Category Archives: Crooked House Renovation

Planning the Most Important Thing, Doors

The old plan was to do the best I could to spruce up my circa 1990 Victorianesque front door this winter. I gleefully abandoned that plan when I found a door that’s close to period correct that’s almost narrow enough. Almost. I’m a small bit nervous about trimming allowances.

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Obviously the door needs to be stripped. I’m thinking I’ll pick out details on the outside of the door by painting it 2 colors. Nothing too high contrast though; that can get garish. Or if it winds up too nice to paint maybe I’ll stain it instead. I love the fancy little ledges below the glass that are so common on old doors, so I might add one to mine. I’m also hoping to get nice beveled glass, but if I have to choose between beveled and laminated (the best for burglar resistance) I’ll have no choice but to go with the latter.

 

Now that the door is going to be authentic, I’m going with clear glass, which makes me feel much better than hemming and hawing over textures that I wasn’t that thrilled about. For privacy I’ll get a sheer curtain panel hung on 2 rods. Basic, plain, traditional, and lets most of the light through.

 

(Speaking of light, have I said lately how excited I am to take down the awnings?)

 

Then there’s the hardware, my favorite thing. I’ve said before how excited I was to get the one and only old door that came with my house back up, along with its glass knob and Art Deco back plate. I also scored another matching back plate at Philadelphia Salvage. They’re a South Philly thing apparently.

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Across the room, I put in a vestibule door that a neighbor gave me, salvaged from his house. It came with hardware in a different style but I’m guessing it would be from the 1930’s like mine.

 

At first I thought I’d make all the hardware match downstairs, install the Deco back plates on the vestibule door, and put something else on the back side of the basement stairway door. Then I thought maybe it was better to honor the history of the vestibule door and put its original hardware back on and hold the third Art Deco back plate. But now that I have an old front door with a mortise lock I prefer a third option. First off, I’m kicking myself a little bit for splurging on Baldwin hardware that I won’t be keeping.

But anyway, I’m putting a fauxriginal knob on the outside of the front door just like I have upstairs. The door came with cast iron roses attached and I have white porcelain knobs to spare. My parents have a pristine deadbolt that I’ll install. It’s conspicuously shiny, but it’s Schlage and I’d rather not carry an antique skeleton key in my pocket. Even though that would be cool.

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Inside, I’m planning to install one of my 1930’s back plates on the inside of the folk Victorian front door. That will give some vague cohesiveness to the first floor, and it’s something people actually did to their Victorian doors at the time. My new plan is to use the vestibule door pattern in the vestibule and the Deco pattern in the living room. I think that gives me the best combination of cohesiveness and letting my neighbor see his hardware when he walks into the house.

 

The front door is now on hold until the other exterior work is in progress. Phew. But if I have the ambition and it stays warm enough to leave the vestibule door open, I just might restore it in January. The better everything else looks, the more I notice bits of nasty like this.

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Beer Tour and Life After the Kitchen

Well, the beer tour was fun! Ticket sales were down a bit this year, which meant that the crowd fit into my house better than last year. I forgot to take photos but picture about 3/4 of this. Also look at the unfinished banister and the pig tail!

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Now, some people said that no one would notice any changes from last year. Based on this comment, you were half right: “It looks so much more finished than last year! Did you get new counter-tops?” Ironically, my sister told me the very next day that her boyfriend was looking at the kitchen’s current state and he said that now I need to replace the counter-tops because they look cheap next to the doors. This is fitting because I paid $50 for them. See where the edging is missing to the right? Gluing that back on should make them look a little less cheap.

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I’m grateful for LOTS of help getting the place clean since less than a week before I was still painting. My mom’s help came of course with free advice: from here on out, I should keep the house clean all the time and also finish all the painting. I’m still leaning closer to none, or maybe some odds and ends and touch-ups, until January.

But anyways, here’s what the place looked like the day after the tour.

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Aside from the clean house I had half a catering tray of mac and cheese left behind. My mom said I should give it to the Irishman’s family, but she doesn’t know what it’s like to be a bachelor. I ate it for breakfast every day last week. Only one coworker said anything about this.

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So, Chad’s retiring from house projects until January? Not quite. I really need to clean out the basement. It became a dumping ground and a half this time.

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On top of the light reorganizing that my basement ends up desperately needing about once a year, there are some things in this lumber-hoard that I may be ready to work with soon, so it’s time to go through it. Does anyone want 125 year old rough sawn lumber? I have an awful lot of it. My next door neighbor growing up made made this table out of my lumber.

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Aside from that, I could stand to make 2 Homasote bulletin boards, (I already own the Homasote) install the mahogany boards currently in the lumber-hoard at the top of my bookcase (even though I’ll take them down again later once I figure out staining them),

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Re-glue the counters of course, and replace the missing insulation and beadboard up here:

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The last piece up there has saw cuts in it and has to go. I’m thinking the way to fix this mess is to cut the nails holding that piece up with a Sawzall, then pull it out as cleanly as I can. I’ll check how many of the removed boards are salvageable, and then buy replacements. My dad suggested boarding over all of it. Replacement boards are $8 each, so I’d rather patch it so this job keeps a 2-digit price tag. I have some cellulose insulation in the basement, so I think I’d want to put up some kind of mesh and then stuff it in. It’s only missing from about 2 cubic feet. I can, sigh, even paint the boards before they go up, though they’ll need touch-up painting again next year when it’s warm enough.

Cabinets are Done! Dirt Remains.

With help from my dad, I’ve gotten a LOT done. Between how slowly I work and how many flaws I find in these cabinet doors, I never thought I’d see the day. Now, I did have to stop painting a bunch of times because I kept spotting more flaws to grind out with the sander. But somehow, we reached the end of it! This means I did touch-up painting on all 7 of the base cabinet doors and then (my dad) rolled a final coat onto them. The upper cabinet doors were in worse shape so they got 2 coats. And now?

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They look clean and in good condition! What a relief! And what a long time coming. And the dish cabinet is painted blue and has its plate rails and doors!

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The project was annoying to the end. I repeatedly had to stop painting because I discovered that doors were cut too big and rubbed against each other, so I had to grind them down with the sander immediately before painting them. The most annoying of these was the trim at the top of the big interior arch. I knew it wouldn’t clear the cabinet door and asked the Irishman to run it through the table saw before he reinstalled it. He proudly told me that it was just fine. Now the corner is ground back a little. I guess it’s all the same in the end?

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Speaking of which, I got 1 coat of paint onto that arch. That may not count as done but it looks a whole lot better. I also got one coat onto the little scrolly brackets under the stairs and the paneling. Except the panel with the light switch and everything to the right of it including the basement stairway door got 2 coats, including the basement stairway door. Meaning the things that matter.

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Why do they matter? Because this wall has a switch plate, an outlet plate, and a thermostat mounted to it.

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And there’s Art Deco hardware on the basement stairway door. Old door hardware is the most important thing in the world. Literally.

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Then I was cooking and got sick of how hard it was to open the cabinet doors, so I put all the knobs on instead of cleaning up after myself.

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Speaking of touchups, they might be the only kind of painting I can stomach for a while. I had wanted to stain the patio door and paint its jamb and trim this fall, but I’ve now wrapped up a tedious project that took over the whole house for the third time this year and I’m sick of it. But I guess you’ve heard that line before. The patio door and window sashes might actually be hard to do though because I’ll need warm weather to take them down and paint them.

And… the last step is done now! I got the 2 glass doors back from Malvern Glass, and they really went over and beyond. The woman I spoke to quoted me $13 a pane to cut the glass in rectangles, plus $10 per corner (a total of $80!!!) to clip the corners off because the irishman left the notches for the glass rounded with a router. But she said that slightly undersized square panes would fit and save me money. Then installation would be another $35 a pane, which I was unwilling to pay. Well, I got the glass back and the glass cutter rounded off all the corners to make it fit and taped it in place because on these crudely made doors every corner is a little different. I caulked the glass in place with clear silicone and used every bit of willpower I had to resist the urge to put them up last night. Then tonight I went at it rinsing dust off of crystal again instead of more practical jobs.

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Last week the idea of being on a house tour was scary. Now, I’m thrilled with how much more finished things are. All that’s left is enough dust to write your name in my furniture, a bag of (non-perishable) groceries I bought a week ago, and a large wad of un-folded laundry on the couch. And there are still tickets available for this beer tour, so if you’re anywhere near here you should come! For $45 you get basically all the beer you could want, a lot of good food, a souvenir mug, and a chance to win prizes at my house and 4 others nearby. It’s a nice mix of food, drink, nice people, and voyeurism.

And I’m Still Painting the Damn Kitchen

I’ve been complaining about this job since April, but sooner or later I need to put it to bed. And this year I’m a Beer Tour host again. This year it’s November 4. Time to start tidying up? Nah, let’s start a project.

(Look how cute the door prize baskets are though! If you want to come, event description and tickets available here.)

 

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So what’s going on here? Well, I expanded the scope of the kitchen from just the doors to all of it, which now includes painting the inside of that cabinet that faces the living room. But first I took the extra trim left over from the top of the paneled wall, the little feather-edged piece that’s mitered back on either side of the door frame…

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Off on a tangent, let’s remember that the door casing used to jut into stairway space and I designed the paneling like this very specifically to bring back that unbroken diagonal line. And when you have a very specific idea that you’re hiring someone else to do, draw it! When you tell your ideas to contractors, they hear THEIR ideas, but a drawing gets you what you want.

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And some extra stop molding ripped down to look like that. I nailed this onto the cabinet shelves to make plate rails.

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Then I painted it with Insl-X Stix Bonding Primer that my dad had left over from another job. And when I Googled that to verify the spelling I saw how expensive it is. Thanks, Dad! This stuff isn’t that much fun to work with. It has the consistency of pudding. But it allows me to paint over the cheap melamine veneered particle board cabinets that I got at a certain Swedish flat-pack furniture store.

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Then there’s the non-linear progress. Remember how in early September I got the back sides of all the base cabinet doors painted? I re-hung these glass doors and to my horror, one of them didn’t close right. But my dad has a tool that is my new best friend: a belt sander that mounts to a fence.

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I marked out how much to take off with painters tape to make the 2 doors line up with each other, took it outside, and ground it down. Now at least these 2 doors could fool you into thinking they were made well. I just need to paint the top again.

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Then there was the small matter of the side panels. They jut out beyond the cabinet frames to make the doors look inset. One of them though had swirly saw marks in it. I tried the best I could to grind them down with a pad sander but it seemed like they just wouldn’t go away. So I troweled a thin layer of spackle onto the edge and problem solved! Solved so well in fact that it made the others look bad. So, the ones that are already painted are now getting the treatment.

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Anyways, we’ve got a process here. A process that seems to be moving forward. After months of being demoralized by a seemingly endless parade of defects, I just might have found them all. Well, not all. If I want to get ALL I’ll have to remake a door or 2. But at least now they will exist and they will be installed and the paint will be in good condition.

Then I brought up the paneling. I’m painting that, too, and the basement stairway door. There’s a thermostat that goes on the paneling. I don’t need to turn the heat on yet but when I do, I want to install it onto PAINTED paneling so I never have to take it down again. Plus, the paneling runs straight into the big interior arch, which runs straight into the cabinets on one side. Best to just paint all of it. I’ll sigh when I think about it, but when I finish an area, I say, “Oo, shiny!”

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I think it’ll be done and clean in time. Do you?

 

 

Farther Down the Front Door Rabbit Hole

I really should have been starting the kitchen, but that got held up this weekend so instead I decided to go to Philadelphia Salvage. Just to look for a skeleton key for the vestibule door and set screws for some old porcelain door knobs. Really, that’s all I was looking for.

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But, no luck. The few keys they had didn’t fit my lock and I couldn’t find set screws in the right size. My dad has a tap and die set though so I’ll get set screws and make them fit. Oh, did I mention I browsed the door aisle? But there were no exterior doors narrower than 30 inches. The guy there said that the kinda Art Deco doors seen on narrow houses in South Philly are called Hollywood doors and that they get them occasionally.

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“What does occasionally mean?” I asked. “Because I’m trying to decide if I want to spruce up a door I don’t like that much.”

He said it’s a craps shoot. Anyways, back home I went. But after 4 years abstaining from the door aisle… I needed more. And, there’s… another salvage yard. Better yet, this one has more exterior doors! This blue door was just about the right size. I was ready to jump on it, until I noticed that it’s half rotten, that the fancy ledge below the glass is just a piece of contemporary chair rail, and that most of the panel sticking is missing with caulk in its place. I may as well just buy a new door at that point. Neeeext.

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Then this one. It’s 28 1/4″ wide. I was hyperventilating now. All I’d have to do is make it a quarter inch wider and it would fit in the jamb I already have!

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Then I saw the next one, which is identical. And it’s tagged “$800/pair.” My heart sank. I had already planned out spending the rest of my life with this door. So I asked, “Don’t guess you’d let me have just the one for $400?”

No dice. But really, I shouldn’t be spending $400 on a door, so all the better. This set would never, ever work, but I want it anyway.

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Then I saw this one. It’s fitted with a mirror but it looks way to thick to be a closet door. And on the back side, the mirror is held in with nice glass bead. I said, “This looks like a front door! And it’s only 30 inches wide!”

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Alas, 30″ is still not 28 1/2″ and the stiles aren’t nearly wide enough to cut that much off. And home I went, thinking about that plan to spruce up the front door that is all of a sudden way less exciting than it used to be. I meant to take a nap, but instead I spent an hour on my phone looking at photos from streets department work on PhillyHistory.org, a mapping website that allows users to search for, view by location, and purchase thousands of historic photographs dating back to the late nineteenth century.

I’m sorry for destroying your productivity for the day. (philageohistory.org does the same thing with maps. Sorry again and/or you’re welcome.)

I said before that truly original doors are extinct in South Philly. I wouldn’t even know what they look like. The “Hollywood doors” are the oldest I’ve ever seen there. But in among photos of curbs, sewers, and excavation for the Broad Street Subway…

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Colorado Street, above, is very much like mine. And that house with the picture window appears to have… an original door! But now look below, in the 800 Block of Moore Street. This is a slightly fancier house type than mine but I guess not that far off. Note that the oldest doors all seem to have more glass than pretty much anything today.

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The 2300 Block of Federal Street, farther west, still retained 4 original doors in a row in 1956!

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And all I could think about was a door that I had passed over. It was old, but with 2 panels at the bottom and 2 panes of glass at the top, it was looking less like a back door and more like something precious and rare. It was all I could think about. And the next day I was back at Provenance again.

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But what’s this to the right of the door I was talking about? A basically identical door, in slightly better shape,  without the horizontal muntin that I don’t like. At 29 3/4″ wide and 83″ tall, this door needs to be cut about an inch narrower and 3 inches shorter. That has me a little skittish. But the guy liked me. He told me he could let me have it for $80 because it’s missing its glass, and so my new car lost its door-ginity.

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So, I hope this door works out. It would mean that my monomania got us somewhere yesterday.

The Front Door – The Plan and Cold Feet

I’m hoping to start facade restoration next year as soon as there’s no risk of frost. In the meantime, I need to take my front door off and refinish it while the awnings are still up. I will be locking the house with an old fashioned skeleton key in the vestibule door in the meantime. Can you see how bad the varnish stain is right now?

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But this gets me to something I’ve been ignoring. I get a lot of compliments on this door, some of them from people I care deeply about. And this style of door is all over the place. But I look at it and think, “meh.” So anyways, if you strongly disagree with me here, please call me crazy since that crazy sounds better than a huge snob.

This is not how I react to old doors. In case you need a reminder, I said that the day I found a matched set of 5 doors that were pretty much period correct was the happiest in my life.

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And I spent about 100 hours refinishing them. (These doors are in fact a smidge too fancy with reeded details on the panels, but I can live with that.)

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I used trigonometry, the arctangent function, to cut framing lumber for this sloped ceiling in the back bedroom to make the room fit these (definitely not period correct but definitely awesome) closet doors.

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I carried these home when I had literally no use for them just because the idea of them going in the trash upset me. They got passed around to 3 different people but have hopefully now found their forever home. Important: the parallelogram panels in between the triangles were originally glass.

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And when the renovation got me stressed out, I laid out my door hardware and looked at it just to cheer myself up.

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So, old doors get an emotional reaction out of me. And actually so do the hollow core doors I started with.

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But a mahogany door in a not quite historically accurate Victorian style? Meh. But I’ve already put money into things that revolve around keeping it, and I still can’t afford to back out of that and dump more money into something else. The Irishman built nice jamb extensions and casings on the inside and when I needed a new lock I went one from Baldwin, the closest approximation I could find of the mortise locks I covet with the modern tubular design.

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For perspective, the oldest doors on my block or the next, which has identical houses, appear to be from the 1930’s.

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And there are others behind storm doors that look more like this wider door on a wider house. Note the starburst cut into the glass.

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Meanwhile, the fanciest houses in the neighborhood seem to hold onto their original doors more often.

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Even this weird effort to suburbanize a brownstone makes one side of me almost happy. Yes, I’m a fan of that mid-mod/colonial hybrid door if not the rest of what’s going on here.

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So, I’m not counting on ever looking at my door and being in awe of it.

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But can we drag its appearance a little closer to the doors I really love?

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Because when I take a second look at it, I realize that what I like least about this door is the faux-Victorian glass.

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So, like I said, I’m taking the door off to refinish it. And I’m thinking about my options here. What do you think? I’ll post some ideas next time but maybe yours are better than mine. For now, let’s just say that I have mixed feelings about clear glass.

The Small Project Roundup

Okay, taking on a challenge to do a job a day (on average) should mean a month of doing small, easy projects. As you know, I had a large, relatively skilled job that I was hell bent on finishing and ended up calling it like 6 of my 30 projects. But I decided to finish off the month with actual small jobs.

To start, I was anxious to get the car cleaned after spilling cement in it. After all, I should TRY to keep my brand new car looking decent, right? (This is why without my family’s influences I would have driven beaters forever.)

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So, I rounded up all the unused Home Depot stuff that was lying around and returned it (Project 18) including more cement. Then I cleaned my car (Project 19).

Then my parents came over to help rescue the living room from the project aftermath (Project 20). There was a happy hour in the neighborhood that night with free food and free wine. Somehow, we started at 8 after that and managed to get a lot done. I’ll call that a win. Sorry, I usually like to show you what tools, materials, and apathy do to my living room at the end of a big project but forgot to take a photo this time.

Then I took down all the upper cabinet doors that weren’t acceptably painted on the back sides and finished that job (Project 21).

Then since I had started going through drawers and stuff in my bedroom when I was cleaning out the closet, I finished that job and decluttered the room (Project 22). This means that the whole house is relatively tidy! Except the basement.

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Not that I’ve eliminated all weirdness. Like, my grandmother held onto certain things just because they’re old, and now I have an entire drawer of antique straight razors next to my bed. This is extremely creepy but I’m not sure what to do about it.

Then, it’s rude to talk about money but I’m going to anyway. I rolled all my loose change (Project 23). It came to about $60! And more exciting still, remember how I was hiring the Irishman all the time to get my finish carpentry done 2 years ago? Well, I’ve been carrying a credit card balance ever since. I’ve managed to move it around to keep it interest free but last week I did one better and finally paid it off (Project 24)!

And this brings us to Saturday, and I wanted to see if I could come up with 6 more projects to finish in one day. Unfortunately, my dad got caught up in other work and wasn’t able to come. Without solid wall anchors or caulking skills, I substituted in even smaller jobs.

And I’ve been improvising places to hang my bath towel (the bar in the bathroom holds towels that aren’t rags that I don’t use) and meanwhile had 3 robe hooks in my basement hoard. So now this has been rectified and both closets have a place to hang a towel (Project 25).

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The power has been off out back and I’ve missed having a working light. Now that I’m finished my 5 days of curing the stucco by spraying it with a hose twice a day, I was anxious to get the outlet back up (Project 26). Shockingly (or maybe predictably), I had to replace the screws that came with the box extension because they weren’t long enough, but luckily I have a 370-pack of assorted electrician’s machine screws. I assume the electrician left it behind and I didn’t say a word.

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I stumbled upon a mini-hoard of non-sexy, non-vintage hardware in the basement and now my bathroom has a door stop. Yes, Project 27 took like 1 minute. Womp.

Along with the straight razors I found pieces of my bedroom furniture that had broken off.

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Now it’s all glued back together and the fancy topper is screwed down to the mirror (Project 28). Note that it’s still not intact, but what’s missing now has been gone for about 50 years.

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Aaaaaaand that leaves me 2 projects short. I was gonna finish the challenge off on Sunday, but my mom asked me to help with yard work again and the jobs were things that I already gave myself credit for finishing last week. So… I laundered the shower curtain and cleaned the bathroom, including the tile, which had a lot of scale on it since I’ve only cleaned the tub as long as I can remember. Basic maintenance? Nah, I’ll call it Project 29. My roommate had a cockatiel and I think washing the shower curtain took care of the last of the bird shit, so that’s a permanent-ish thing. And yeah, I said I had to mist the stucco 10 times while it was curing? That’s Project 30.