Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

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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.

 

I’m Not a Plasterer, but Stucco’s Done!

This stucco job is pretty big considering that I’m supposed to be averaging a project a day. But not only were there 2 more coats but there was prep in between, so that means we’re looking at Projects 14 through 17 now.

I had left tar paper lapped over the weep screeds and stuff and now trimmed it back so it doesn’t show anymore. And on to the brown coat. This coat is supposed to be thinner than the scratch coat and give a relatively smooth, even surface for the finish coat.

So how’d we do? Well, I didn’t get any pictures of the brown coat. Oops. But a few things to know. I worked really hard to get the surface flat and smooth but couldn’t make it completely free of knife marks. I floated it too close to the surface around the corner bead and then floated the finish coat right over all the metal and made the imperfect, handmade corner I said I had wanted anyway (tell me what you think about that). It dried my hands out like crazy and on the finish coat I gave in and wore gloves.

We got a rough start with the finish coat and for a bit my dad doubted if we’d finish. I started to float it onto the walls and it fell right off. So I ran out for Quikrete Acrylic Fortifier. If you’re going to try this at home, DEFINITELY USE THIS STUFF. Not only did the finish coat stick better but it was more workable, easier to mix and spread evenly. We were finally doing well with it! Phew!

Also, my dad made a big sacrifice for this. He put his Eagles game on AM radio instead of the TV.

Now with this final coat, I decided to do a sand finish, which means that once the stucco is solid but still soft you rub the surface with a rubber float, basically a really stiff sponge, and water, until the sand comes to the surface and it gets a rougher texture. As an added bonus, I could scrape the cement slurry out of the float and work it into the most obvious of my knife marks. This got me a relatively consistent surface even if it isn’t perfectly flat.

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And to me this is all TOTALLY FINE. After all, before I started my crippling fear was that it would be too perfect and my house would look like a McMansion. And remember how I said having the weep screed installed level drew attention to the crazy slope of my concrete yard? Well, now you can see what I meant:

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I have a plan. The city offers subsidies for improving stormwater management by ripping out concrete like this and replacing it with permeable pavers. So I’ll do that. And while it’s out I’m going to wrap the space below the stucco with cellular PVC. Since that stuff is basically inert I can bury it and make the house look clean across the ground. But for now I’m satisfied.

And since we’re close enough to “after” to guess what it looks like, let’s go back to “before.”

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And the industrial chic exposed sheathing look that I had going on for 2 years. Now I’m extra disgruntled about the ripped-out beadboard up there. The Irishman insisted we had to make sure the joists went all the way through… even though we already knew they did. (Also, I asked this before and we won’t have an answer ever but why did they put the textured plywood siding over nice beadboard??)

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Moving my 30 Projects to the Burbs?

Of course I have a lot to do at home, but my parents needed help, too. They bought new shrubs for 2 beds that they had to overhaul and were eager to get them in the ground. One, we lost a beloved beech tree. Its memory lives on thanks to Google Street View.

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It was super great for climbing.

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Since these Street View images were taken, we had made some effort to fill in the useless lawn between the tree and the walkway and mask those steps that awkwardly jut above grade. Then my parents were working on pulling up most of the pachysandra. They were left with some odd shape patches that needed to be tamed and some disjointed remnants of the previous attempt to turn this into a shade garden.

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My mom bought 2 more fothergilla to (hopefully) match the one you can see left of the lamp post. I made the pachysandra bed bigger around them by yanking out that weird patch to the left in solid sheets and laying it down like sod. There’s still a bit more pachysandra to come out, and after that this bed will look like half of a pear. They have a few other ideas for the other end of it once they decide what to do with the yews. Back when the tree was alive we had 2 yews die on us, and I thought they were supposed to be invincible!

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Then, the at the opposite end of their property there was some kind of a big evergreen shrub/tree thing. It kept getting bigger and more weirdly shaped over time (this picture is 5 years old, from back when it kind of looked good) and my parents wanted it out except for the privacy they’d lose.

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They picked up 3 new clethra, a deciduous shrub that is supposed to grow to 6 feet high, and we relocated 3 existing lower shrubs just beyond those. The bed now runs along the street as far as ever but will be a few feet narrower along the hose line.

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Then the next door neighbors were working on their property and said, “We have too many anemones and they scrape against our car. Do you want some?”

Um, yes! (That would be the pink flowers that are staked up.)

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And for reference, here’s the back yard. It’s pretty private but is laid out with a straight line clear through it, so this bed we just redid is supposed to block that line. I wish we had before pictures and/or the design plans I drew up for this space when I was in high school. A lot of the plantings have changed around (for the better) after the original plans, but the layout worked well. My mom said that she wanted this small back yard to be a “Charleston courtyard,” so I laid it out this end of it as well as I could on a formal axis, broken into spaces each roughly the size of a typical city garden, or 3 times the size of a South Philly back yard.

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But without those things the blog may not return here, so I’ll also remind you of the urn fountain I built back here after college.

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And where am I with #30ProjectsIn30Days? These 2 beds would be Projects 12 and 13 now. I have 4 more done and possibly a few more along with them later this week. If I help myself to Sunday, maybe I can pull off #30ProjectsIn31Days. Maybe.

Re-seasoning Vintage Cast Iron

My sister and I were lucky enough to find vintage Wagner Ware cast iron skillets in my grandmother’s basement. The skillets hadn’t been so lucky though. After going unused possibly for decades, they were covered in an impressively nasty crust. Then my sister’s boyfriend got a Griswold Dutch oven from his grandmother’s basement. These are treasures, possibly some of the finest cookware ever made in America. But they needed work, and since my sister lives in a building where she doesn’t want to set the fire alarm off, I offered to do it for her (Project 11). And then they sat all scuzzy in my cabinets for over a year.

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And she was coming in the middle of the month for a wedding! So, ack! I let it go to the very last minute, and then scrambled to get it done the day she arrived. (Also, ack! The month is more than half over!) To start, you have to get all the old seasoning off. The coolest way to do this is in an electrolysis tank. Hook your cast iron up to a battery charger in a tank of water, connect the other terminal to another piece of metal, and the electricity does all the work for you. I’m not cool enough for this though so I used Easy Off. I wrapped them up in plastic bags and let them sit overnight.

And with just a bit of scrubbing they came out nice and clean. Except for the little Number 3 skillet, which didn’t come clean in time for me to do it. Too bad, these little guys are perfect to fry an egg or 2. Now she’ll get that one back for Thanksgiving.

 

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Anyways, the next step is to coat them with a thin layer of fat and then bake them in the oven at 500 degrees for an hour.* See, this is why she had some fear of the fire alarms. I read that very perishable flaxseed oil is the best, but I just used canola oil that I had on hand. Also, I dragged my feet through a week of cool weather and did this hot job when it got warm again. The good news is it didn’t actually stink that much.

*Non-American readers, don’t panic. That’s 260 degrees Celsius.

And then I turned my brain off for a moment and took the Dutch oven out and set it on the counter. Now I have that sought-after old Griswold logo burned into the polyurethane. (I was fortunately able to scrape off the bits of poly that stuck to the pot.)

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If you’ll recall, this oak was a table top that I got from a friend’s basement and the plan was always to sand off the old finish and treat it with cutting board oil. Is this what will finally get me to… do that?

What Should A Good Guest Room Have?

After renting the back bedroom to a friend for a year and a half, I’m really moving up in the world. I have a guest room (Project 10)!

First off, wow. When she moved in last April, I was scrambling to finish things that now I’d call basic necessities, like the drawers in the kitchen. I didn’t have blinds for that room yet and she had a felt blanket covering the windows. That’s a relic from the heavy construction days I don’t miss. (Picture is my bedroom in case you don’t recognize it.)

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And here it is now, with authentic guest room accessories!

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And in all seriousness, I’d like to have some things in here that will be handy for guests. Because I live in a place people want to visit, because I might go to work and leave out of town visitors to their own devices, and also because what else am I going to do with the cutlery dividers in the dresser? So far, I have spare toothbrushes, a small tube of toothpaste, and 3 SEPTA tokens. Amy Vanderbilt’s Etiquette says that I should provide stationery, stamps, envelopes, and an alarm clock, and that my maid should close the blinds and turn down the sheets in the evening unless I know my guests prefer otherwise. I’m thinking a paper pad and a few pens would be nice anyway.

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And this is what it looks like. Because I don’t actually iron very often. I love this room. It’s the only room in the house that gets bright direct sunlight for more than 2 hours (until the awnings come down on the front next year) and in South Philly, it overlooks, gasp, a tree! I’ve started to have my coffee in here on weekend mornings.

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And let’s make it a full tour. Here’s what else is in the room. A friend swung by to help me get the bed in and I asked him about a print that my mom’s friends gave her when they downsized. “Is it too meta?” He said, “Too meta? I love things that are meta.” The size and price were pretty perfect, too.

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In fact, almost everything in the room was that same price. The only thing I paid for is the lamp shade above, which was $1 in the as is section at IKEA. I like that I have this modern cedar chest / night stand from one grandmother’s dining room…

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And the dresser is out of the other grandmother’s dining room, almost the exact same age, and basically the opposite style. And though I was considering architectural details separate from the decor, doors and hardware are like the most important thing in the world, and I got mine at Philadelphia Salvage. Same with the light fixture.

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The bed was free, too, and the bedding came from my dorm room. It’s not quite perfect. I’d like a nicer daybed, possibly made out of a door in my basement hoard, and bedding that covers the mattress properly. Also, if I put bolster cushions against the wall, I might be able to make this comfortable to sit on.

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Phew, Scratch Coat’s Done

Current 30 Projects in 30 Days count is 9. First I finally finished nailing the lath up to the house (Project 6). Between the casings, the tar paper, and the lath, the stucco prep took over 2 months. (Recycled photo but you get the idea.)

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And here it is with the stucco up (Project 7)! You’ll notice that some stucco is scratched and some isn’t in this photo. What we did after our lunch break was still too soft to scratch, so we took a break while it was setting up. The scratch coat is the first of 3 coats that are required for traditional (read:Twentieth Century) hard coat stucco. If I do the rest of the house myself, I will float only the second 2 coats right onto the old stucco and (thank God!) skip the lath.

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It’s funny because for what a big deal this is I don’t have that much to say. One thing is I was better at floating stucco onto the wall at the end of the day than at the beginning. Another is that my hands are dry. And most important, having exposed plywood sheathing on the back of the house was a worry and might have made the back of the house compete with my real source of future joy, restoring the front.

Speaking of which, we did one small thing to the front. I’ve had this nice mailbox sitting on my living room floor since my birthday in March, and you may have noticed that my 30 projects tend to revolve around finishing all the unfinished things that are stacked up around the edges of the living room. Alternate title for this challenge: #FreeTheCorners! Anyways, here’s the new mailbox. It doesn’t look TOO out of place on my scuzzy house, does it?

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And for reference, here’s the old one. Only downside is I’ll have shitty takout menus stuffed into my railings now because the new mailbox is too nice for a Circular Free Property sticker. I’ll stick one to the glass on my front door, but not until I spruce it up next month. More on that later.

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And I installed the third clothes bar in my closet. I re-purposed old clothes bars everywhere else and when I ran out, just did without on the right side and filled it up with junk. Now it will be easier to install baseboards in the closet because I can empty the lower bar on the left side and work without emptying the closet.

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So, will I make #30ProjectsIn30Days? Last update I was 2 days behind if my goal were a project a day. Today I still am! I think that’s a good thing.