All posts tagged: Thrifted & Scavenged

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!

10/8: 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.

10/9: 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.

10/10: 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.

10/13: 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.

10/14: Got mulch and pea gravel and pavers for front walk. Edged garden bed, planted, and mulched. Continued clearing backyard.

10/15: Day off. Everyone is sick. Ran errands and started working on restoring front casement windows. Plan to boil hardware overnight.

10/17 & 18: Still sick. Worked a little on windows.

10/20: 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.

10/21: 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.

10/22: 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.

Fireplace-ish!

study1

There’s this room in the front of our house on the main floor that I’ve always been a little baffled by. There are only four main rooms on the first floor (kitchen, dining room, living room…and this room), and I’ve taken to just calling it the “front room.” Sometimes it’s the “parlor” (fancy!) and sometimes it’s the “den,” but the truth is, I haven’t been sure what to do with it. Our house really isn’t that big (about 2300 sq. feet, which feels huge for us, but we’re used to living in little apartments), so it feels sort of stupid to have a whole room for which I haven’t been able to decide on a dedicated function.

For the past several months I’ve been using it as a very poorly located workshop and staging area for working on other spaces in the house, but since it’s adjacent to the dining room, also lacks a ceiling, and needs new electrical to be finished up, it makes sense to renovate the two rooms more or less simultaneously. Which means I’ve had to start thinking more seriously about what to do with it.

Here’s what I don’t want:

1. A main floor bedroom. No need, and I think it would be weird.

2. A den/TV room. There’a a whole other living room just across the hall (you can look at the floor plan here, which might help this make more sense…) which is enormous and going to be incredible someday. I know it’s often customary to have a more formal living room and then a less formal hang-out space with a TV and whatnot, but I don’t really believe in formal living rooms. That living room is going to be the best room in the house, and I want it to get used. As for the TV, I don’t really think I want one on the main floor at all. There’s a room upstairs that I think will make a really nice, cozy TV room, and I like that idea much more.

So what does that leave? Well. Let me tell you.

A study. That’s what we’re calling it. We have a ton of books that need a home (right now they’re pretty much shoved anywhere they’ll fit). We’ve both been transitioning to working much less from Brooklyn and much more from Kingston (yay!), but now Max really wants/needs a place to work that isn’t our bed. I envision this study having a desk, a chair or two, bookshelves, a nice rug…a place that doesn’t feel too formal and off-limits for a main-floor room (people should still feel free to mill about in it during parties and whatnot) but still functions as place we can get stuff done. I’m obviously partial to my little compact upstairs office, but I think this will be pretty great when we want to be working or hanging out together.

stud3

cornerradiator

That said, the furniture layout thing was still just…confusing me. Part of the challenge of the room is that it has three large windows, a radiator, two doors, and a funny little closet, but there’s no real focal point. It’s like there should be an architectural element to anchor the room around that isn’t there.

study-2

I might feel that way because there should be an architectural element that’s missing.

Originally, this wall sported some kind of fireplace. At some point, I think in the fairly recent past (50 years or so…), whatever was here was removed. You can tell because of the missing piece of baseboard, and the spot where the floor was very artlessly patched in with the wrong type of wood where I’m guessing there was some kind of stone hearth.

My normal inclination with stuff like this is to just let it be what it is and work with what we have, but then my friend John mentioned that he had an old mantel sitting in his basement that he’d taken out during the renovation of his insanely gorgeous house. And that I could have it. For free.

mantel

Oh. Well. That changes things, now doesn’t it?

A word about my friend John: he’s sort of the best. I love him to pieces. He’s welcomed us to Kingston with open arms, and made our first year here so great. He’s a veteran renovator and terrific to bounce ideas off of and nerd out over old house stuff, knows everything, and is just so kind. Everyone loves John. We’re so lucky to have him in our lives. He’s spent about 6 years renovating an incredible 1720s stone house around the corner from us (originally it was a tavern, and before he bought it, it was a doctor’s office!—you can see his Sneak Peek on Design*Sponge here!), and he has impeccable taste and is just so frustratingly clever. The more time I spend in his house, the more I appreciate all the little details and smart solutions that just make so amazing (and, in turn, make me feel like a totally inadequate garbage person). It’s endlessly inspiring. I think I want to do a series of posts about all the little things that make John’s house so special…so keep an eye out for that! Maybe that sounds boring but I swear it will blow your mind.

ANYWAY. Then I became obsessed with the idea of adding a fireplace back to this room. It just doesn’t feel right without it! It should be there, and it’s not there, and it makes the room feel weird and ungrounded. A fireplace is what this room needs to be whole again. I feel it in my bones. It’s going to be purely ornamental, and that’s totally OK. We’re hoping we can make the other fireplace in the living room wood-burning someday, but this one can just be for looks and candles and pretty for the sake of pretty. Who cares.

The mantel also comes with a really cool and very heavy cast-iron insert/cover thing that is still in his basement, but coming here soon. So stoked.

demo1

When I got it home, I immediately started tearing into the wall that it’s going on, just to see what was back there. I had this idea that maybe there would be an original firebox lurking in the wall, and I needed to know. This whole area was patched in with sheetrock, and underneath it old sheet metal had been nailed into the studs. Weird.

demo2

Once I exposed the edges of the sheet metal, I started peeling it back…

demo3

Between two studs, there was essentially a column of bricks skim-coated with plaster or joint compound or something. I noticed that the bricks look more like the “garbage bricks” that are inside all of our exterior walls rather than chimney bricks, so I eased one out and hoped that the whole chimney wouldn’t come crashing down.

demo4

Behind those bricks where the actual chimney! Huh! There’s a vent hole, which is weird because there’s a whole separate vent hole near the ceiling. I guess this one was replaced with the other one? Or all of this effort to seal it off so well was because this chimney used to vent the ancient boiler, and carbon monoxide poisoning is not cool. I don’t know. Anyway. No firebox. No biggie.

fireplace1

One thing I didn’t anticipate is that this mantel is HUGE. It’s quite a bit longer than whatever was here originally. My inclination is to center this new mantel on the wall rather than offset it to the side, as the original one was (which centers it in the room, but only if the fireplace fits the original dimensions, which this one doesn’t). Sure, I could cobble something together myself that might look passably good and fit more with the original dimensions, but I love that this one has a story and a past and that it’s free and was given with love. I don’t think trying to modify the proportions is a good idea. And even though it didn’t work for John’s house (he thinks it was fabricated and added in the 1920s, so far from period appropriate for him…he had a new mantelpiece custom-built that looks much better), I think it’s kind of perfect for ours! I think it complements the original woodwork really nicely and will just fit right in.

venthole

wallbow

Unfortunately, the wall that it’s going on is sort of a disaster. I’m all about preserving as much of the original plaster as possible, but this wall is already a weird mix of newer drywall patches and bad plaster repairs and a whole lot of joint compound and it’s just looks really bad. There are enormous cracks that have clearly undergone unsuccessful repairs over the years…it’s just a mess. I think I’m going to just bite the bullet and take it all down and start over with new drywall. Just this wall. Normally with drywall you just tape and mud the seams, but my plan with the wall and the ceilings is to do that and then skim-coat the entire thing with joint compound (and maybe experiment with mixing in some plaster of paris for a harder surface…something an old-school renovator told me he’s done with success in the past), so I think it’ll look really authentic when it’s all said and done. Part of what makes plaster so appealing is the texture of the imperfections, so I don’t want three perfectly-imperfect plaster walls and one that looks brand new, you know? I think it’s possible.

Anyway, I’m really excited about this faux-fireplace development! I have to decide on the exact placement (centered on the wall, I think, will look the best…), and then cut out some flooring and replace with a stone hearth and patch in surrounding flooring so it all looks seamless. I’m leaning toward honed marble (hopefully I can find a remnant piece without spending too much money…), but there are so many options! Soapstone? Slate? Bluestone? Hmmmmmm….

It’s going to be good. So very good.

We Got a Dresser!

dresser1

A couple of weekends ago, Max and Anna and I hung out for a few hours down around Newburgh. We went to Anna’s mommy’s house to say hi and check out her beaaaauuutiful newly-refinished wood floors. Those floors are not the point of this post, but it kind of threw my floor-refinishing fantasies into overdrive. Our floors downstairs are a total mess, and I know they could be gorgeous refinished. Someday, floors. Someday. Anna’s stepfather, Bernie, said I could do it myself…which of course is giving me all kinds of ideas about my own abilities that I probably shouldn’t have. We’ll see.

Anyway. Then we went to lunch, and on the way back to Anna’s house, we stopped to check out the new Newburgh Vintage Emporium. I don’t usually buy anything from places like this since everything is usually out of my price range, but it’s fun to look. And then, toward the end—THIS DRESSER! I’ve been casually looking for a dresser since we bought the house (let’s just not talk about our clothing storage situation prior to this, cool?), and then I saw this one and it was all over.

dresser3

I think the dresser is probably early-mid 1800s (so about the age of our house!), but beyond that I don’t know tons about it! I love how simple it is, and I love how each drawer is a different size, and that each one has a keyhole and lock. We don’t have the key, but I don’t really care about that. I wish it was more apparent from the photos, but what really drew me to it was the size! This thing is HUGE. It has the proportions of a much smaller dresser, but it’s totally bulky and boxy and enormous.

At about $300 it wasn’t the best bargain in the world, but I still think it’s a good deal for a piece like this (I think similar ones tend to be more in the $600-and-up-range). The reason it was probably semi-affordable is that the knobs definitely aren’t original, which doesn’t really bother me. For me, that’s always been a realistic way to collect antiques—pieces that have non-original parts or have been repaired or refinished or altered aren’t as valuable as ones in totally original condition. If prices aren’t already lowered as a result, knowing what to look for and pointing out stuff like that can be a good negotiating tactic. The knobs on this dresser are just too pristine and stained too uniformly to be original, but I think the shape and size are kind of nice and they aren’t by any means offensive, so I’ll live with them for a while and maybe change them up down the line somehow.

dresser2

Isn’t it super great how the back legs are all un-fancy and just continuous with the side/back panels and the front legs are pretty turned wood? I think that detail sold me. I love this thing.

Other than the dresser, the bedroom looks pretty much the same as it did back when I posted about it in august. We had to pick up the rug because it was just getting too dirty with all the dust and debris getting tracked around the house all the time, and we’ve since stripped the walls almost completely down to the bare plaster—they were covered in wallpaper and layers of paint, all of which were peeling off the walls in large pieces. I know the plaster walls look fun and arty and beautiful and people will try to convince me to not repair, skim-coat, and paint them, but I swear it’s just the pictures. Parts of them (like the part behind the dresser, for instance) are in pretty great condition, while other parts are totally falling apart and a complete mess, beyond the point of doing small fixes that could blend in a good way. I also just really don’t think this is the house for bare plaster walls. Our friend John has some bare plaster walls in his house (sealed with some kind of varnish to keep dust under control), but his house is a 1725 Dutch stone house and beautifully rustic, where that look really works. Our house, by contrast, is kind of a modest Greek Revival, and I really think the house just wants to be simple and clean and bright. Maybe that sounds like crazy-talk, but I really feel like the house dictates what it wants to be, and it’s more or less my job to make that happen.

ANYWAY.

I still love the deco bed but I do feel like it’s totally out of scale with the dresser and kind of wacky in a bad way, but that’s OK at this point. Maybe it’ll become a guest bed someday. Maybe the dresser will go somewhere else. I know everyone really just wants to see a beautiful, put-together room, but that’s not really how my life works and therefore not really how this blog works. Right now, our attention (and money) is focused almost exclusively on renovating the house and maybe collecting pieces here and there that we really love, and I’m fine with that. We (like pretty much everyone…) have years to figure out how to mix and match our pieces and play around until things look right (or right-enough), and honestly that’s way more exciting to me than trying to do it all in one pass.

The bedroom is pretty low on the list of priorities right now, honestly, but it feels very exciting to finally have a place to store our underwear like fancy adults! Step in the right direction.

The Little Office: It’s Done!

office2

Guess where I’m writing this post from. Guess guess guess.

That chair right there. With my laptop on that desk. In front of that glorious wall. In my office. Which is finished, FYI.

How did you spend your Saturday night? I spent mine pouring myself a glass of bourbon and polyurethaning a desktop and some shelves. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and cut and installed a roller shade and made some paint touch-ups to the walls and baseboards. Then I poured myself some more bourbon and painted the third and last coat of paint on the floor, and then I sat in the doorway and basked. I was drunk at this point, true, but I would have basked regardless. Because this room? It makes me really happy.

before2

When we bought the house, this is how things were looking. I really wish I had taken better photos than the ones that my old iPhone could capture because you totally can’t see how jacked up everything is. The walls were full of all sorts of problems, including old painted-over wallpaper that was peeling away from the plaster, enormous cracks, water damage from a leaky roof, and the floor had a few different types of linoleum laying on top of the original brown-painted tongue-and-groove subfloor. I think because this room is sort of out of the way and looked like such a wreck, Linus decided early on that it was an acceptable bathroom.

Rude.

before6

Things quickly went from bad to worse as I started to chip off all the old wallpaper to reveal the bare plaster. Large sections immediately fell apart and crumbled and later had to be patched in with drywall, but I was able to salvage and repair the vast majority of the plaster with plaster buttons, joint compound, various fiberglass mesh products, a lot of time and a huge learning curve. Repairing and restoring these walls myself felt completely overwhelming and impossible at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. The walls look so beautiful and authentic now, imperfections and all.

office1

BLAM. Office magic.

Take it in. I’m usually pretty humble and not totally satisfied with everything and annoying about dumb stuff, but I have to say that I’m so thrilled with how this room turned out. Apologies in advance for the overly self-congratulatory tone of this post! Maybe it’s hideous! But I love it. It feels so clean and crisp and fresh (which are very weird adjectives to be using about my house, the majority of which pretty much looks like the “before” photos of this room, with fewer ceilings…), and to me it’s just the right mix of modern and old. It feels amazing to have brought this room from a really forgotten, awkward little space (it’s only about 7’x8’!) to a beautiful, functional room with a real purpose. Considering the mountains of work we have ahead of us with this house, getting this little room done feels hugely motivational and really makes everything feel so worth it.

before4

The window wall had some water damage (luckily, plaster holds up pretty well to water, even when there’s a lot of it over many years). That corner was all buckled and cracked and falling apart, so it all had to be dug out and rebuilt. I’m saving the window sashes themselves for another time—they’re in OK shape but do need to be removed and fully restored, and that’s just not happening in February!

corner

So fresh and so clean! I hung an ENJE roller shade from IKEA to give a little privacy, filter the light a bit, and cover up the current state of the window. I really hate the ways that IKEA has changed the design of the ENJE shade (they’re on a spring mechanism instead of a pull-chain now, for starters, and it’s a piece of crap), but the fabric remains the same and they’re easy to cut down, so I keep coming back to it. I’d love to use something nicer from an operational standpoint, but custom roller shades are SO incredibly expensive and I’ve yet to find a halfway decent alternative. So ENJE wins again!

The trash-basket is from Home Goods (they always seem to have an ample supply of nice, inexpensive baskets), and the desk lamp is a FADO lamp from IKEA that I’ve owned for years. The mug is from CB2 (with graphics on the other side designed my my internet-friend, Ben Wagner!). The sheepskin is IKEA. Max and I found the chair at the DWR Annex in Secaucus, marked down to something like $75 because there were a few scuffs on the arms! Most of it washed right off with a Magic Eraser, leaving only a tiny area of chipped paint smaller than a pencil eraser. Madness! It’s totally comfortable and totally classic and I like that it’s really visually light, which helps the room feel more spacious and really lets the best part of the room shine. I bet you can guess where I’m headed with this…

diamantecloseup

THIS. WALLPAPER.

Y’all. I’m obsessed with this wallpaper. It’s the Diamanté pattern in black/gold from Hygge & West, produced in collaboration with Portland-based design studio Laundry. It’s incredible. I used less than a single roll for this little wall, but it completely makes the space and guided the direction of literally every other design decision in the room. I’ve said this before, but I love that the pattern manages to be really stylistically ambiguous but still really bold and dramatic—it’s well-suited to the age of the house but definitely not striving to be necessarily accurate to the period. I can see this wallpaper working in so many different types of spaces and looking amazing in all of them. It’s hard for pictures to really do it justice, but the gold is perfection in real life—it’s shimmery and metallic without looking either too flat or too overdone.

I love it. I want to wallpaper everything.

Maybe you want to get in on that wallpaper action in your own digs. Maybe you should stay tuned for the next post, because maybe the fine folks at Hygge & West also want that for you. Wink. Wink.

Wink.

before5

I’m posting a bunch of before/process pictures alongside the afters because I don’t want anyone thinking this was just a fresh coat of paint! And also I’m vain. This was blood, sweat, and tears, people. OK, it wasn’t that either, but it was really fucking hard.

The space to the right of the chimney was a total mess—the top half of the wall had to be repaired with big drywall patches, while the lower half had to be stabilized with plaster buttons, fiberglass mesh screens, and several skim-coats of joint compound. Same story for other parts of the room. It was bananas! It’s safe to say that I had no idea what I was getting into with this room (the whole house, really!), but that’s OK. The good thing about DIY is that none of this stuff was very expensive—just very time and labor intensive. I can do that.

shelves1

But now? Ahhhhhhhhh. The only really logical use for this funny little corner were some shelves, and I think they’re so cute! Since I wanted to keep the desktop clear of clutter and distractions, these shelves are a great place to organize all the office-y stuff (and a few books) that I wanted in the space. I built both the shelves and the desktop out of inexpensive pine lumber, and I really like the natural tone of the wood next to the white walls and the black and gold wallpaper. I’ll post a whole DIY step-by-step for how I built them all super soon! The construction was really simple and I’m so glad I put in a little extra time and effort on something that looks really built-in and custom instead of using pre-fabricated or modular components. It makes the room feel special.

I picked up the big snake plant at Home Depot the other day for $15! I feel like these plants get a bad rap, but they’re super low-maintenance and one of the few houseplants that Max and I can agree on. The big crock that it’s in was a lucky yard sale find over the summer. Even though these are fairly common antiques-fare in the Hudson Valley, prices can get a little out of hand. This one isn’t super valuable or super old or super unique, but it is really big and I think we paid $30 for it which still felt like a deal. I stuck some small felt pads to the bottom to keep it from scratching the floor.

(I don’t know what that yellow glass thing on the top shelf is. I bought it at another yard sale over the summer for a few dollars along with some iittala stuff—the seller had no idea what he had!—but I’ve yet to figure out what it’s really for! The top separates from the bottom, so I guess the bottom part could be a vase, but maybe it has some other weird purpose. Maybe it’s for drugs. I think it’s pretty, though!)

shelves

The shelves also hold some things that are pretty special to me, including the stapler that belonged to my grandparents and this little antique box that I bought when I was little. I went through a big antique-box-collecting phase as a kid (yes, really) and have since gotten rid of most of them (how many little boxes can one person really use, honestly?), but I’m glad this one’s stuck around. The black and white striped box below it was on clearance at Target and fits 8.5×11″ paper perfectly.

before3

This area to the right of the door was actually in the best shape, and all it really needed was three layers of skim coat and paint. The little door to the little closet under the attic stairs had lots of gloopy paint on it and I got a little carried away with the heat gun trying to even it out, so I ended up having to strip the whole thing. It’s less than 5 feet high, though, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s probably not something I have it in me to do for every door in the house, though. But it was nice to give this one a little extra love.

mirror1

Yep, yep, yep. I’m pretty happy with how this all panned out! I stripped the paint off the door hinges in a pot of water on the stove (low heat for a few hours with a little dish soap!) and spray-painted them with Rustoleum’s matte black spray paint. I love the contrast of the black hardware with the white door and moldings.

glassknob

The door also has the cutest little glass knob! I doubt it’s original, but it’s definitely old. It had some paint on it, but it easily came off using the same method I used on the hinges (again—LOW HEAT…don’t want to crack the glass!) and shined up beautifully. It has lots of little air bubbles in the glass.

mirrorcloseup

I was planning to hang something else on that wall, but as things started to come together, I felt like the room needed some more old stuff to balance out the crispness of everything else. I picked up the mirror at a weird vintage shop somewhere around here for $45 a while ago, and I think it’s kind of perfect. There’s some damage to the frame and the glass is all speckled with age, which just makes it better. I love old mirrors.

light

officelight

Speaking of old stuff, I’m in love with the light fixture. I bought it a while ago at this crazy junk shop for $5 (!)—it had probably been sitting outside for a few decades, and I had no idea what I was going to do with it at the time, but the art deco details on the metal and that ball of amber glass near the top made me need it. I thought at the time that maybe I’d spray paint the whole thing, so I stashed it in the basement for a rainy day and forgot about it. But when I remembered that it was sitting in my basement, the beat-up finish and rust and crap seemed to make it perfect for this room. I took it apart and cleaned all of the components with Barkeeper’s Friend, which helped eliminate the excess rust without stripping its age and wear. Max thought I was a complete lunatic throughout this whole sequence of events, but I had a VISION. I rewired the whole thing (which is really very simple, I promise!) and with a few new pieces of hardware and bulbs, it was super easy to hang up!

The ceiling medallion is nothing special—just a stock urethane foam medallion from Home Depot that was about $30 (they usually only have a few in the store, but the selection online is huge!). These tend to look really cheap and shitty in their packaging, but once they’re caulked and painted, they look like the real deal. I attached it to the ceiling with construction adhesive and drove a couple of screws through it while the glue cured for a few hours and caulked it around the edge. Later on, I took the screws out, patched the holes with ReadyPatch, and painted it the same color as the ceiling. It’s not really everything I ever wanted (I think it’s a little too fancy-looking for this decidedly un-fancy room), but I do really like the way it looks with the light fixture and the wallpaper. For other rooms I’ll order medallions that are more appropriate to the house and the original functions of the rooms, but I’m letting it go for in here. Good enough!

floorbefore

floor

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the floor! I’ve wanted to paint this floor white since the first time we saw the house and I didn’t even know what this room would be! It did not disappoint. I love it. It ended up taking a lot of prep work (sinking face-nails, sanding, retrofitting an underlayment, caulking between the boards, shellac-based primer…), but the end result is so beautiful and fresh. I used Benjamin Moore’s low-sheen white Floor and Patio paint (three coats), and the finish seems really durable. I’m not sure I could deal with white floors in large areas of my living space (I don’t like to clean that much…), but this room is so tiny and out of the way that I don’t think it’ll be hard to keep clean. It’s small enough that I can scrub the whole thing with a Magic Eraser every now and then, and enforcing a no-shoe policy in this room shouldn’t be too difficult. I love how the white paint actually brings out the age and imperfections of this old floor—all of the scars of years of use add a texture that keeps it from feeling sterile or cold.

Also, I think Linus likes it for camouflaging purposes. He no longer seems interested in shitting on it, either. Success!

officewide

I love this room. Thank you, sincerely, for all of the kind words of encouragement as I’ve been learning how to do (and sometimes, redo) a lot of this stuff for the first time—it really does help, and it really makes me happy that I have this blog. It never seems like there’s a totally opportune, not-weird time to say this, so I’ll just put it here: I’m so lucky to have such kind, phenomenal readers. I hope you like the room, too!

Now let’s tackle the rest of this madhouse!

The Apartment, After 2 Years of Living: The Living Room

The house is in all-out chaos mode. Ripping out the dining room ceiling sort of had a snowball effect of more and more demo, which has not only created an enormous mess but also brought the number of ongoing projects up to a semi-crazy, semi-overwhelming, basically-unmanagaeble tally. It’s kind of at the point where I just look around and find myself completely incapable of even prioritizing tasks anymore, so I’m just chipping away at all of them randomly and hoping that if I keep on like this, everything will meet some kind of happy resolution. Totally good strategy? I guess we’ll find out.

Even though I like the idea of moving along one room at a time, in practical application that’s just not really how it works with a house in need of this much work. It doesn’t make much sense to just do a little drywall work without just doing most of the drywall work or update a little of the electrical without updating a lot of the electrical. My hope is that if we can get a lot of this stuff taken care of at once, we can go back to the room-by-room strategy and just do the fun stuff like skim-coating* and painting** and making things pretty***.

*not fun at all.
**also not very fun.
***maybe moderately fun, but not that fun either.

So that’s pretty much where things stand. Chaos. Confusion. Too many things. It makes me feel so ALIVE.

throughbedroom

So, to distract both me and you from the fact that I’ve become a perma-dusty garbage person living constantly in filth and despair, I figured maybe let’s talk about things that are currently pretty and clean? Instead of things that I promise will one day be pretty, even if everyone thinks I’ve lost my mind at this current moment?

I posted a little 2-year update on our bedroom at the Brooklyn apartment back in October and intended to complete the series by posting about each of the rooms every week or so, but that didn’t happen. Why? I don’t know. I get distracted.

before2

My goodness, those walls. Sometimes I forget about the red walls when we moved in, and then I remember the red walls, and I become so grateful for good primer all over again.

Probably the biggest question I get from people about this apartment is how in the world I finagled my landlord into letting me make all these changes to my rental, and the answer is more or less contained in this picture (bearing in mind that this low-quality iPhone shot is actually very forgiving). When we moved into this apartment, it was kind of a wreck. It’s a beautiful 1890 building, sure, but it hasn’t been well-maintained (trust, the public areas of the building are horrendous). I think most standard New York City lease agreements either allow painting only with permission or stipulate that walls must be returned to white upon move-out, but that clearly did not happen here. It’s probably best practice to not have missing pieces of flooring, either, and maybe making sure that electrical outlets are operable and covered is also a good plan. Bathroom doors that close are nice, too. As for that legally-required smoke detector? HAHAHA. LOLZ.

before1

The point is, while I did volunteer to paint the apartment myself if our landlord agreed to cover 1/2 of the cost (I would have done it anyway, because…red walls), that was pretty much the start and end of it. And in our building, I think that’s 100% OK. I’m pretty confident that all the things I’ve done are objective improvements, and it just seems silly (and, frankly, unwise) for me to ask permission every time I want to help improve their property. I think this kind of landlord-tenant relationship is pretty standard in Brooklyn, but all I can really say is that you have to evaluate your own individual situation as objectively and honestly as possible when considering altering a rental, and just because I did something doesn’t mean that you should also do that something. My (lack of) consequences might be very different from yours!

livingroom

Anyway! I love this room now. It’s gone through lots and lots of iterations in between that “before” picture and this one, and if we hadn’t bought the house, I’d probably keep messing with it until the end of time. But there is zero extra time, money, or effort in my life anymore that I’m willing or able to devote to futzing with this space, so it’s done enough! I like it.

Clockwise: lucite tables are vintage. Couch is IKEA. Pillows are CB2 (discontinued). Desk is vintage. Wall lamp is OneFortyThree. Tree is a Fiddle Leaf Fig. Pot is Target (discontinued). Ceiling light is the Cartell FL/Y Suspension Lamp. Chair is a vintage Eames Lounge. String light is Patrick Townsend for Areaware. Basket is West Elm Market (discontinued). Mirror and pottery on mantel are vintage. Credenza is vintage. Eames shell chair is vintage, base is from Modern Conscience (quality is terrific, btw). Coffee table is vintage. Rug is vintage.

desk

I don’t know, stuff and things on top of the desk. I still love that Christopher Gray print from Erie Drive.

livingroom2

OK, time to fess up…we got a huge TV. Over a year ago. My little 26″ TV wasn’t cutting it anymore, and at some point we decided that our next TV purchase should be approximately 400 times larger. I know the chic blogger thing to do is have, like, some modestly-sized TV covered with a curtain wall of cotton-velvet panels underneath which is a gallery wall of some fake art surrounding the TV and painted dark to minimize the presence of the TV and pretend like TV isn’t something they do while they continue to try to invent an invisibility forcefield for said TV, but that’s dumb. A TV is a TV, and TV is pretty great these days, so who cares? Despite that I know on a cognitive level that this enormous television is tacky and huge, I’ve also successfully deluded myself into thinking that because it’s mounted and scaled kind of like a piece of art, it isn’t so conspicuous. Ha.

We’re boys. Leave me alone.

We got a good deal on this very slim LED LG model (I think maybe they were phasing it out…I can’t seem to find it for sale anymore), and I have to say it’s super nice. I don’t know lots about this stuff, but I guess LG isn’t considered one of the high-quality brands, but the picture quality (and even sound quality!) on this TV are amazing, and I remember it being slimmer than the nicer Sony and Samsung counterparts. No regrets! I mounted it to the wall with a TV mount from Amazon, which I remember being fairly challenging (this wall is plaster over brick, so I used huge lag-bolts to secure it). Then I wrapped the cords together with a rubber band and stacked some books in front of them “temporarily” while I figured out a better solution. Then I completely stopped caring because my shows were on.

blocklight

Pretty much my most successful NYC thrift score of the last year was that I found a Design House Stockholm Block Lamp at Salvation army for $6. SIX. DOLLARS. It was missing the cord and light socket, but those parts were super simple to wire up DIY-style with stuff from one of the lighting stores in Chinatown. I’ve wanted one of these things for a longgggg time, so the whole event was incredibly exciting.

vases

The collection of amateur studio pottery on the mantel continues to grow, but I can’t help myself! Max’s younger sister, Ana, made that little green bowl as part of a ceramics class to fulfill a studio art requirement in college. Evidently she almost failed the class because her pottery was so elementary and unrefined, but that’s what I love about it! I think she could make a career out of making lousy bowls and selling them for $95 in Williamsburg, but I guess maybe she has other priorities. I’m glad we got one of her pieces before she retired from the ceramics game.

Want to see how this room has progressed over the years? Here are some posts listed chronologically that follow the progress. You know, if you’re having a super boring workday or whatever.

1. The New Nest
2. Settling In
3. I Like All Colors that are Black or White
4. Credenza
5. Slow and Steady but Mostly Just Slow
6. Rocker
7. Radiator: Painted!
8. Fiddle!
9. Shambles
10. Mantel Things
11. 65.
12. New Desk!
13. Adventures in Vignetting.

 

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