Category Archives: Deferred Phase 1 Work

Pushing Through with the Banister

A quick note: It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks. I should have published this about 2 weeks ago on April 8. I present it to you now as if I had.

It’s been a tedious month. We left off with the banister and the paneling below looking more or less like this.

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The sequence was burn paint off, sand, wood filler, sand, prime, then see everything I missed (and the grain that the primer raised), wood filler again, sand again, prime again, rinse, repeat.  And because I was getting so fed up with this job, I did what any sane person would do and squeezed in the upstairs banister. I was going to focus on the downstairs part and let this go till later. But the job was so bad I thought getting it all done now made more sense.

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So the dirty part was going on upstairs while my OCD got free reign downstairs.

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This work might seem pretty sedate compared to Phase 1, but I’ve also done it on top of working out 5 times a week and cooking myself heaps of meat and vegetables so I stop wanting bread. You see, I’m 30 now and to my great horror, my waistline has grown enough that for the first time in my adult life I’m wearing a pants size that American stores keep in stock.

And today I have a couple dear old high school friends coming for dinner, which was a bit of a problem because I was still working on the banister yesterday and I haven’t done a lick of house cleaning in a month. I just let the place look like this, plus a continuous accumulation of dust and clutter.

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And so, my parents came down yesterday. My dad and I got another round of priming done and my mom cleaned the house. Maybe I should be ashamed that I let that happen but it was her way of helping. So where are we now? Well, just about all of it is primed (except for some difficult spots where the 2 banisters overlap). In this critical corner, there is no sign left of the hatchet job someone did moving the basement stairway door. The paneling has its sticking in place and the sticking matches the door perfectly. The only thing missing is the little piece of ogee trim under the cap above the door. With a compound miter cut that the Irishman said was not easy to do.

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Upstairs I have a little bit more priming to do and then, sadly, there is more sanding to do there. And there are 8 balusters missing from around the volute downstairs, but I don’t want to install those until everything else is painted. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone would fit their hand in there except that they did a really terrible job painting this.

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Stairs

But anyways, I’m ready for a break again. And the house is spotless, so keeping it that way for a while would be a nice thing to do instead of messy, tedious projects.

Or, maybe not. On the morning of the 8th, a few hours before my company’s supposed to show up, there’s a crazy person cutting high density fiberboard on my sidewalk! Can you guess why?

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Progress and Increasingly Delicate Sensibilities

My dad came today and we got the lower part of the stairway wall primed!

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Old house purists: before you bite my head off for painting my woodwork, the first floor interior is a Colonial Revival style remodel from the 1930’s and had always been painted. But getting it back to this point seemed insurmountable. Especially these scrolly things under the stair nosings. There was so much paint glooped up onto them that I used 3 different types of chemical stripper, then burned it off with a heat gun, and finally gave up and used sandpaper. I then primed it, which exposed more flaws, so I sanded it all again and primed it a second time. It looks pretty good now!

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There are still imperfections to fix, including all the little nail holes in the paneling. But the paneling all needs to be sanded as the paint raises the grain of the plywood it’s made out of.

Once this is done, there’s another round of it upstairs. I didn’t do it all at once because (1) there is only so much prep I can stand to do in one go and (2) I wanted to get the downstairs painted before reinstalling the top 2 stair nosings, and then I have to close up the unfinished underside of the upstairs box newel.IMG_0724.JPG

And I’ll be replacing the 8 bottom balusters in the second phase after getting everything painted that they’ll block. (No, not restoring. It’s not worth the trouble for paint grade pine.)

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But my sensibilities are getting delicate. I can no longer handle this bit of unpainted trim on the ceiling that was supposed to happen later with the upstairs banister. It’s now getting moved up into this phase.

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What is happening to me that this is bothering me? Remember when I was sleeping in the kitchen? That was totally fine.

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And then this project is about to collide with the Phase 2 kitchen cabinet fronts thanks to another flaw my delicate sensibilities can’t handle. The casings around the big opening between the living room and kitchen is just tacked up so it can be notched into the cabinet fronts later. But this is affecting the living room now because I’ve decided that the little strip of molding on the left side of the door opening is too skinny.

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You see, I opened the wall, but emphatically wanted it to look like the wall was still there, just with a big doorway in it. I think that completely open rowhouses can feel relentlessly long and narrow and liked the proportions of this room as it was at the beginning. And right now this skinny rip of trim doesn’t feel like enough to hold up the corner of the room. It feels more like an outside corner than a wall. It will also balance better with the window on the other side.

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So, I’ll be yanking off that that piece of casing that had been ripped down, pulling off everything that had been tacked in place on the kitchen side, facing the cabinets, installing a new wooden board over the old one to make the doorway like an inch narrower, and putting up a new, heftier rip of trim on the living room side. Luckily, this isn’t the expensive special order casing, though I will, sigh, be needing more of that later, too.

So, does this sound like a good idea to you, or do you think I need to be medicated? My thoroughly practical dad flinched, but then took a second look and said, “You know it really will look better if you come out about one and a quarter and cover up the side of the refrigerator.”

Parties > Pigtails

So yeah, I had a party! I had a post drafted about it but it was boring, so here’s the tl;dr version. I invited 120 people on Facebook. I panicked. I cooked for 30. 15 showed up. It was nice. I think the Crooked House could accommodate 20 or 25 comfortably for this kind of party, or 10 for a sit down dinner. Here’s the living room at the end of the night, still messy after an hour of me and the roommie washing dishes.

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Now on to the light fixtures (and yes, you just saw one of them.) Remember the cute little pan light for my bedroom? It had non-original shades and there was an odd gap between the shades and the bells that cover the bulb sockets.

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I figured out that it had been a bare bulb fixture and that whoever redid it in the 80’s discarded the bobesches and clamped on globe fitters. Once I saw this I wanted to turn it back, but was nervous to buy bobesches online sight unseen. It also shorted out because the paper insulaters around the bulb sockets are gone, the polarity of the wires is backwards (which is fine as long as I know) and my lighting circuit has a ground fault interrupter breaker.

Then my flashy chrome chandelier needed a longer center wire and a new chain and canopy.

Anyways, I went to The Antique Lighthouse in Fishtown. They had brass bobesches that looked good to me. They’re a little too big but they screw on the bulb sockets and I don’t think anyone will notice that I cheated. The lighting shop is attached to a metal finisher, so they also polished and lacquered them to match the refinished fixture. And they replaced the insulators and fixed a crack in the ceiling canopy. So now it’s up and working!

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Rewiring the other chandelier was gonna cost me a lot more and I balked. They sold me 10 paper insulators and good chain and I decided to tackle it myself. Luckily, the wiring was in good shape so I didn’t have to fish anything, just put on a new center wire. I bought a ceiling canopy online. It’s not perfect. The canopy is kinda flimsy and the Irishman cut the drywall too big around the electrical box. But it’s up!

 

and boy does the room look more finished with it.

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Also, my fears about this not fitting in with my décor were completely baseless. I feared that it was gonna look oddly flashy but it turns out to be pretty understated. Trading in the country dining furniture for Danish modern might make it fit a weensy bit more too. Like I said before, it was made to have 30 crystals hanging from it and though I’m curious to know what that would look like, I’m not too eager to spend a lot of money restoring a feature that I may not even like. The stars are a garland my roommate had that I hung from ornament hooks through the holes for the crystals.

So this means that the pigtails are gone and every room in the house is now outfitted with presentable lighting. Except the 2 bare bulb fixtures formerly in the basement that are up in the bathroom. The price was right. Maybe I’ll find a suitable replacement soon?

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A Grand(er) Entrance

I’m having a party today so of course I decided to paint the vestibule this week. It’s important to put off tidying up with as many messy projects as possible. This didn’t happen along with the rest of the house for a lot of reasons. Okay, mainly just one. I was sick of painting.

Anyways, the walls and ceiling are both gonna be painted navy, a color that my friend picked for a small accent in his house and then agreed to share with me. The trim is all to be the same off-white though I can’t paint the door jamb until it’s warm out. I decided just to first coat the paneling for now. High impact, easy job, right?

Just one problem. The Irishman built me beautiful paneling in here, but he made himself a sketch. On the wall. In red Sharpie. Arg. Well I’ll have to spot prime with Kilz Original, the oil based version. That’ll take care of it, just one extra step. Right. And then… AAAARGH!

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Obviously I had to take this problem to the Google. Might I want to invest in shellac based primer? That’s supposed to be the best. My findings were that oil based is better than shellac because permanent marker inks are alcohol soluble so they will even more readily bleed through shellac. But I should have lightly sanded first and blotted the stains with rubbing alcohol, lacquer thinner, or acetone first. And really thin coats of paint are best. I guess that’s because they dry faster and give the marker stains less time to loosen up and bleed through.

So I invested in a spray can of Kilz. That’ll give me really thin coats and prevent brush marks from building up and changing the texture on the spot primed areas after I paint. And the spray can is a convenient shape to beat the Irishman with. Then I found a can of Zinsser 123 from a year ago when he was doing finish carpentry for me, put 3 coats on, and it was gone! This is interesting because water based paints aren’t supposed to work. I used it because I already owned it and the can said it works on felt tip markers.

And one more thing that’s, well, less unfinished than it was. The front door handle. There was a handleset when I bought the house. With a mismatched lock and missing stain around where the old one was. Then the handleset broke and I replaced it with a doorknob that had been on an interior door. Classy. Especially that hole in the door. (Also note that I’ve decided to ignore stripping residue that’s everywhere)

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Now, I really wish I had an OLD front door. This door is not old, and it’s not an authentic reproduction of old. But it’s mahogany and it was expensive (which is odd considering the other workmanship on my street). And I put a Baldwin handleset on it, so now if I end up getting an old door I’m wasting my money. But hey, it feels good and solid. And although it’s not as nice as a mortised handle, it’s the nicest looking one I could find that works.

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And here it all is – a slightly more finished vestibule!

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Am I a player now?

First there was Tim. He was in the picture for a solid 2 years, and even though I had to put up with a lot of stupid shit I stuck with him. But he left me high and dry when a better option came along. I never gave him his stuff back.

Then there was Ken. The first time he came over was encouraging and I guess that’s why I kept coming back to him after how many times he stood me up. And he never took it upon himself to tell me – I had to sit at home calling him to find out.

So it may have been underhanded of me when I went after Dre, who Ken knows, and got Ken to give me Dre’s number. But, you know, I’m trying to find someone. I took a day off of work partly to meet Dre. We were good to go the night before but then he ghosted on me, just like the others.

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And now there’s John. He stopped answering my calls, too, until I called him from the office. He finally did get back to me and we were supposed to meet. Again, nothing.

I haven’t dumped John yet but I’m already after another guy named John. They don’t have to know about each other. At this point I want to get whatever there is to get from whoever will give it to me. My roommate even knows to leave the door unlocked when John is thinking of coming by.

And if all else fails, there’s one more number I can call and I’ve heard good things. But they’ll charge $75 just for someone to come by before even doing anything. The thought of paying for that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but they’re in the back of my mind in case I ever need it bad enough.

 

But a little good news – I finally found the one! The second John came and got my heat working today!

Yeah, this whole post was about plumbers. What did you think I meant?

But a little bad news. Having given up on professional help, then given up on DIY, then given up on professional help, and so on, my dad and I tried to hook up the thermostats ourselves. What’s the worst that could happen?

Well, we fried the boiler control relay, the damper control, the circulating pump, and all 3 zone valves. I was starting to save money again. That was nice while it lasted. So, a little shocked horror there. But at long last, the Crooked House has functioning central heat. And considering that the boiler was exhausting 3000 parts per million carbon monoxide and the chimney was blocked at the top and had a hole halfway up… well, I’m glad that the small child who used to live here is still alive. And I’m thrilled to finally put away that electric radiator at the bottom of the stairs.

2 Projects for the Fall

2 big life changes since the beer tour. First, I’ve been eating those vegetables for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. And second, the joy of NOT working on the house isn’t strong enough to get me to shrug off certain glaringly unfinished pieces anymore. An aside, the Philly shrug is an important part of this city’s identity. I’m not sure if I can explain why it’s endearing at the same time when it also gives us trash strewn streets, a grand city hall with window unit air conditioners, and a robust transit system that still uses tokens. (Okay, that last one might also have something to do with rabidly anti-urban state legislators.)

So as for what I don’t want to shrug off anymore? Did you notice the marble I was ignoring just to the right of the steps? Yikes.

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I let this go because the whole façade needs to be stripped and there’s only 7 ½ feet of sidewalk separating it from parked cars and I need to save up for somebody with liability insurance to do the deed. But now that the steps look so good and the rest of the marble base looks so bad… I went out for the masonry paint stripper the GSA recommends for historic masonry. So yeah, maybe my house (left) won’t look so gross anymore. (But remember, the brick to the right was not restored correctly.)

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Yep, that goes against all of my old sensible plans. I decided that this is happening Saturday, and I’ll just have to find a way to protect the stranger’s car that will be parked right out front of my house. The idea of splashing harsh chemicals terrifies me. I’ll probably put a tarp over the cars.

I called the Irishman asking what to do about this. He told me, “Don’t worry about it. I put the most caustic things there are in the street just yesterday. If anyone gives you shit about it, come to me and I’ll take care of ’em.”

So wish me luck.

Then there are 2 pigtail lights in my house even though I’ve owned real light fixtures all along. Neither is usable right now but I’m eager to get them working. I’m having some work done to this pan light, so the next time you see it, it’ll be actually be safe to use and I’ll tell you more about it then.

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Then, do you remember this chrome chandelier?

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I bought it early on and it’s been at my parents’ house until this week. I knew from the beginning that it needs a new chain and ceiling canopy and that the center wire is too short. At the lighting place I went to, the lady also straightened out the bent arms and sold me nice chain and the paper insulators it needs. This was great but I balked at the cost of having it rewired and took it home to do it myself. I felt a little bad not to give them the job after she was very nice and helpful, but decided that it’s good enough that I’m already spending good money on the other one.

And plus, I have a lingering fear that this chandelier will never be my style and will stick out like a sore thumb in my house. We’ll see though – I’ve played it safe with most of my decorating choices and maybe something jarringly blingy and modern will be fun.

Speaking of blingy, this piece used to have 30 crystals hanging from the arms that don’t have lights. What do you think about these?

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Closing Out the Irish Labor

I bit the bullet and hired the Irishman twice more. Here’s what I have to show for it.

The oak counter next to the stove is in! I plan to sand off the old finish and oil it. (Also, the kitchen is getting tidier)

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The missing chip of wood on the banister has been patched. He then used a fair bit of wood filler while doing the final carving but it should even out with stain.

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The bathroom door has its marble threshold.

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The vestibule door is in! He extended the bottom because the gap was big and he thought it looked stupid. And this door has beveled glass so the photos don’t do it justice.

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The panel sticking on the stairway wall is cut and pushed in place.

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This last one was unexpectedly hard because the saw doesn’t cut the super tight angles we needed. So he clamped blocks of wood to the saw fence.

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And, I no longer need to use a sneaker and a can of paint to keep my bedroom door shut!

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He promised me that on top of all this, he’ll come back an evening and shoot in (meaning use the pneumatic nailer) the panel sticking, finish off the roller ball catch on the linen closet door, and put up the permanent stop moldings on the bedroom, bathroom, and linen closet doors.

So yay! That’s a lot! And I got some things done too but not nearly as much.

I got fed up with the condition of this rocker. I wasn’t 100% sure I’d be keeping it forever but decided it makes sense to get it re-caned regardless.

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So I found a couple that canes chairs from an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. They wanted $240! My PTSD is almost gone. I started to plan out a DIY project to rig it with an upholstered seat. But then the low bid came in at $83, and here it is. And that puts it on the short list of most expensive furniture and décor items in the house. Many thanks to my grandmother for having good enough taste that I can be happy with her stuff.

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Then I’ve been doing a fair bit of organizing things now that space is carved out for them. One drawer in the kitchen had more contents than space, but the chest by the front door had room for the reusable shopping bags and that fixed everything. I picked up a few more drawer dividers for the kitchen. It’s the little things right?

And another day of sweeping up sawdust. I thought we were done with that.

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So organizing is a priority right now. So is just basic house work. I’ve been good about the washing my clothes thing but not so much folding them. The wash stand got a new purpose consistent with its name as I stacked the clean unfolded wash ever higher every week.

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So… little things are the new order of business. Cleaning, organizing, prepping to paint everything I didn’t get to before. And painting all the things I left undone. And things that don’t cost anything are all I can afford to do for the next 2 months anyway. That means the blog will be straying off-topic for a while. And the next time you see the Crooked House, it should look a good bit more polished off!

Oh, and I’m excited about the off-topic posts.