And I’m Still Painting the Damn Kitchen

I’ve been complaining about this job since April, but sooner or later I need to put it to bed. And this year I’m a Beer Tour host again. This year it’s November 4. Time to start tidying up? Nah, let’s start a project.

(Look how cute the door prize baskets are though! If you want to come, event description and tickets available here.)

 

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So what’s going on here? Well, I expanded the scope of the kitchen from just the doors to all of it, which now includes painting the inside of that cabinet that faces the living room. But first I took the extra trim left over from the top of the paneled wall, the little feather-edged piece that’s mitered back on either side of the door frame…

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Off on a tangent, let’s remember that the door casing used to jut into stairway space and I designed the paneling like this very specifically to bring back that unbroken diagonal line. And when you have a very specific idea that you’re hiring someone else to do, draw it! When you tell your ideas to contractors, they hear THEIR ideas, but a drawing gets you what you want.

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And some extra stop molding ripped down to look like that. I nailed this onto the cabinet shelves to make plate rails.

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Then I painted it with Insl-X Stix Bonding Primer that my dad had left over from another job. And when I Googled that to verify the spelling I saw how expensive it is. Thanks, Dad! This stuff isn’t that much fun to work with. It has the consistency of pudding. But it allows me to paint over the cheap melamine veneered particle board cabinets that I got at a certain Swedish flat-pack furniture store.

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Then there’s the non-linear progress. Remember how in early September I got the back sides of all the base cabinet doors painted? I re-hung these glass doors and to my horror, one of them didn’t close right. But my dad has a tool that is my new best friend: a belt sander that mounts to a fence.

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I marked out how much to take off with painters tape to make the 2 doors line up with each other, took it outside, and ground it down. Now at least these 2 doors could fool you into thinking they were made well. I just need to paint the top again.

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Then there was the small matter of the side panels. They jut out beyond the cabinet frames to make the doors look inset. One of them though had swirly saw marks in it. I tried the best I could to grind them down with a pad sander but it seemed like they just wouldn’t go away. So I troweled a thin layer of spackle onto the edge and problem solved! Solved so well in fact that it made the others look bad. So, the ones that are already painted are now getting the treatment.

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Anyways, we’ve got a process here. A process that seems to be moving forward. After months of being demoralized by a seemingly endless parade of defects, I just might have found them all. Well, not all. If I want to get ALL I’ll have to remake a door or 2. But at least now they will exist and they will be installed and the paint will be in good condition.

Then I brought up the paneling. I’m painting that, too, and the basement stairway door. There’s a thermostat that goes on the paneling. I don’t need to turn the heat on yet but when I do, I want to install it onto PAINTED paneling so I never have to take it down again. Plus, the paneling runs straight into the big interior arch, which runs straight into the cabinets on one side. Best to just paint all of it. I’ll sigh when I think about it, but when I finish an area, I say, “Oo, shiny!”

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I think it’ll be done and clean in time. Do you?

 

 

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My April Fool’s Mansion Revisited

This weekend I was in the Wissahickon Valley Park (highly recommended) for a short hike. On the way back there was no choice but have a look at the place that surprisingly many people actually believed that I bought 2 1/2 years ago.

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This house is in Pelham, a section of Mount Airy that was one of the first planned suburban residential developments in the country. There is a mixture of detached homes and twins but all of them are set back from the street like in a modern-day suburb, but with cooler houses than most. If you’re a little older than me and used to watch Thirtysomething, that show was set in Mount Airy.

Below, note the inappropriate replacement windows on the first floor. If I lived here, these would bother me much more than the windows with glass missing.

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It’s pretty fancy for a colonial! Oh, and there might have been a little water damage here and there. (Photos with watermarks came from the MLS)3255092_103255092_5

But how about today?

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The stucco and pressed metal cornices are good as new! Looks like the original windows have been replaced, which is kind of sad. But it also looks like the replacement windows have been replaced, which was the most important thing in the world. But… I think I spot single panes of glass in the fanlights where there used to be really pretty patterned muntins. It doesn’t look like they cut corners with this place so I’m gonna assume that they had storm windows made and are using them to seal the house while the original sashes are out for restoration. I hope I’m assuming right. Also, how do I get to see inside?

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.

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?

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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

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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.

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.