Intro

So I’m just a typical twenty something with a century old, falling apart house. Fine, that’s not so typical. I started this blog pretty much as soon as I bought my house, mostly to make sure that I remember to take before/after photos. Much more than I expected, I’m writing a tale of discovery. As in, discovering just how much work I had to do to the place. So follow along the story of my house’s improvement, my personal growth, and my savings’ shrinkage. Maybe my story can be inspiration for you. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale. If not, hopefully it’s at least entertaining. But no matter how much or how little you can relate, please please share your advice. I want to get this place right the first time, if I can.

The house. Facade restoration to come.

The house. Facade restoration to come.

When I started looking at houses, I was disappointed to find that most of the ones that were in good condition were also very bland. It’s more profitable for a developer to rip out handcrafted doors and woodwork and replace it all with crisp, clean, hollow fiberboard. Because these had no appeal to me, I set out looking for a house whose original charm was mostly intact, but that didn’t need too much updating for safety. The one I found fit the bill: the second floor had most of the original door trim, which gave it a vaguely Victorian feel. Downstairs, an early Twentieth Century renovation gave it an open living/dining room and a Craftsman/Deco/Colonial Revival vibe. I love both looks, and the odd mismatch between them. I expected that I’d correct a few plumbing issues, line the chimney, clean up the old peeling wallpaper, sand the floors, and move in. The house had other plans, and I’ve nearly gutted it. But when I’m done it will have more “original” than when I started! Not that I’m turning it into a museum; a handful of modern touches will compound the house’s jumble of different periods. Let’s hope it works.

Houses like this one abound in Philadelphia. They were built by the thousand to satisfy the city’s massive industrial growth. Modest houses like these, I think, have an important place in the history of human progress, and I’m excited to preserve a piece of it. This quote from The City of Philadelphia As It Appears in the Year 1894 sums it up best:

“The two-story dwellings of this city are, beyond all question, the best, as a system, not only owing to the single family ideas they represent, but because their cost is within the reach of all who desire to own their own homes. They have done more to elevate and to make a better home life than any other known influence. They typify a higher civilization, as well as a truer idea of American home life, and are better, purer, sweeter than any tenement house systems that ever existed. They are what make Philadelphia a city of homes, and command the attention of visitors from every quarter of the globe.”

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16 thoughts on “Intro

  1. Bob Mauer

    Hi,
    Great site, interested in guest blogging?
    I really enjoyed reading through your blog posts on https://chadscrookedhouse.wordpress.com/. I got a real sense of enthusiasm and passion in each post. Actually, I run Metalhandyman.com, a blog about metalcraft and DIY home improvement projects. If you’re interested, I would love to have you on as a guest blogger. Just shoot me quick a e-mail and we can begin this potentially exciting affiliation together. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Thanks,
    Bob

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  2. D'Arcy H

    Hi Chad, thanks for stopping by my blog and following! I am now following you, too. I’m excited to read about your renovation adventures. I appreciate your preservation ethic–our “ordinary” old houses are important to save so we retain a sense of America’s history. Good luck with your projects!

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Thank you – your blog helps me see the light at the end of the tunnel since you’ve actually started to put pretty things in! I totally agree about the importance of ordinary houses. It always makes me happy to give a house some love and make it work in the present day without overdoing the sledge hammer – actually I tore out an awful lot… but I think I had good reasons to.

      Well, thanks for your kind words. I love bungalows, rowhouses, and all kinds of everyday architecture!

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    2. Our south west home.

      I love Chads blog. The concept of preservation and keeping with the style of the original is such cool. I also like the way he is open with his thoughts and project planning. We are trying to do a similar project in England and keeping the core of the history of the house is very important to us as well. Of course it is designed with a bit more comfort in mind.

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      1. Our south west home.

        Hi Chad. My writing is poor! I was meaning to say that you were keeping to the origins of your house but also adding more comfort…. The way I have written it sounds like you are taking comfort away…. Ooops sorry. 🙂

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  3. lifeonhillst

    Chad – I love what you’re doing over there in Philly! We’re in Pittsburgh doing kind-of the same thing. I love running into other bloggers who are also on a mission to restore old homes, it makes me think we’re less crazy because other people are doing it too! Keep up the great work – I can’t wait to see how things turn out! 🙂

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  4. Erin

    Found your blog desperately searching for a company to sandblast our 100 year old radiators covered in 100 layers of paint. What company are you using to sandblast the radiators? The only ones we’ve found so far have been either in Boston or DC, nothing based in Philadelphia – and we would love any guidance you might have!

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    1. Chad's Crooked House Post author

      Erin, I feel your pain. I don’t have first hand experience with this either. My neighbor recommended Wrought Iron Revivals in Conshohocken, but she didn’t use them for radiators, so I can’t assure you of anything about them. My dad also dug up some place in Aston, but there’s not a wealth of information on the internet about this even though so many of us have radiators.

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  5. Deb

    Chad, I’m happy to find your blog via Vivacious Victorian. When I saw the before photos of your house I knew it was in the Philadelphia area. We helped our daughter and son in law update a twin in Manayunk/Roxborough and we recently closed on a more elaborate Victorian in the same neighborhood. It has many original features and I see it being updated with more regard for the period the house. Love what you are doing with your house! Looking forward to seeing how it all comes together.

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  6. Rae

    Hi, Chad: I somehow ran across your blog while Googling a contractor. It sounds like you are doing much the same thing I’m doing to my South Philly rowhouse (only my progress is much, much slower). I can’t wait to read through all your entries. What I’ve read so far sounds so very familiar!! Are you doing all of this work mostly yourself, or did you hire a contractor(s)? (And if the latter, who were they and would you recommend? I’m looking to do a major 2nd-floor reno this summer [similar to what you planned] and finding a contractor is proving to be frustrating and discouraging.) I love your commitment to preserving the period feel of the house; not many people do that anymore.

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      1. Rae

        I’ve been in my house for 12 years and have only managed to do the 1st floor (sans the powder room-still need to do that). This is mostly because I don’t know how to do anything except paint, so it’s very expensive to hire people for all these projects. (Although I’m proud to say I did expose the brick myself!) For my upstairs reno, I plan to cannibalize half of the middle bedroom to enlarge the bathroom, and use the other half for a walk-in closet off the master. I’ll also add a small closet to the back bedroom. Aside from the bath, the biggest thing is I want to level the whole (sagging) floor and install a new floor. I didn’t know this was so involved, but apparently they have to rip out the entire floor, sister the joists, and basically start over, yes? I got a quote for $32K for JUST THE FLOOR. Sigh. So discouraging.
        Yes, any pointers are most welcome!!

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      2. Chad's Crooked House Post author

        That sounds expensive. For my back bedroom, we put sleepers on the old joists instead of sistering them. That means we did curved cuts on new wood so it would fit on top of the old joists and make them level, then put down a subfloor, enlarged the window, discovered that the stucco on the bay was installed poorly and ripped it off, and put up new framing for a ceiling that is partially flat and partially sloped. I have 5 posts on that, starting with this one. There’s one off topic one in the middle, too. https://chadscrookedhouse.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/now-thats-a-minimalist-bedroom/

        The estimate you got sounds high. But I can’t imagine DIY’ing a job like this while living in the house. I was in Delco living with my parents through all that. I’ll let you know if I come up with any leads for a reliable contractor

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