Tag Archives: old house

5 years!

This year has kind of felt like a slog. But when we look back to where the house was a year ago, I think we have cause for optimism.

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Can you spot the changes?

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I’m excited about having the table set. That means Year 6 is starting out right. But back to last year… I started off Year 5 staining the handrail and prepping and priming the rest of the stairway and paneling. It was a tedious job and I was ready for a break.

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Instead, I let the Irishman build cabinet doors for my kitchen. (Did you notice how messy it looked without them?) This was bar none the most mismanaged project anyone ever took on at my house. The cost overruns had me in the hole from June to December and for months and all I could do was train myself not to care about the mess that took over my first floor and the public sidewalk in front of my house. This was definitely not legal so I’m just glad no one turned me in.

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When the Irishman was done, I’m not sure if there was a single door that was actually in acceptable condition. Some had surface flaws that became evident after they were painted over, some were the wrong size and didn’t close right, and some got scratched before they were installed. For the time being I ignored it all because I couldn’t stand the sight of them.

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Once again, no break. I went head on into another project that was far more annoying than I expected: stucco.

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Or really, the annoying part was the building paper, lathe, flashing, and casings. On the bright side, this makes the house look a lot more finished and less scary.

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At this point, I sincerely wanted to leave the house a pigsty forever and never touch another project again. But I also wanted to get those cabinet doors off the floor (and make them look closer to what my money should have bought). I participated in a 30 projects in 30 days challenge in September. A lot of the things I actually wanted to close out were too big to average a project a day, so I went with it and found smaller projects to do. The odd pieces of not-yet-installed moldings and the piles of unused building materials.

And in October, my dad and I worked a miracle on those  cabinet doors. It took about 2 weeks of hard work, a little too much to average a project a day.

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Then after a good long Christmas break, I tackled the Leaning Tower of Pyrex. I’ve added enough extra shelves inside my kitchen cabinets that some of them are only about 5 inches apart. It’s great and I don’t understand why more people don’t do this.

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And the work I stared on the linen closet? It should be done by now but instead it’s… on hold.

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I thought it would be done by now, and that right about now I’d be taking a good look at each of my linens/life choices as I moved them back into the closet where they belong. What got in the way? A friend who needed to get out of a bad living situation, fast. It was messy but it works out. I was planning on looking for a short-term roommate again anyway.

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Back To Work, On Storage

Did you miss me? I took a solid 2 months off working on the house and that’s been really great. In fact, I haven’t been this social in 6 years, before I bought the place. Relatedly, I decided to reorganize the kitchen cabinets. Partially because some of them are a disorganized mess and partly to get the Martini glasses on a shelf where I don’t have to jump onto the countertop to reach them.

And to do that, I’m adding 8 more shelves. I took advantage of some oddly warm January weather to go to my parents’ place and cut up scrap wood left over from the kitchen cabient doors, and now I’m painting the ones that weren’t painted on both sides. The ones that are painted blue are going to stay that way. I don’t care.

While I was at it with painting kitchen shelves, I sooner or later need to paint the linen closet. After the previous roommate moved out last fall I emptied the linens into the back bedroom closet and then never came back to that. But while I was rolling primer onto them I noticed how bad the walls were. There was no casing around the door on the inside and there were gaping holes in some of the walls. A big piece of plaster fell off at the bottom. The shelves are too big to install continuous runs of casing. Nothing is square, the walls aren’t close to flat, there’s nothing to nail into, and the plaster is globbed out way beyond the door jamb. This quick little job got annoying fast.

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So, I pulled scraps of the downstairs casings, sorted by size, and a skinny little offcut from the kitchen fronts out of the lumber hoard and cut them to fit into the spaces between the shelves. (The Irishman gave me this saw. You can tell because the pieces to prevent you from cutting your fingers off are missing.)

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And I had an awful time trying to fit into this closet to nail the pieces in. I bent nails over and over again and then couldn’t manage to hit any studs. I can’t tell what’s holding the original parts of this house together and I don’t ask.

I screwed in the moldings on one side, and that worked MUCH better. Remember how I rebuilt the side of the arch between the living room and the kitchen 3/4″ smaller to make the casing thicker on the one side? I saved the old piece and it was a little battered but just the right size! And this might be the last time anyone sees it.

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On the other side where there’so only room for something really skinny, there was also no way I could figure out to nail anything in. So I just cut things a little long and wedged them in place. I still need to cut off this 1 protruding shim.

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Both sides have big ugly gaps. Like I said, the walls aren’t flat or square and the plaster is glooped beyond the door jamb. And then how do you like the way the shelves don’t even match? The ones with the nosings were extras out of a friend’s parents’ basement. When they ran out I made the rest and didn’t bother to add nosings to them. And this reminds me that I need to fill the hole from the old door strike. I switched which way this door opens when I repurposed the closet for linens.

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And when I was cutting the shelves to fit into these not-square walls, I just kept the saw blade square and notched and notched and notched. I could be worried about things falling into these gaps and disappearing forever.

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Anyways, I got a reliable endorsement for Big Stretch caulk from Ross. It apparently fills wide gaps on the exterior of his house that he’s meticulously restoring. Hopefully it does equally well to hide the sins in this slapped-together linen closet.

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?

 

 

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?

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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