Category Archives: phase 1

4th Anniversary Tour – Back Bedroom

The back bedroom, oh my. At the start it was tiny, the floor had a terrible slant (normally I’m okay with crooked floors but this was too much), and the closet was once again 12 inches deep.


Back bedroom

Let’s not forget the horror story of the wall behind the radiator. Whoever did this can’t have been sober. It didn’t look this bad in the before pic, did it?


Moving the bathroom made this room 34 inches longer, or about 12 ½ x 9 feet, plus an alcove where the closet used to be, making half the room 10 feet wide. You can still see the footprint of the bathroom in this picture of the new closet


There were some unique challenges in here, like marrying new framing into old when we made 1 window into 2. And the new studs warped so we had to clamp them back into place.


And we put custom cut sleepers on top of the original joists to level the floor while still allowing the exposed beams in the kitchen downstairs.


Then I glued down the original pine floors (which were under the oak in the before pic) onto the new subfloor, plus a bit of extra wood I had to buy.


And are you ready for this one? A sloped ceiling designed expressly to fit the salvaged doors I had already bought. Here’s the deal. Rowhouses have low slope (not actually flat) roofs, so when this house was built, a level ceiling was framed out at a different height in each room. I measured the bathroom ceiling since this end of the bedroom was then the bathroom, which had a higher ceiling. See how the break in the ceiling slope lines up with the corner where the closet was? I was obsessed about that detail. Also, I left the exposed brick where the closet had been so you can see the original low ceiling. The chimney is abandoned and was for the original stove, so I guess that hole was to heat the bedroom with kitchen exhaust?



This also meant that the center of the room has a level ceiling which allowed me to use a flushmount light fixture. This one was a bargain at Philadelphia Salvage. I needed a flushmount in here because the ceiling is about 7’-9” so I was grateful to find something that didn’t suck or cost hundreds of dollars.


I was emphatic that the jamb extensions and casings needed around the windows needed to come down in the middle so I could inside mount two sets of blinds. This was hard to do but the Irishman came through.


And I painted the room green because I wanted a color that brought out the really great morning light. I didn’t think I liked this color while I was painting but now that it’s on the walls it’s perfect. It looks bright in the morning and quiet in the evening. And the doors, also from Philadelphia Salvage, are 1930’s Georgian. Not quite right for the house, but just the right size.


I also scored a third knob matching what came with the closet doors and put it, incongruously, onto the Victorian door into the room. Remember: door hardware is the most important thing in the world, but I haven’t finished installing it anywhere in the house.


I had the room entirely furnished with leftovers. Every piece is a different age, style, and type of wood, and I really loved it just like that. The braided rug was very good quality; the comforter was by some cheap brand like Dorm Essentials. It’s showing its age after 5 short years in college but gets the job done.

Now, I’ve had this room rented to a friend since last Easter. Yes, she moved in Easter Sunday. So here it is as it appeared right before that.

Then a reader mailed me curtains! Thank you Mary Elizabeth! (Also note my friend’s bed in the room. I’d say the biggest downside of having a roommate is having to store the bed I had in my bedroom.)


And I scored this lamp during one of my grandmother’s several moves.


My roommate wants to live on her own sooner or later, but since it’s never too early to plan, feel free to weigh in on finishing off the room now.


4 Year Anniversary Tour – Moving the Bathroom

This was the thing that officially blew up my schedule and budget. When I bought the house the bathroom was cheaply built and a little small and awkward, but really not bad for a house this size. The plan, of course, was to keep it. At least for a little while.



But this bathroom was sandwiched between 2 bedrooms that were really no bigger than walk-in closets. And worse, only 2 of the 3 bedrooms had closets and those closets were only 12 inches deep.

So, I already knew the plumbing and wiring were shot, why not just move it?

second floor existing and proposed

You can see that I left the front bedroom where it was but made the back bedroom bigger, added 3 nice closets, and got a big bathroom. So here’s the last time the middle bedroom was a bedroom. The crazy sloped wall jutting into the room wasn’t original. This room used to be square before someone made the bathroom bigger. (Also, the new studs are a half inch smaller than the original ones, and they weren’t long enough to reach the ceiling)

Then I discovered there wasn’t much to the bathroom floor I bought and the plumbing and wiring were devised by Rube Goldberg.


I got a few friends to help me get the tub up the stairs and to its permanent location, which was then in the middle of the room. The last 3 feet behind the tub became the closet for the front bedroom.


And then finishing the room: I got total hacks to do the floor. It’s not right but it’s there. The wall tile was a craigslist find but I got conned. The seller told me I was getting 1000 square feet when he only gave me 500. I went to Mohawk Tile in King of Prussia, which sells the same Seneca handmold tile that I got, and found out that it retails for half what the guy said, too. So this means that instead of getting them 75% off, I paid, gasp, retail on Craigslist! But I like them and because they’re so irregular, you can’t tell they were installed by a rookie.


So to finish the room (for now) I painted the walls a light blue, added shiny chrome towel bars and shelves, and got a temporary shower curtain rod. My mom picked out the curtain and put it up without asking me, but now I’m happy with it.


The window is just a bit smaller than the (long lost) original to make room for the toilet. Here’s a before/after of this corner.

You can see that even though it’s much improved, it’s definitely not done. I have room for a big vanity with 2 sinks (which lots of people tell me I’ll be thrilled to have) but in its place I just have the little sink and cabinet that came with the house, the classic college student microwave cart, and bare lightbulbs I yoinked from the basement. They can go whenever I find a pair of lights that I like that don’t cost hundreds of dollars (and know what I want).

I was thinking of sticking with a kinda rustic, kinda modern look and getting a plain, modern vanity cabinet with stained wood slab doors and a marble top. But nothing’s decided until it’s bought, so feel free to tell me how you want the room finished.

4th Anniversary Tour – Living Room

This was the first room I worked on. Of course it didn’t look too bad at the start.






Living room, front

I got talked into the exposed brick on the stairway side and thought that this was going to nearly double what I had to do before moving in. Of course I doubled the scope several more times after that.


Then when I enlarged the low and narrow opening between the living room and the kitchen I discovered that the whole house was on one knob and tube circuit – except for a few outlets that were dangerously installed with their wires loose on the outside of the house.


At some point I grabbed the ceiling for stability and it squished – nail pops everywhere! The plan was to ignore this but then I took down all 3 ceilings. Yes, there were 3!


And it looked super scary at the end of this.



The big long wall had to be framed in about an inch because the new chimney didn’t fit flush like the old one did. But now I won’t die if I turn the heat on so it was worth it.



In the back, I opened the wall to the kitchen but I still wanted it to feel like separate rooms. The doorway and window are now the same height. I was a little bit annoying nagging the Irishman to make sure this happened.


And I had a few issues with the stairway wall. The basement stairs are super narrow.IMG_3656


And the door, which was moved rather crudely from the kitchen to the living room after this stairway was built, jutted awkwardly into the stairway woodwork.


Some people take the wall out entirely but I like my basement closed. The Irishman had a great idea though. Build wood paneling (in a 1930’s style of course) with a hidden seam so the wall comes out. His idea, my sketch:stairway paneling

And his workmanship


And I solved the other problem by using a skinny sash bead in lieu of door casing. The cap for the paneling runs straight across and the bead butts up to that, so I got to squeeze in my unbroken diagonal line.


And here it is built. He then filled that hacked out spot with Bondo.


And my favorite feature of the room, the inlaid banding on the floors. This is why my floors are blond.


I picked up a retro modern chandelier and was nervous it would look jarring and out of place in this room, but I’m very happy with it now. The Danish modern dining room set ($218 with tax at the ReStore) helps it blend in, too.


Just about everything else in the room is very traditional. The gods of Craigslist delivered it to me, but I take contrarian pleasure in bucking trends. Ironically, Apartment Therapy says that green will be the “it” color for sofas in 2017. And let’s not forget that I needed 4 friends to help carry it 6 feet above 4 other people’s back yards and dismantle the patio door to get it into the house. Also, I need a privacy fence ASAP mostly because of the yard pictured.

couch in alley

And against the brick wall, a little dresser that my great-grandmother hated when she had it right here in South Philly in the 1920’s, the convex mirror that was my grandmother’s pride and joy, and a (plaster of course) Brancusi bust just like one my friend’s parents have that I was terrified of when I was little. This is why having stuff that matches is overrated. I finally, finally don’t need the electric radiators anymore.


One thing that’s worse than before – drywall jambs and totally rigged 1/8″ thick Masonite trim around the front windows. The windows themselves are garbage so I promise this isn’t permanent, and in a year or 2 I’ll have a facsimile of what used to be there.


And here’s the after – actual nice photos for a change!


A 4 Year Anniversary Tour

Yep, it’s been 4 years! Or it will be this month. And since it’s an awful lot to wade through all the Phase 1 work, I’ve decided to do it room by room. And that means the only place to start is my closet-sized vestibule. But first, a bit of background. I believe that my house was built in the 1890’s but the downstairs interiors appear to date to the 1930’s when the parlor walls were taken out and paint grade Craftsman trim was installed. And yes, this was period appropriate in Colonial Revival houses.



I have only 2 interior doors downstairs. One dates to this remodel; the other came out of a house across the street and appears to be about the same age. Everyone had the funds to de-Victorianize their houses during the Depression apparently.

Although I (sadly) found very little of the original woodwork to be salvageable, I put it back in as close as I could to the way it was. And a really great find, the Irishman (or the master carpenter next door) got a co-worker to make me reproduction header crown out of my scrap wood for just $50!


Now back to the vestibule. First, I have a newer sorta Victorian-ish looking front door. I plan to keep it and clean it up, but if I find something great and genuinely old, I might abandon common sense and replace it. I put in a Baldwin brass handle set and the Irishman built nice jamb extensions, so if I do that I’m officially throwing good money away. And look, he had to rig something up just to get something to nail the jamb extensions into.


I exposed the brick wall in the living room and continued it in here. While the plaster was coming off I found that the walls were new drywall installed over plastic tile that was on the original walls. The whole house was layered like a matryoshka doll.


On the other side I wanted to add a little something extra and the Irishman made me this great paneling.



And then there’s a stained glass transom. My mom had this made for a previous house and took it with her to 2 more before I had just the right place to put it. She said that the man who made it was very artistic and very gay. He couldn’t make what he wanted within her budget, so he made what he wanted and undercharged her.


I took a light that was original to my parents’ 1951 house that my mom never liked – and that to be honest hung too low for the ceilings there. And, I painted the room navy blue! The wall could use at least one picture and the doors and trim still need work, but I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out.


Some people are perplexed that I kept the vestibule. At least in little houses like this one, they’re slowly disappearing. But I like having the air lock, even though it’s so tiny you have to open both doors at once if more than 2 people are coming in.

The Great Soap Dish Dilemma

I’m taking a break from expensive and time consuming projects, but there are smaller things I should be doing. My roommate has been away for 3 weeks and I promised her that stuff would happen while she was gone. I didn’t follow through. Some of this is dependent on the Irishman, who also promised to help me and didn’t follow through, but the bathroom’s lack of towel bars and other storage items is all on me. The toilet paper sits on the radiator, which doesn’t bother me. Towels hang on the side of this temporary storage cart, which I’m also fine with except that guests never find them.


It’s in the bathtub thatthings get ugly. All I have is a bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo (usually large and inexpensive), and a scrub brush. My roommate has 2 additional bottles. And then I use a clean wash cloth every time I shower and with no place to hang them I let them sit in a nasty pile until laundry day.


My roommate said she’d like to see all of that stuff go away. Her tone was gentle but that didn’t imply that I was welcome to slack off. But I did, mainly because my search left me disappointed. I want fixtures that are as plain and sleek as possible in shiny chrome at the dry end of the tub away from the shower head. And there’s a slim chance that I’d want storage for just a wee bit more in case someone more high maintenance ever lives here.

Chris suggested a magnetic soap dish like he used in his house, and this idea sounded fantastic. But there’s a problem. There’s a very limited selection of these, and the most sensible ones have a very traditional look that’s wrong for my bathroom. Everything else is either very high end and imported from Europe or looks as cheap as it is. But I could get one from Zack Scala with a look I liked – for about 50 bucks.

Scala Magnetic Soap Holder

That’s not super cheap but I figured it would be okay and I should get it. But then I was thinking of the other stuff I want that would be on the same wall. It’s one thing to cheat and use cheaper fixtures across the room, but here wouldn’t it look stupid? But getting them to match would cost like $300! And even after spending all that money will it look any good?

And I went back to the alternative, finding a different manufacturer whose product is close enough. But they’re all chrome when this soap dish is polished stainless steel. Polished stainless steel that looks like chrome is apparently not a thing in the US.

I thought when I was planning this project out that marble shelves would stick out like a sore thumb and thought I should get glass. But then I wondered about safety if I broke it. So I considered getting wire shelves. No need for a soap dish that way. But I couldn’t find anything I liked and decided that the risk of breaking a glass shelf (that I like) is pretty small anyway, right? But that takes me back to where I have to order expensive things online and decide if I’m going to hold my nose and spend hundreds of dollars or try to mix different styles of fixtures that I’m buying sight unseen.

So then I decided to ignore the house and wash up to do something fun. And I threw another washcloth on the pile.

This concludes Phase 1

And I didn’t even notice!

Which is funny because I’ve been fixated on the end for a solid 3 years now. And it was 3 years of scope bloat. At first it was the things I needed to make the place safe, like this chimney. (This is behind my bookcases in April 2014)


To the “while we’re at it” jobs that couldn’t feasibly happen later, like moving the bathroom.

second floor existing and proposed

To the surprise problems I couldn’t fix later, like the water behind this stucco. It was at least not getting behind the asphalt.


The messy things I wanted over with, like the patio door.


And the things that seemed unnecessary until I was living without them, like kitchen storage. (The oak chopping block on top of this cabinet has been deferred beyond Phase 1.)


Even with the washer and dryer it didn’t really feel finished. So how do I know it’s over? Because I went away for the weekend and my social calendar filled up every evening but one this week. Normally, there’d be something I wanted to do to the house and knowing that I was even slower would make me grumpy.

As far as actual work goes, it’s been only little things. My bedroom door has been down for a while. I was going to paint the jamb and install vintage hardware and all that. You know door hardware is my favorite. But after that got held up I just hung it back up again as it was and felt great about it. The only real house progress was the furniture and pretty things on this wall. Well, that and polishing silver.


That dresser was in my grandmother’s childhood home and the mirror was in her living room. The mirror always looked really, really formal in her house and I thought it would be too much for me, but I love it. And I got the bust because I used to be afraid of one just like it at my friend’s house when I was little. The Irishman’s kids haven’t seen it yet.

And otherwise, I’m working on putting life before the house. On Tuesday I threw together a small dinner – this kind of thing is why I have a house at all instead of a studio apartment.

And I’m starting to get used to regular cleaning. Not shoveling up debris, the normal people kind. And I went to a neighborhood tree planting today after 3 years of no volunteer work.

So while I’m not doing house work, I have some other stuff that I’m looking forward to writing about. I think it’s time to put together a proper little tour of my little house. Then there’s the house hunt, stuff about the neighborhood and city, past and current projects for my family (because you know I owe my parents forever and ever), and other fun stuff.  There are little projects to do during the “break” and loads of clutter – moving my grandmother and dealing with her stuff is unfinished business. There’s so much more of it after my sister and I got what we wanted. And it’s never too early to plan out Phase 2. I’ve had ideas in my head and can’t wait to write them down. Stay tuned!

April Fools! And yay for organized storage!

First of all, that last post was totally fake. Maybe my April Fools jokes are too subtle, but if you may notice that I did many, many things that were not cost effective to try to preserve or recreate my house’s character, and the facade is the very last thing I would want to modernize. If the original one fell off I’m not sure what I’d do but short of that it stays, period. And although I’m not wholly against panel siding, it’s gotten to be an unimaginative cookie cutter look. According to the architecture column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it is “now the default on developer-built apartment buildings. That isn’t architecture; it’s a colorful form of weatherproofing.” (Incidentally, she said that here, rightly skewering a bland replacement for an art deco landmark.)

Back to the real world, my plywood drawer fronts are coming along! I told you about a lot of what got the place ready for a roommate but left out the most important part: the first 7 kitchen drawers. I’m putting as many drawers as possible in my base cabinets and it’s amazing. To make them fit, I went to IKEA and measured out the real ones. Then I had to drill out the backs to make them look like store bought fronts. And I made a lot of mistakes, most of which don’t show.


Before everything was either inaccessible or sitting out in clay pots. They were kinda charming and definitely the best I could do at the time.


And now I have this!


So the flat plywood fronts are working out better than I thought they would. I screwed up drilling holes into a few of them so I have a little patching and repainting to do but for now it’s much, much improved. And I love the way things fit now. So much.

Like these drawer dividers. They look like filing cabinets, but in a good way. And they really help things fit together.


And this drawer that is JUST the right size!



And this empty strip of countertop! The 4 drawers next to the dishwasher just went in today. They weren’t as important as the first 7 until the first 7 went in and I really wanted to finish the job.


Plus getting the upper cabinets cleared out and organized. It looks like I have room for china now! (I also got the exhaust fan vent hooked up, finally.)


Seriously, it’s so great.


And I’ve started to sorta arrange the crystal in the display cabinet! Ignore the pile of candles.


I kinda wanted to bring over china right away, but it was clearly smarter to hold off on that. I want to add little bits of trim to the shelves in that cabinet above so I can stand up plates in the back. And then I think I’ll paint it the same blue as my fronts and maybe get brave and make homemade glass doors. Am I up to the task?

And what do we say about the brass knobs? I’ll need to buy 4-6 more to finish off the lower cabinets.