Category Archives: Phase 1

Shoddy Work Hall of Shame

I’m having a problem in WordPress – most of my pages are all fine when I edit them but don’t show up when I publish and I can’t figure out why. The house tour can stay broken for now, but the h.

Studs too short? Cut blocks of wood and/or stack up scraps of plywood to fill the gaps!

Don't even try to understand this one

Don’t even try to understand this one

Time to frame a wall. New wood or old? Let’s alternate them! (These studs are not the same size, but they didn’t screw the drywall into the studs anyway so it doesn’t matter)

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

I guess it looks cool get size, color, and texture variety with your studs

Woodwork coming loose?  Don’t push it into place and re-nail it, just caulk! Cracked plaster? Just find a scrap of drywall to cover most of the cracks, and some of your woodwork! Just line it up between/on the surrounding trim, drive screws in wherever the spirit moves you, and you’re done! Radiators are totally solid so no one will ever notice.

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And then there’s the caulk. So much caulk. I wasn’t strong enough to pull apart the caulk on the living room radiator covers; had to cut it.

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

Normally how do you handle finishing floors around the radiator? You’d use special sanders to get around the low clearance. How did the previous owner do it? His… people just skipped it. And when they dropped globs of joint compound, dirt, pennies, and other odds and ends under it, they just polyurethaned right over them. This is what it looked like after I gave it a thorough cleaning.

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It looks like someone kicked in the door to the front bedroom at some point. The jamb was all busted out around the strike plate. To fix this, long screws were driven through the destroyed wood into nothing. And there’s a lot of caulk on it, of course.

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Then there are the front bedroom windows:

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So what exactly are we looking at here? Lots of holes, obviously, and gorilla glue! Inside that, we have a very cheap window installed so crookedly (in a wall that’s actually square!) that it doesn’t even close. There are scraps of who knows what stacked up to reduce the size of the opening, and there are 1×3′s, that’s framing grade lumber, not what you’d ever have for decorative purposes, attached right to the tops of the window sills. I know this woodwork won’t survive being taken down, but I’ll be able to replicate it. Not just yet though because the front windows are staying until the brick is restored. And until I can afford the windows I want. And when I feel like doing another project. That could be a while.

Then there are the radiators. More bad paint. More joint compound gloop.

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And I don’t have the steadiest hand, but look at this job cutting in with the paint around the stairs.

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And, when you install stucco, install the flashing to take water out and over it, not as corner molding to drive it into the wall.

Back 3

Back 3

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4 Year Anniversary Tour – The Exterior

I haven’t done anything to the front yet, but the plan is to restore it as close as possible to its original appearance. I’ll restore the original brick and marble, eliminate the plague of aluminum siding and awnings, restore or replicate the original wood trim, install wood windows (new or old). You can read more about this process here, here, here, and here.

Let’s pretend this other house is my after, though I plan to 2-tone the cornice and not have white paint on the marble.

The back started off in this grim state. The big square bay was wood framed with very crudely applied modern stucco. The rest is load-bearing brick protected with a thin layer of older stucco. Plus, rusty plumbing stack, rusty downspout, and tangle of cables.

But it got worse quickly when I started enlarging the back bedroom window and discovered how poorly the stucco was installed on that bay. Under it were 3 layers of asphalt siding, and these were damp! If you look carefully at the closeup of the bay, they installed flashing like corner molding, so it channels water INTO the wall. Then below this was the original siding, some of it rotten, nailed right to the studs. So fun times, off it came.

So this was a nice sized extra project when I was already in the middle of that back bedroom. I got the rotten clapboards replaced with new plywood sheathing and all of it wrapped in tar paper and let it go. And then came the polar vortex, the downspout froze solid and I had icicles inside! What a pleasant surprise for the day insulation was supposed to get blown in.

So when it came time to side it we overdesigned it absurdly. Lots of tar paper, flashing, indestructible cellular PVC trim sealed to the brick with silicone (to be eventually embedded into new stucco), and a 3/4″ air gap behind the siding that’s vented so if water does get in, it should stay on the outside of the tar paper. The wood strips are marine grade for nailing the siding into.

Speaking of siding, I was too snobby for vinyl even on a barely visible spot on the rear second floor, so I used HardiPlank. This is almost as nice looking as wood and more durable. The wider siding is not period correct but I figured it was less to install and my parents might want to use my leftovers. I had already committed to white trim and painted the siding a color that I learned is Wedgwood blue, not navy. The beadboard underneath is light blue to try to make this closed in urban space look cheery.

 

And here’s what it looks like now. The original stucco was in lousy shape and I was on a budget, so where I altered old window openings we filled them with whatever and I’ll have it all stuccoed later. You can also see that the patio door job involved ripping off some of the beadboard. I’ve been lazy lately but maybe I can get it fixed this year. Also, sorry Ross, but yes my ceiling fan has a light.

When this is all done, the plan is to have trim around the patio doors just like the windows above, have the stucco white or very light grey to reflect as much light into the living room as possible, and most importantly, I want a texture that looks like it belongs on an old house. What texture I get doesn’t much matter. The back of this house has no architectural style to speak of. It just needs to look old. The idea of a McMansion stucco texture on my house is enough to give me night sweats.

4 Year Anniversary Tour – Upstairs (Hall)

Upstairs, the house had the original Victorian trim. I was kinda thrilled to have unique woodwork in not 1 but 2 unique styles. Sadly, almost half of it was missing or butchered, I made changes that required more, and what did survive I couldn’t get off the walls unbroken. So out it went and I got a very good (and expensive) reproduction.

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All the doors had at some point been replaced with stained flush doors. Then later on, exactly half of those were replaced with the cheapest hollow 6-panel doors you can buy.

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I decided that new solid pine doors would miss the mark with the period look I wanted, so I was planning on putting in new flat doors and recreating the mid-century era update. (The surviving flat doors were shot.) But then I found a set of 5 4-paneled Victorian doors at Philadelphia Salvage and used them instead. This was one of the happiest days of my life.

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Refinishing them was a chore.

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But now they’re my pride and joy. Some of the white porcelain knobs came from my mom’s old house, which was the caretaker’s quarters on an estate in South Jersey built around the same time as mine.

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Part of the second floor had oak floors probably from the 1930’s remodel, but I had to take most of them out. Instead of reinstalling them, I re-exposed the original random-width heart pine. By doing this, I’ve attempted to get the second floor back to something like its original look while the downstairs has a reconstruction of the 1930’s remodel. These floors creaked really badly, but while the ceiling was out downstairs I glued all my scraps of plywood up onto the back sides of the floorboards, and now (except for one bad creak right outside my bedroom) the problem is fixed.

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Now on to the hall, the first thing I called it was “comically narrow.” It’s about 26 inches wide and I left it that way because I didn’t want to lose closet and bathroom space.

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Upstairs hall

And I said I wanted to restore this floor to at least the architectural style I started with even though I reconfigured it a lot. Here it is now from the same angle as before.

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And a friend of mine offered me a huge abstract painting for free. Unfortunately, it took me 4 months to pick it up and during that time he and a friend had some wine and tried to paint a pagoda over it. I took it and hung it up anyway. It’s super bizarre looking but the scale is great.

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And one big change I made to the hall was adding in a big square skylight. I can’t tell you how much it changed the house, including the living room below. The back of the living room doesn’t get much light so every bit helps.

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If you can’t tell from my photos, the walls are just primed right now. I’m thinking that with the exposed brick, the stained doors, the flooring, artwork, and every room up here being a different color, I’ve got enough going on visually up here to paint the walls the same color as the trim, but less glossy. But feel free to change my mind. No decision is set in stone until it’s paid for.

4th Anniversary Tour – Living Room

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

 

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Stairs

 

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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.

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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.

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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!

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And it looked super scary at the end of this.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Queen For A Day

This reminded my mom of that terrible old show where women would tell their tale of woe and the one with the saddest story would win stuff. Can you guess why? It’s not because my life is impressively sad.

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No, it has something to do with my washer and dryer. And the big priority was getting something that fits. Remember how narrow my stairwell is? (It’s not this dirty anymore.)

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The only place to go for this is a Mom and Pop South Philly appliance store. Somewhere under that siding is a Victorian building, but we’ll rant about that kind of thing later.

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Usually in my family buying appliances is complicated, but not here. They told me that I can get the fancy Speed Queen top load washer with the digital controls or the plain one with a knob that was $100 cheaper. And my mom said that’s what they gave to the women on the show.

They also told me that the the breakdown guy was going on vacation and so I got them delivered the very next day! Eep, so weird to go fast! And what do I mean by the breakdown guy? The one who does this.

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I guess that very expensive paneled wall was worth it now.

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And then was what may have been a reality TV level tale of woe. The new plumber had some staffing issues and backed out of coming a couple times this week. So when he finally showed up yesterday it was super exciting. I may be done with Phase 1 contractors now!

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And you remember what my basement used to look like? Here, I’ll remind you.

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After the stuff went away only the dirt remained. I used 15 gallons of water. First tried scrubbing normally but it wasn’t working. The procedure that did work was pour water out from the bucket, scrub, vacuum up, repeat. Most of it needed to be done 3 times. Behind the boiler was worse. The floor at the bottom right in this photo used to be black and now it’s clean enough that you can see where the paint is peeling! Yay!

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And this little halfassed shelf I built above the shut off valves – I’m getting too happy over little things. And using the gas line as a clothes bar is totally fine, right?

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So there we are! The house is 100% functional! My roommate had to use a laundromat once (and got a discount on the rent accordingly) and then was so out of her clothes I did her laundry – 3 loads between the 2 of us. But this too was exciting.

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And then some more odds and ends – I had 4 mystery bins in the basement. Going through them made the house messy all over again. I took a lot of random crap and then when my grandmother went to assisted living I got better crap. This one was the most ridiculous – mostly scrap metal. But I found corner braces and 12 pair of scissors, pulled out the flatware to sell, and put out the rest for scrap. My roommate donated some furniture to Habitat and I sent some more stuff off with them.

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And I finally unpacked the china! Because every civilized home needs a celery and salt dish set. I’ll eventually paint this cabinet blue and stand plates up in the back.

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And the roomie and I came out of Aldi with a 2 foot long receipt. And with this I think it’s a fully functional house!

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Odds, ends, and cabinet colors

So the painting is still happening, and none of it is quite wrapped up yet. And my roommate is moving in Easter Sunday. That’s in 10 days. And then things unrelated to the house started going wrong and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed. The good news is, my roommate doesn’t care (particularly since I offered her a discount if the place is wrecked) and I’m taking tomorrow off. So let’s get on to the actual progress.

Most importantly, this weekend my dad and I built the Phase 1 kitchen drawer fronts! And they’re multiplying! First there were going to be 3 or 4 but now I’m up to 12. There were just enough scraps of cabinet grade plywood to make them all although 2 of them have the grain running in the wrong direction.
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The DIY work for these  (before assembly) is cut, sand, prime, sand, prime, sand, paint, paint. I got the first coat of primer on one side of all of them and hope to be all done by Sunday so I can de-clutter and organize the kitchen next week. But I think 2 coats of primer will be especially important with the 2 drawers with vertical grain.

Then there’s the other question with these – what color to paint them. All my upper cabinets and 2 of the lowers are still going to be open and I won’t be styling the shelves, so this is still going to look a little makeshift and utilitarian. I thought about putting a kinda bright color on to just have fun with a space that doesn’t matter. I also want it to look good with my temporary countertops.

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The problem is that lighter colors don’t really work with them and darker colors are impossible with the ProClassic paint I want to use. It’s really great for cabinetry and stuff. And in the mid-toned colors, everything seemed to be either too bright or too grey. I think I’m liking this one – and the coordinating colors even look like what I already have.

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A friend of mine said that the color looks like it would go in a room that’s modern with rustic elements. That’s definitely not my house but it sounds more like some ideas I had for it before. I think I like it, but what do you think? And remember, this is for the lower cabinets only and I’m not committing to it forever. Am I making a mistake to not just go even brighter for fun?

Then I need hardware, and obviously I need it to be cheap. The best bargains I can think of are my parents’ oval brass knobs. They have lots on cabinets in their laundry room, but I’d need to put something cheap in to replace them.

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Or, I have 7 of these yellow porcelain knobs from the furniture that was in my room when I was a babyimage

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But what I’m thinking may really best is that my friend’s parents have a bunch of circa 1953 chrome pulls that a previous owner took out of the kitchen and left in the basement. I talked them out of throwing them out, so they may be fair game if I ask, right?

 

A triumphant end to Phase 1

I always imagined that the stove would be just about the last thing I’d do in Phase 1. The house wouldn’t be perfect but it would be livable and I’d make pasta and it would be triumphant. Well, I’ve been making pasta and a triumph it is not. Even easy meals are kind of tedious in a chronically messy kitchen. And elsewhere in the house, the march toward civility is moving backwards.

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Now the plan was always to slow down a bit and get my life back for a little while after Phase 1. So when would that come? It was looking like at some point or another I’d just anticlimactically say that’s enough.

But now there’s big news – I have a triumphant end to Phase 1 once again. Because a good friend of mine wants to be my roommate! That means great things for my bank account. And it also means more stuff to do now. She’s pretty easy going, but she said in no uncertain terms that the doors need to be back up on her room and the bathroom before she can move in. And there’s at least one solid weekend’s worth of work left to turn the living room and kitchen right side up again. I’m hoping for a little more help from the Irishman; without him, it could easily be 2 weekends.

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And the new end of Phase 1 (I think) is the washer and dryer. But first, there’s all this painting that feels like it will never end. But there are bright spots. I’m done most of the prep now and at the very least, the messiest painting should be done this weekend. I hope. And the back bedroom closet doors look oddly new with the mildew bleached off and painted over. Of course new wasn’t what I wanted, but I’m happy enough to have it here.

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And there’s quarter round in the living room! That’s not just a big step forward (and a prerequisite for the bookcases) but also one more thing out of the basement. 5000 to go before the washer and dryer come! Just kidding. But not really.

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So, it looks like I need to put a third coat of paint onto most of the walls. Hopefully that’s done this weekend and I can really put the house together next. Then here’s what’s left:

  • Finish Phase 1 trim painting, which means all upstairs woodwork. Re-hang upstairs doors.
  • Clear out the back bedroom. There is stuff in the furniture. I’ll have to put it in boxes.
  • Procure and install curtains or blinds for the back bedroom.
  • Move the bookcases I have back to the long wall where they were and anchor them. Add a 4th narrow unit and height extensions. (Bringing over books and other things that go on them can go beyond Phase 1.)
  • Hang the 2 downstairs interior doors and slider screen door that are currently stored in the living room.
  • Bring over one more piece of furniture for the brick wall by the stairs.
  • Add 6 more drawers (for a total of 7) to the kitchen. Make plywood drawer fronts. Paint them? Rearrange kitchen things and bring in china.

The list is getting shorter and less scary, right?