a lot of us was seeing the cast iron goods being made. In my admittedly nerdy sort of way, I like having this sink because I’ve seen firsthand exactly how it was made…coming out of the oven glowing red-hot, hot enough to melt the powdered glass particles that get sprayed on it to form the enameled surface…SO COOL. I wish I could go back, like, once a month.

ANYWAY. Want to take a look at how great this sink looks in a bathroom? Yeah, I do too.

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From Country Living / Photos by Max Kim-Bee (click photo for link)

I really like this picture because it’s so much of what I can envision for the cottage bathroom! I’ve been thinking a lot about plank walls for the entire upstairs space, including parts of the bathroom that wouldn’t be tiled. The reclaimed wood shelf, the mirror, the sconce situation…it’s all just so nice!

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From House Beautiful / Photo by Alec Hemer (click photo for link)

What’s better than one double sink? TWO DOUBLE SINKS. So much sink action. And oh hey look, more plank walls! And a plank ceiling! And…BRASS. I’m admittedly not a huge fan of the Cannock faucet that’s recommended to go with the sink (maybe I’d like it more in real life?), but I do really like these, and the brass factor just puts it over the top. I’ve never actually seen all-brass traps and supply lines in the real world, but damn. That looks great. Plumbing fantasies.

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From Remodelista / Photo by Sean Slattery (click photo for link)

Hot DAMN, this bathroom. Sooooooo gooooooood. I sort of laughed when I saw this photo because the subway tiles and black hex floor tiles are also things I’ve been mentally tossing around for the cottage bathroom. Although my tiles would be ceramic and these look to be marble, but whatever. Oh, and I see you, skinny beautiful black radiator. And those cabinets. And that gorgeous tub. GUH. But the sink looks amazing, right? Right. It’s such a versatile piece.

Looking at these fancy bathrooms makes going to my bathroom feel kind of like taking a dump in a porta potty on a hot summer day, but I don’t even care.

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So there. Obviously this bathroom has a ways to go before this sink can have its moment to shine, but it feels motivating to have it now, while I still have some time to plan. It makes me so excited to see it come together! Now to just find myself a tub…

Building the Faux Fireplace!

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Since I’ve been dealing with something of a forced hiatus from working on the cottage due to the gas/heat issues, I’ve taken the opportunity to refocus on my own renovation. Remember that? A lot of people in my life have assumed that since I’ve taken on a whole other renovation, my own house must be close to completion. VERY FALSE. I could try to list all the things I still need to do, but it would take you like three days to read and give me a panic attack, so just take my word for it. It’s a lot.

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I’ve talked before about the room at the front of our house, which was likely originally a parlor. It’s the first room t0 the right when you walk in the front door (you can look at a floor plan here), and essentially rounds out the side of this floor I’ve been working on since we bought the house—first with the kitchen, then the laundry room, then the dining room. A while ago, Max and I decided that this room would be a study/library/office type space (since there’s a much larger living room right across the hall), but we’ve since sort of switched gears on that. Realistically, the “big living room” is probably a couple years off—even though I’m dying to get to it, it’s low on the priority list. I don’t want to wait that long to have some kind of space to sit and hang out and entertain, though, so I want this to be the living room for now! It’ll still house the books (or most of them, anyway), but also a couch and a couple chairs and stuff like that. I’ve been working hard to get it done-ish before the cottage drags me back into its clutches.

ANYWAY. I’ve talked about this before, but one of my big conundrums with this room was the feeling that there was something missing. The wall that the room shares with the dining room is bumped-out, and there’s this narrow/shallow little closet on the side that I’ve been informed is called a chimney cupboard, and would have been used for wood storage and whatnot. You can kind of tell from the crappy picture above (taken at our first walk-through) that there’s a large patch in the floor in front of this wall, and that the baseboard ends abruptly.

I’m not sure exactly what was here originally, but I have a couple reasonable guesses. There’s a chimney behind the wall (which has since been dismantled below the roof line, so doesn’t actually do anything), and a vent hole up near the ceiling. The floor patch indicates that there was some kind of stone hearth set into the floor here, and likely a wood-burning stove sitting on top of that. Our house was built around 1865, and since radiators didn’t come into use until the end of the century (and could have been installed here as late as the 1920s, perhaps), wood stoves would have been the original heat source. As for a mantel, it’s anyone’s guess. There’s a beautiful marble one in the big living room, but whatever used to live on this wall has been gone for a long time.

Given all of this, I had this big idea. Why not put something back in that spot? Even if it didn’t actually serve a functional purpose, a proper-looking fireplace would go a long way toward anchoring the room and providing some nice ambiance. The fireplace in our apartment is purely ornamental, but just the fact that it’s there gives the room so much. So that is what I set out to do. Fake fireplace plan: a-go.

A quick word about the fakey-ness of it all: I feel so weird about this kind of thing! I sort of think of myself as a modernist renovating an old house, and this kind of thing feels distinctly not-modernist. It’s the same feeling I get about putting up a bunch of foam ceiling medallions (which I’ve faux-aged on top of it!) or trying to recreate original molding work like I did in the laundry room. What’s so wrong with new work looking…new? Isn’t there something much more honest and authentic about just embracing all the original detail that does remain in this house, and allowing the new work and materials to just be what they are? I don’t know. I think about it a lot. But at the end of the day, I guess I want the house to seem more impeccably preserved than it actually is, for better or worse. So I’m going with it!

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SO, now that I’ve written like 700 words and bored you to tears, let’s get into how this faux-fireplace party went down. It started with this mantel. Back in MAY. Yeah, this took a while from start to finish. My wonderful and insanely talented friend, John, ripped this mantel out of his house during his own renovation, but had stashed it in his basement instead of tossing it. His house was built in 1723, and this mantel was fabricated and added in the 1920s. I’d say John’s renovation sensibility is a bit more purist than mine, so he worked with a woodworker to custom build a more period-accurate mantel to replace this one (which is gorgeous, by the way). So anyway…John had a mantel, I needed a mantel, John didn’t want any money for it, I like free things…it worked out.

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When I got the mantel home, I opened up the part of the wall where the old mantel would have theoretically been, wondering if I’d find a firebox or just the chimney. Just the chimney! Since there wasn’t any depth to work with inside the wall, whatever would go on the inside of the mantel had to be essentially flush with the wall. Hmmm. Hmmmmmmm.

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I dragged the mantel into place-ish (Linus assisted), just to get a sense of how it would look and feel. Even though this thing is quite a bit newer than my house, I feel like it plays really nicely with our moldings. As you can tell from the floor patch, it’s about a foot or so wider than what was here originally, which is something I sort of fretted over before deciding to just go with. I really didn’t want to get into trying to hack the mantel down to the “right” size (I liked the proportions of it as-is), and I really liked the idea of using this mantel in particular because I had it, I didn’t have to pay for it, and I liked the whole story behind it. Something new or salvaged just wouldn’t have held the same meaning to me.

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So, onwards! I removed the old patch job with no real plan about what was to go in its place, but sometimes you just need to dive in and figure it out later.

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Unfortunately, this plaster wall was just beyond the point of trying to salvage. The plaster had separated a lot from the lath, it had some very significant cracks, and had undergone some failed repair attempts over the years with lots and lots of joint compound but nothing (like mesh tape, plaster buttons, or screening) to stabilize the plaster from further shifting. Even though I want to save as much of the original plaster walls in the house as possible, the best course of action here was to just start over, so that’s what I did!

lathshims

Since new 1/2″ drywall wouldn’t match the original depth of the plaster walls, I experimented with reusing the original lath strips, this time nailed directly onto the wall framing. I could have also just left all of the lath in place, but I’d already taken it down and this allowed me to still salvage the bulk of it for some other use down the road. I have no idea what to do with all my lath, but I’ll come up with something!

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Putting up the new drywall was no big thing. Since the underlying framing wasn’t very smooth, the drywall wasn’t either—but I had a plan! I actually wanted it to be a little irregular to mimic the look of the other plaster walls.

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I used fiberglass mesh tape and joint compound to cover the seams and screw holes. You typically do three coats of joint compound with new drywall and then finish off with a fine sanding before paint.

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I wanted to experiment with getting more of an authentic plaster look, though, so I opted to skim-coat the entire wall with joint compound. I just used the pre-mixed all-purpose stuff, and I wasn’t too careful about it: I wanted the thickness of the skim-coat to vary slightly along the surface of the wall. In some places it’s barely there at all, and in some places it’s probably about 1/8″ thick.

skimcoatedwall

Here’s a terrible picture of the whole wall skim-coated. The whiter spots are where the joint compound is thinner and dried faster. It doesn’t look at all like a textured wall or anything—it’s just very very subtly uneven so that it doesn’t stand out as looking flat and new. I sanded it all before painting and it really is indistinguishable from the plaster. Yay!

marble

Ok, moving on…one of the big challenges was figuring out the material for the hearth. There were a few options here. Sometimes, like in our apartment fireplace, you’ll see a tiled hearth—but tile is tough to pull off without the whole thing looking brand new. New tile isn’t made the same way as old tile and doesn’t have the same character, so I’d either have to get really spendy reproduction tile or find something salvage. What I thought I really wanted, though, was a nice slab of honed marble. I mean, what’s more classic and pretty than marble, right? Since the size I needed was somewhat irregular (about 75 inches with a flexible depth, ideally between about 16-24 inches) I thought maybe I could find something cheap-ish in the remnant section of a stone yard.

Wrong! I took myself to a local stone place (that mainly does countertops and stuff) and found this really gorgeous slab. It was honed, it was about the right size, and it was even a little damaged along the edges and had a couple scratches, which I sort of liked. But then it priced out at over a thousand dollars, so I burst into tears and ran away. Soapstone was even more expensive, and granite was a little cheaper but still too much money, and I didn’t want granite at all anyway.

bluestone

Then it dawned on me: what about good old Kingston bluestone? I suppose it’s even possible that that’s what was here originally, but who knows. I could probably find something that was locally quarried, super pretty, and much cheaper than marble or soapstone. It would reference Kingston history and even sort of tie into the exterior of the house, which is lined with bluestone sidewalks and pathways.

It just so happens that John, the same friend who gave me the mantel, worked for a couple of years as a stone mason when he first moved up here. My friends, bear in mind that this man is an optometrist. Almost 15 years ago at this point, he decided to take a break from optometry, pretty much just for the sake of learning something awesome that he felt passionate about, and I guess that thing was building stone walls and stuff. He worked as an apprentice under a stone mason named Sean Fox. So when I mentioned wanting bluestone, John knew who to call!

Sean was awesome to work with. I told him what I was doing and what I wanted, and he helped me find slabs that were good options. He also has the cutest German Shepherd named Dante, who is modeling the slab that I chose! The slab was thicker than I anticipated (Sean said that a thinner slab was likely to crack either during transport or once it was in place) and cost $400, which I figured was reasonable. I don’t know if I could have found the stone cheaper elsewhere, but at that point I was excited to have found something I liked and from somebody who understood what I was after. They had to cut the slab down slightly to fit my dimensions, and then burned the edges just a bit. I didn’t want it to look machine-cut, but I also didn’t want it to look overly rustic and rough-hewn, either. He did a perfect job, and I got to pick it up a week later.

FYI, bluestone is HEAVY. I don’t know how much this thing weighed, but I’d guess around a thousand pounds. Seriously! Sean loaded it into the back of John’s pick-up with a forklift, but it was up to me to figure out how to get it into my house and in place on the other end. Yikes! So one day, I finagled all of the people working over at Bluestone Cottage to take a break and walk over to my house to help with this thing. The whole ordeal was VERY STRESSFUL. I don’t have any pictures because I was helping and also shielding my eyes and generally terrified that the whole thing would go crashing through the floor and down into the basement and the whole house would collapse. But between about 6 guys, we were able to get it inside and into place and it wasn’t even as horrible as anticipated. I had to cut out a little more of the floor beforehand, but that wasn’t a big deal.

summercover

With the mantel in my possession and the hearth in the floor (and not going anywhere, ever), I still had to figure out how to sort out the space inside the mantel. I really fly by the seat of my pants, evidently! John actually gave me some cast iron insert parts that were with the mantel back at his house, but they were designed for a firebox and wouldn’t work here, since the wall doesn’t actually have any depth. I really needed something that would cover the entire surface and give the illusion of depth behind it without actually requiring it.

Enter: the fireplace cover! I went to one of the salvage places in town and found this big old rusty cast iron beauty. It isn’t so hard to find the arched (or sometimes rectangular) surrounding part, but the summer cover that goes inside it (exactly what it sounds like—a decorative cover to conceal the firebox in the months when the fireplace wouldn’t be in use) is a bit more rare—and finding the two together is even more challenging! I got really lucky that this one was waiting for me. The dimensions were perfect, and the detailing is just gorgeous! It’s definitely very Victorian (my house is more Greek Revival—in other words, pre-Victorian), but I love it all the same. It came home with me for $150, which is more than I wanted to spend, but after some poking around online seems to be a steal of a deal.

drywalltracing

OK, so! Mantel—check! Hearth—check! Summer cover—check! The next decision was AGONY. What to put between the inside edges of the mantel and the summer cover? Usually I’m pretty decisive with this stuff, but this whole project seemed so full of unknowns and opportunities to royally fuck everything up and end up with something that looked super dumb and super faux and lame and I was very afraid of that happening. The idea of tile was kind of nice, but it was the same issue with the hearth—new tile would result in the whole thing looking new and kind of cheesy, and vintage or repro tiles are so hard to come by and so expensive, and I’d already spent way more money (remember, I’m $550 deep at this point!) on this project that is purely aesthetic and was supposed to be essentially free. Then I went through this long phase where I thought about doing brick veneer tiles and painting them, but I eventually got over it and nixed that idea. I became mildly obsessed with old fireplaces everywhere I went—studying them to figure out what would look authentic and be feasible, and what I landed on was a plastered treatment. You see this a lot in old houses—maybe a brick surround that’s been plastered over and painted. Often the hearth is also painted, but I wasn’t about to slap paint on my bluestone!

So anyway. More faux. I turned the mantel around, screwed a scrap piece of 1/2″ drywall in through the back, and traced the outer edges of the cover with a sharpie. The inner part of the cover is deeper than the outer part, if that makes sense, so the outside needed a lip to sit flush with, while the inside needed a little space behind the face of the drywall. I have no idea if I’m explaining this well. Then I took a drywall knife and cut an inch or two inside my sharpie line and removed the inner piece. Then I (finally!) moved the mantel into place and secured it to the wall by screwing a few 4″ screws through the front and into studs. Then I simply patched the holes (I like Ready Patch for small things like this—it sands down smoother than wood putty) and caulked the places where the mantel meets the wall. Then I just had to patch in a few floor boards and the original molding that I pried off and saved way back when I started this whole rigamarole.

roughskimcoat

Since drywall is so flat and smooth, I used more joint compound to create the faux plaster effect. I was very liberal with it—sort of slathering it on with a 6″ putty knife, intentionally creating and leaving ridges and imperfections along the way. You can sort of tell from the picture how the texture looks, but it wasn’t super evident until I got to the painting step. Anyway, once everything had about 36 hours to dry, I gave it the lightest sanding and moved on.

wirecupbrush

Because the summer cover had been sitting outside for so long at the salvage place and was covered in rust, I used this wire brush attachment on my drill to clean up the surface and prepare it for paint. These things are great for stuff like this! Then I went back in with a regular wire brush to get in the nooks and crannies of the pattern. I’d say all the prep took maybe an hour, and then I just wiped it down with a damp microfiber cloth and let it dry.

coveron

Securing the cover ended up being easier than anticipated. Before I put the whole thing in place, I painted a piece of drywall black and screwed that into the studs, so that you don’t see the framing through the holes in the summer cover pattern. Because the summer cover interlocks with the outer part, all I did to secure the whole assembly was use existing holes in the summer cover pattern. I drove two large screws into the studs behind—you can sort of see the screws in the picture above. The heads are sunk into the existing holes in the pattern, and after the paint, you have to really search for them. Nobody will ever notice except me. And everyone I tell.

painting

FINALLY, PAINT TIME! I had about half a can of high-gloss black oil paint from the failed kitchen floor experiment of yore, and so I broke it out here. This makes the project, as far as I’m concerned. The gloss black accentuates the texture of the faux-plaster business and the intricacy of the summer cover, but I think keeps everything looking understated and classic and pretty. Oil paint is so nice to work with once in a while for small stuff like this—there’s really nothing like it. After this first coat, I caulked at the transition between the cover and the faux-plastered surround and then painted a second coat. The finish is so hard and smooth and pretty. I’m thrilled with how it turned out!

fireplace3

ANNNNDDDDD, DONE. I love it. I really do. It completely changes the room. I don’t feel like it dominates, but it does provide a focal point and just a certain ambiance that was missing before. And I feel like it just fits—like you’d never walk into the house and think it was added recently or even really pay a lot of attention to it at all. That’s exactly what I wanted.

Fireplace2

I’m happy with the way it ended up fitting on the wall, too! Even though it’s a little wider than whatever was here originally, I don’t think it feels out of place or two big for the room.

I love the bluestone, but I do keep wondering what would happen if I tried to darken it up a little bit. I’m sort of afraid to touch it because I don’t want to ruin it, but I wonder if mineral oil would have the same kind of effect on this that it does on soapstone? I don’t know. I’ll live with it for a while and see how I’m feeling some other time.

I’m resisting showing wider shots of the room because it’s actually almost done! Told you I’ve been working hard. There are still a few major items to check off the to-do list, but I’m super excited about the way it’s coming together. It’s so weird and exciting to have this whole other usable space in the house! I can’t wait!

Gutting the Cottage.

pile

Here’s how I thought things would pan out with the cottage:

1. Finish the exterior.

2. Take a week off from the cottage, maybe.

3. Gut the interior.

4. You know, the rest of it.

It was all going to be very orderly and civilized.

That’s not what happened, though. Instead, it rained. That’s all it really took. I was about halfway through building the planters outside and I had some extra hands with me, and after an hour or so of working outside in the rain and the mud, I’d hit my limit. It was wet and cold and I had to just call it. Screw civility and order! Let’s wreck some shit.

Demo-ing the interior of the cottage was bittersweet. I feel like a normal gut renovation usually entails removing beautiful and/or salvageable materials and sending them to a landfill, only to be replaced by new stuff that will never have the same quality or character as what was there before. It’s wasteful and destructive and horrible, generally. But that doesn’t really apply here. I’m pretty sure I saved everything worth saving (and probably some stuff that wasn’t), but there wasn’t much. I hated sending so much stuff to a landfill, but it really was trash—broken, beyond the point of repair, with no potential for reuse. Sad.

BUT. It was all very very exciting, too. I’m guessing the house saw a pretty major overhaul sometime in the 40s or 50s (and then some other changes later on), so everything was finished in (very, very damaged) drywall. The kitchen was already pretty much gone, the bathroom fixtures were all inexpensive and lightweight…considering the entire interior of the house had to go, none of the work was all that grueling. And stripping the scary cosmetic stuff away felt good. Underneath the damage and grime and mess, this house looks more or less like any other house. Probably way better than my house would look without walls! It already looks way better, at least to me.

kitchenbefore

Remember where we started off? That kitchen…shudder. It was bad news.

kitchen

See? Better! The studs and joists and sheathing are all in good shape, which is great to see. This isn’t how windows and doors are framed nowadays, but they’ve been holding up fine for a long time and I’m not worried about them. It should be grandfathered in when the framing gets inspected. The whole house is balloon-framed, too, meaning the studs on the exterior walls go all the way from the sill plate above the foundation to the top plate below the rafters. Also not how things are done anymore, but it’s sort of fun to see! It also makes running electrical a little easier, which is nice I guess.

You can’t tell from the picture, but the opening to the kitchen from the dining room has NO support! None. This is a load-bearing wall, and the studs are just cut off at the ceiling. That’s not good! It’s sort of surprising there isn’t a sag (or, you know, the whole thing didn’t collapse). It’s totally fixable, though…just need to beef up the opening and add a header and we’ll be in business. That was actually part of my plan, anyway—to make this opening a *bit* smaller and more defined. Right now it’s sort of trying and failing to be “open-concept” and I don’t want that for this house. Even though this renovation is going to be about 90% new (I reserve 10% for the floors, doors, and windows), I want it to feel old and authentic to what could have been here.  I’ll obviously talk a lot more about that later. Like probably too much. Like probably so much that you’ll want to set me on fire.

upstairs-2

ANYWAY. It was very hard to take a lot of pictures during demo, partly because I was covered in grime and pulling things apart and partly because maybe millions of photos aren’t that necessary. Piles and piles of debris. That’s pretty much it.

This is the middle section of the upstairs, which is the oldest section of the house.  The ceiling here is LOW—like 6’8″, so on the agenda is sorting out the framing in the ceiling and hopefully gaining at least a few inches in the process. It’s nice to see the chimney, but it needs some repairs and I think I’m going to have to repoint it. I’d like to maintain it, though…it’s one of the few original things left in the house and I think exposing the brick will add some nice texture and character to the renovated space.

upstairsroof

Check out that cobweb situation! I wish it had been possible to get better shots of this stuff, because the structural stuff up in here is bonkers. The roof in the middle/oldest section of the house pitches oppositely from how the roofs in the front and the back pitch, leaving some very strange framing in the middle. Nothing was done correctly when the additions were made, so a lot of the framing just got hacked away at over the years instead of properly supported and whatnot. Half of the rafters are sort of just floating there, and the collar ties are floating on the floating rafters, and the whole thing is just insane and bad.

upstairs3

This is the new view from the big bedroom in the front to the back! See what I mean about nothing really being supported in the middle there? But it’ll be OK. The framing job is definitely going to be more extensive than I’d really bargained for, but it’s all fixable. It’ll be solid as a rock soon enough.

By the way, that opening on the right side in this picture, close to the stair banister? That’s the doorway to the old bathroom! The whole thing is GONE and it feels so good! This master bedroom is going to be so amazing without a big bathroom carved into it. I’ll put together a post soon with before/after floor plans so you can get a better sense of this stuff. I’m sure this is a little confusing.

debrispile

So…the debris piles were MASSIVE. There were very large vent holes in the floor in both the front and back bedrooms (to allow heat to travel to the upstairs), which proved SUPER helpful during demo since we could just throw almost everything through the holes and down to the first floor.

Since I sort of jumped the gun on demo, I wasn’t totally prepared with, say, a plan to get rid of all this waste. I’d asked about dumpsters at the Department of Public Works back in mid-September when I first started working on this house, and it sounded simple enough. Since this property doesn’t have a driveway, I’d need to get a permit to place the dumpster on the street, but the folks at Public Works made that sound fairly fast and painless.

Then it came time to actually get the dumpster, and it was not fast and painless. Everyone I’ve dealt with in Kingston city government has been wonderful (and very supportive of this project!), but I think the Public Works folks are a little underfunded and overworked and even just getting a call back was a little difficult. Not having a dumpster was starting to become a problem on my end, since the house was so overloaded with debris that nothing could really get done. And then I finally did hear back and…no dumpster. They’d decided that the street was too narrow to place a dumpster even for a very short period (I offered to fill it in a day or two), so I’d have to figure out something else.

Entire house, completely gutted. No dumpster. How. Why.

This was not terrific news.

The only work-around I could really think of was putting the dumpster in my driveway and somehow transporting all the waste from this house to my house, but that seemed a little insane. It would probably have taken like 30 Bagsters to clear out the whole house, and since those wind up running about $200 per bag here, that was also not a good option. So the only thing left was to take it all to the dump ourselves.

One of the guys who’s been working for me mentioned that his dad had a small-ish trailer for the back of his car that we could use, and my wonderful contractor Edwin offered up the use of his monster truck, so that’s how it started.

truckdumpster

Nice, right? We parked the truck right on the sidewalk, hoped we wouldn’t get ticketed (we didn’t), and brought stuff out on wheelbarrows. We had a few people and two wheelbarrows, so it worked out. A couple people worked on filling the wheelbarrows, and a couple of people moved them from the house, up that wobbly ramp, and into the truck. It wasn’t horrible! Then we strapped a tarp over the whole thing and drove it off while a few people stayed behind to load the trailer. The dump (technically, the Transfer Station) closes at 2:15 in the afternoon here, so we only got three trips in on the first day, but it made a surprisingly big dent in the mess. I should probably get myself one of those trailers at some point. So handy!

dump

The dump was nuts, by the way. I feel like every single person should be required to go to the dump at least once. Schools should take field trips there. It’s not like I’m totally unaware of where my garbage goes, but it’s a different thing to really see it in action and on this kind of scale…and Kingston is not a big city. Huge trucks bring huge loads of garbage into this huge warehouse space. Then huge backhoes push it around and into a pile. Then other huge backhoes take the pile and drop it into a huge hole in the floor, where a huge tractor-trailer is parked. When the tractor-trailer gets full, it drives the trash out to…I don’t even know where. A landfill in some other part of the country, probably. It’s impossible to even fathom the environmental impact of all of this…and the fact that it’s like this here pretty much all day, everyday, and there are places exactly like this everywhere else, too. The whole thing makes my head spin, obviously.

So anyway. Be mindful of your waste. Compost. Recycle. Freecycle. Don’t tear down old houses. The end.

goodies

I did scoop up a couple of treasures from the dump, though! Can you believe someone was throwing these away? So frustrating! The thing that was really aggravating was that one of the workers told me I technically wasn’t allowed to take them, but he’d make an exception. I mean, I sort of understand that they can’t really have people rifling through the dump around heavy machinery and stuff all day looking for crap to take home or take to a scrap yard and get paid for, but come on. There must be a better way! The whole thing is just upsetting. But anyway. I don’t even know if I’ll end up staging this house for sale or what, but a pretty vintage fan and beautiful antique sewing machine for free? Don’t mind if I do.

Oh! Somehow I didn’t get a picture, but the city did end up throwing me a bone and letting me use a city dump truck for a couple days. It was the smallest of the city dump trucks—essentially the capacity of 2 pick-ups—which was the biggest thing they were comfortable parking on the street. They also waived the typical fee (which I think is like $50 a day) for me, presumably due to my good looks and charm, which was super nice and they totally didn’t have to do. So I only had to pay for the disposal fees, which are calculated by weight, and it made things a little easier since I only had to load the truck, not unload it on the other end. Thanks, Kingston!

scrapyard

I also made a couple of trips to the scrap metal yard! There ended up being a fair amount of metal left in the house…the old baseboard radiator covers, a few of the radiators themselves (which are a copper pipe with aluminum fins attached), and a little bit of copper plumbing. The scrap yard is a little more heartening than the dump since you get paid for what you bring (based on the type of material and the weight), and everything is getting recycled, but it was still maddening!

stove

I spotted this beautiful antique wood stove sitting at the top of a scrap pile (terrible picture, sorry!) and offered to buy it back (for what purpose, I don’t even know), and they wouldn’t let me! So frustrating. Again, I sort of get the liability issue and all that, but it seems more than a little ridiculous that beautiful, probably still useful items can’t just be reused instead of melted down or whatever. Right? I’m aware that lots of scrap yards actually have shops where they keep stuff like this so people can do that very thing, but that doesn’t exist at either of the two scrap metal yards I’ve been to in Kingston. Super annoying, right? I’m just glad I didn’t see any clawfoot tubs or I might have actually had a heart attack.

So anyway. Getting rid of the garbage was in many ways a bigger project than the demo was. All in all, between 1 Bagster, 3 loads in the city dump truck, and 7 pick-up truck loads, I’ve had to dump about 14,000 pounds of trash. That’s a lot of trash. I feel shitty about it, but I don’t think there was really any way around it.  All of the disposal came out to the tune of $853.64, which is a decent amount of money but probably about half what it would have been if I was renting a dumpster on top of it, so I guess it all came out for the best. I also made back $254.10 in scrap metal (who woulda thought?), so that helps offset the dumping cost a bit.

upstairs

But hey look! After lots and lots of sweeping and clearing and sorting and mess, the house is pretty clean. It stayed this way for about .5 seconds, though—framing actually began the same day as the last day of demo work! Madness! So it felt like as soon as one mess was kind of almost cleaned up, another mess started. That’s kind of just how it goes. A huge part of my life these days is just managing mess. I go through a lot of respirator masks. And contractor bags. And I come home looking like I’ve been down in the mines all day. It’s way cute.

That big pile of wood in the corner got saved, by the way! I was really careful about trying to get all the trim out in full pieces and save it all, which ended up being a TON of wood (this is just one of multiple piles). A lot of it is very dirty and some of it is flakey and it’s all very multi-colored, but there’s nothing really wrong with it and I figure I can probably reuse a lot of it when the times comes for that! Keeps it out of a landfill and keeps me from having to buy all that trim which would end up being very costly. It’s mostly just 1×4 or 1×6 or some weird size in between, but I figure I can always rip pieces down, maybe add some detail with my router, that kind of thing. I’m sort of excited to see what can be done with it all. It’s like a big puzzle! In the meantime, I’ve finally finished pulling all of the nails out of it all so that the pile can be a little more orderly and easier to manage.

bathrom

Diary time? Are we over this yet? I feel so woefully behind but I’m trying to catch up!

Day 15: Worked outside with Chris setting deck blocks while Kodi, Mike, and Mikey worked on moving dirt to my backyard. I worked on planters with Kodi while Chris began demo’ing pink bedroom with Mike. Need to pick up 4 more deck blocks.

Day 16: Chris and Chris on demo duty inside. Mike and Mike on excavating yard outside. Me and Kodi finished planters. Edwin came with power washer. Took a break to move bluestone hearth into my library. Cody and I began installing decking. Finished excavating yard with Edwin’s truck. Cody and I finished deck but are one board short.

Day 17: Chris, Mike, and Mike worked on demo-ing master bedroom. Cody and I ran to Lowe’s to purchase plants before they are out of stock and 21 bags of topsoil for planter boxes, along with missing deck board. Finished deck. Unloaded soil and sent all workers home at 12:30. Went to Department of Public Works to try to get dumpster. No luck.

Day 18: Demo’d upstairs bathroom. Sealed planter boxes, spread topsoil, and planted plants. Guys worked on clearing backyard and disassembling shed. Laid bluestone path to door. Entire crew has head cold, including me.

Day 19: Got mulch and pea gravel and pavers for front walk. Edged garden bed, planted, and mulched. Continued clearing backyard.

Day 20: Day off. Everyone is sick. Ran errands and started working on restoring front casement windows. Plan to boil hardware overnight.

Day 21: Kodi’s dad came with trailer and we went to dump with demo debris. Edwin brought truck. Got 3 trips in before closing at 2:15. Went to scrapyard with metal—$129. Went back and continued demo-ing interior.

Day 22: Worked on clearing out and gutting basement. Separated salvageable wood from garbage wood, pulled nails from walls studs and ceiling joists. City dump truck coming tomorrow.

Day 23: City dump truck came in morning. Filled twice. Demo’d more of interior and loaded stuff from backyard. Started removing rotted kitchen floor and tin ceiling for paint to be stripped. Plaster ceiling discovered above—will demo tomorrow.

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