Category Archives: Exterior

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?

IMG_9040

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.

little-volvo-truck

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.)

IMG_1175

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.

IMG_1245

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.

IMG_3435

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

P1040240

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

P1040175

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.

img_0548

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

IMG_1379.JPG

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.

IMG_1390.JPG

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

IMG_1381.JPG

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.

IMG_1387.JPG

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

IMG_1384.JPG

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

IMG_1389.JPG

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

img_0542

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.

Advertisements

My Dad Provided Common Sense Again

Like I said before, I want the stucco to wrap around the corner where the downspout hides the ugly control joint. But there’s a problem. The cast iron pipe connecting my downspout to the sewer angles in toward the house so the top is right up against it. It’s original to the house (1890’s) and not in good shape. Ask me why I have a can of Bondo in the basement. But in until I can replace it, it’s in the way of the stucco.

IMG_1177.JPG

At first I thought I’d just stucco up to it and repair the missing patch later. But this could get rust stains in my stucco and the patch may not be done right and could crack. So I thought maybe I could rig some kind of temporary plaster stop and leave a gap around the pipe. The metal trim would all be in place but no plaster on it. Then my dad thought of the solution that should have been obvious. Cut it off with the Sawzall. The problem? His sawzall is kinda old and battery powered, and the batteries weren’t holding up to the rigors of this job.

We decided that I’d go to Sears and buy more, even though that meant a trip to Jersey. And it wound up being a 2 Home Depot trip day because the Irishman was outside and he told us we were using the wrong kind of blades. When I came back with the right blade, it worked so well we didn’t need the new batteries.

IMG_1180.JPG

You can see that the stucco was , ahem, a little crude behind the pipe. And let’s not talk about the more recent work just to the left that I won’t be coating over this year. The Irishman told me the previous owner hired crackheads from the street whenever he needed work done. But we were able to patch the tar paper properly. Meaning 6 inch laps on vertical seams and 2 inches horizontal. I recut the weep screed since the old one was damaged from being wedged in behind the pipe. And we put in a longer downspout. The old one was damaged anyway. It’s a much better fit now!

IMG_1182.JPG

But it’ll still be a tight squeeze once the stucco is in place. I’ll probably have to crimp the downspout in a little bit more.

IMG_1183.JPG

Now one more thing – you might have noticed that I installed corner bead after I said I didn’t want it. Historic stucco had hand finished corners and was less perfect looking, but the corner bead does provide structural benefits. Corners can be prone to spalling, and this extra steel prevents that. And really, I don’t have truly traditional stucco, which would have been a coating applied to solid masonry that the owner would repair as needed forever. Modern stucco is cladding and we expect it to hold together without a lot of maintenance. Hopefully with the job I’ve done I’ll be good for 75-100 years.

Planning… Stucco?

So I’ve had a pattern. Do project, burn out, take time off, start 2 new projects. I was around that point in the cycle 2 weeks ago and, well, it was pretty obvious that sooner or later I need to finish painting the kitchen cabinets, get the knobs on, and get glass in the doors. So I took down the ones that the Irishman never painted on the back sides. Incidentally, he skipped all the ones that are the hardest to pop on and off.

IMG_1039.JPG

And he convinced me that I need to stucco around the patio door this year. I’ve had plywood sheathing exposed to the elements (under an overhang at least) for 2 years now. So after lining one side of the dining area with cabinet doors I filled  the other with stucco materials. Also PVC trim boards for casing around the patio door.

IMG_1040.JPG

And then I got food poisoning. (And I don’t know what from but I probably cooked it myself.)

So here’s the plan. First off, the old plan was to have the whole rear of the house stuccoed at once. The new plan is to defer the air shaft area indefinitely…

P1040404

And do it like everyone else did and just redo the part that I can see for now. As in, new stucco on the plywood and the stucco that got this lovely green paint.

P1040735

Now, stucco terrifies me. Because there are some stucco houses I love.

genMid.5874140_0

But there are others that are McMansions. Also, modern stucco is supposed to have ugly control joints so it doesn’t crack. I’m definitely going to need a couple because the stucco around the back door will be installed as a veneer over paint and plywood while the rest of the house (to be stuccoed later) can get it right onto the masonry, the old fashioned way.

So here’s what I’m thinking. I’ll install the new stucco with one horizontal control joint right around the top of the first floor. And I’ll wrap the corner and put the control joint right behind the downspout where you can’t see it. Because inside corners are bad, this means that when I go back and stucco the rest there will be a really long skinny strip of stucco that wraps the corner from the siding (the trim is PVC) to behind the downspout. Then the rest of the back inside the air shaft can hopefully get one seamless coat. Back to this photo again, the little bit of brick that’s showing behind the downspout is where the joint will be. (Note: I’m pretty sure the back of these houses are all a low grade of brick that needs to be stuccoed.)

P1040417

Then there’s the small matter of texture. What I’ve noticed about old stucco is that it’s not as perfectly flat and often has a heavier texture than new stucco. That house I showed above? The walls seem to have heft. New stucco more often than not looks like a card house.

genMid.5874140_0

But the Crooked House is not Tudor. It’s not Cotswold Revival, Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial Revival, or arts and crafts. It’s a very modest late Victorian, a period when I don’t think stucco was particularly popular. And the back has no architectural style at all really. I’m going to do the walls in a fairly smooth sand finish. That’s basically the plainest stucco finish and it was popular before my house was built and after. It’s also the easiest to do. And I’m skipping the corner bead. I’ll chip off some of the old bad repairs to let the wall be semi-flat, then I’ll just let the corners be a bit rounded off.

 

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.

Seasons change and so does my work

I’ve decided to move the end of summer back to sometime in the past week. It’s been warm and that lines up the change in seasons with big shifts in my house. This shift feels like a bit of a cleanse, as the piles of junk and mess are starting to shrink.

P1040641

Everything about how lucky I am is in this photo. My dad tying scaffolding in the back of my neighbor’s truck (one of many things he’s loaned me, on top of occasionally helping me way faster than any DIY’er ever could – he’s a carpenter) so I can return it to my parents’ friend, who also was at my place all the time to hang siding and made an open offer to come back for future projects.
Continue reading

Siding Post 7: I Can Do It in Every Position

Get your minds out of the gutter, folks. I’m talking about painting of course!

P1040433

That shirt’s really taken a beating. Mostly because the back of my house has all kinds of awkward tight spaces. You’ve probably seen before that I needed to hop the property line to lean a ladder against the side of the house above. Plus there was the excitement of finagling that big, heavy (non-conductive) wooden ladder in between all the phone lines. But the other side is crazier.
Continue reading

Siding Post 6: Almost Painted

This is probably the last you’ll see of my siding before the back side is really done. My agonizing over paint colors is done and culminated in going with the ballsiest suggestion I got, painting the siding (a slightly grayed out) navy blue. One criticism this idea got was that it would make my house look too Cape Coddy. I don’t really see this as a problem. If I could put an acre or two of dunes in the alley that would be even better, though it would also make my house farther from the subway.

And the beadboard on the “porch ceiling” is light blue. I had to wash off the residue from the tar paper that was nailed to it with paint thinner, which paired nicely with the Hop Devil I was drinking. And then it needed two tubes of caulk. I still missed a few holes, so I might have to caulk a weensy bit more in between coats. But here’s what I’ve got so far:

P1040415
Continue reading