Tag Archives: philadelphia

An Irish-Made Kitchen

So here’s the deal. Yes, the HDF was kitchen cabinet doors. I’ve been told that it is a suitable material for cabinetry. I hope I was told right.

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And the rest of the deal. What I said about being burnt out from tedious work and a messy house was true. I was absolutely ready to live my life unencumbered by house projects. The house had gotten a thorough cleaning and I had friends coming for dinner. And the Irishman needed a job and begged me to let him make my cabinet doors. I relented and on my first day of freedom he set up his cutting station on the sidewalk. And as the doors came through the saw he brought them in and dropped them onto my clean countertops. I told him that friends were coming over to cook and started moving them into the basement stairwell. He said, “I need them where I can get to them.”

A bit later on he asked me, “Where are you taking your friends tonight?”

Now let’s back up to how the project was planned, aside from the fact that it wasn’t. I had a few things oddly laid out: wall cabinets stacked 2 high and cut to non-standard sizes, fillers scribed to fit tilted walls, toe kicks scribed to fit sloping floors, a plinth holding the stove level, and a split-height peninsula room divider. The plan was to get a shop to make these, and I was gonna start with Semihandmade, a company that makes custom fronts for IKEA cabinets. The Irishman told me a while ago that he’d make them for me and slash Semihandmade’s price. At the time I think he had access to a shop. This spring, not so much.

And all these conditions came together to create a few of the greatest horrors I’ve endured since buying the Crooked House. First, he used the sidewalk in front of my house, shielded by an awning, as his shop. He had materials stored there under a tarp for the whole project, making my house an official nuisance property. No one reported me though.

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And my living room became his lay down area.

Then there were his wildly unrealistic expectations about how fast he could work without a proper shop plus our usual agreement that I’d pay him for his time meant that I had a terrifying series of promises of cheapness and fastness followed by him hitting me up for more money. At one point I cut him off and he threatened to walk. I wondered when to cut my losses and put the stuff in the basement.

The Irishman started working shorter days. My fuse shortened more than his days. I started berating him every time he told me he was taking a break. People at the office heard me. He took offense that I was mad at him. Finally, it was my mom who intervened. She read my bank statement and totaled up the ATM withdrawals that paid him. Only she knows. I don’t want to. But now the Irishman decided that he owes me forever, that he’ll finish the job dutifully, that he’ll take on a litany of other projects, and that there’ll never again be a copper between us. (Read that sentence with a thick brogue.) I don’t know how she manages to slay like this over and over again. (The gun is plastic)

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Anyways, one week became… 6 1/2. My plans to enjoy spring fell through. My plans to pay off Phase 1 are delayed a solid 6 months. But I’m a big step closer to a finished kitchen. Was it worth it? No way. Anyways, I’m desperate for a break. Maybe a long one. But the Irishman says he owes me work and I’m not about to miss collecting the debt. We’ll see how I do both. In the meantime, I should have my house back tomorrow – guess what that means I’ll be doing!

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(I won’t be holding my balance on one foot in heels.)

Pushing Through with the Banister

A quick note: It’s been an exhausting couple of weeks. I should have published this about 2 weeks ago on April 8. I present it to you now as if I had.

It’s been a tedious month. We left off with the banister and the paneling below looking more or less like this.

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The sequence was burn paint off, sand, wood filler, sand, prime, then see everything I missed (and the grain that the primer raised), wood filler again, sand again, prime again, rinse, repeat.  And because I was getting so fed up with this job, I did what any sane person would do and squeezed in the upstairs banister. I was going to focus on the downstairs part and let this go till later. But the job was so bad I thought getting it all done now made more sense.

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So the dirty part was going on upstairs while my OCD got free reign downstairs.

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This work might seem pretty sedate compared to Phase 1, but I’ve also done it on top of working out 5 times a week and cooking myself heaps of meat and vegetables so I stop wanting bread. You see, I’m 30 now and to my great horror, my waistline has grown enough that for the first time in my adult life I’m wearing a pants size that American stores keep in stock.

And today I have a couple dear old high school friends coming for dinner, which was a bit of a problem because I was still working on the banister yesterday and I haven’t done a lick of house cleaning in a month. I just let the place look like this, plus a continuous accumulation of dust and clutter.

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And so, my parents came down yesterday. My dad and I got another round of priming done and my mom cleaned the house. Maybe I should be ashamed that I let that happen but it was her way of helping. So where are we now? Well, just about all of it is primed (except for some difficult spots where the 2 banisters overlap). In this critical corner, there is no sign left of the hatchet job someone did moving the basement stairway door. The paneling has its sticking in place and the sticking matches the door perfectly. The only thing missing is the little piece of ogee trim under the cap above the door. With a compound miter cut that the Irishman said was not easy to do.

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Upstairs I have a little bit more priming to do and then, sadly, there is more sanding to do there. And there are 8 balusters missing from around the volute downstairs, but I don’t want to install those until everything else is painted. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone would fit their hand in there except that they did a really terrible job painting this.

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Stairs

But anyways, I’m ready for a break again. And the house is spotless, so keeping it that way for a while would be a nice thing to do instead of messy, tedious projects.

Or, maybe not. On the morning of the 8th, a few hours before my company’s supposed to show up, there’s a crazy person cutting high density fiberboard on my sidewalk! Can you guess why?

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Progress and Increasingly Delicate Sensibilities

My dad came today and we got the lower part of the stairway wall primed!

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Old house purists: before you bite my head off for painting my woodwork, the first floor interior is a Colonial Revival style remodel from the 1930’s and had always been painted. But getting it back to this point seemed insurmountable. Especially these scrolly things under the stair nosings. There was so much paint glooped up onto them that I used 3 different types of chemical stripper, then burned it off with a heat gun, and finally gave up and used sandpaper. I then primed it, which exposed more flaws, so I sanded it all again and primed it a second time. It looks pretty good now!

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There are still imperfections to fix, including all the little nail holes in the paneling. But the paneling all needs to be sanded as the paint raises the grain of the plywood it’s made out of.

Once this is done, there’s another round of it upstairs. I didn’t do it all at once because (1) there is only so much prep I can stand to do in one go and (2) I wanted to get the downstairs painted before reinstalling the top 2 stair nosings, and then I have to close up the unfinished underside of the upstairs box newel.IMG_0724.JPG

And I’ll be replacing the 8 bottom balusters in the second phase after getting everything painted that they’ll block. (No, not restoring. It’s not worth the trouble for paint grade pine.)

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But my sensibilities are getting delicate. I can no longer handle this bit of unpainted trim on the ceiling that was supposed to happen later with the upstairs banister. It’s now getting moved up into this phase.

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What is happening to me that this is bothering me? Remember when I was sleeping in the kitchen? That was totally fine.

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And then this project is about to collide with the Phase 2 kitchen cabinet fronts thanks to another flaw my delicate sensibilities can’t handle. The casings around the big opening between the living room and kitchen is just tacked up so it can be notched into the cabinet fronts later. But this is affecting the living room now because I’ve decided that the little strip of molding on the left side of the door opening is too skinny.

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You see, I opened the wall, but emphatically wanted it to look like the wall was still there, just with a big doorway in it. I think that completely open rowhouses can feel relentlessly long and narrow and liked the proportions of this room as it was at the beginning. And right now this skinny rip of trim doesn’t feel like enough to hold up the corner of the room. It feels more like an outside corner than a wall. It will also balance better with the window on the other side.

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So, I’ll be yanking off that that piece of casing that had been ripped down, pulling off everything that had been tacked in place on the kitchen side, facing the cabinets, installing a new wooden board over the old one to make the doorway like an inch narrower, and putting up a new, heftier rip of trim on the living room side. Luckily, this isn’t the expensive special order casing, though I will, sigh, be needing more of that later, too.

So, does this sound like a good idea to you, or do you think I need to be medicated? My thoroughly practical dad flinched, but then took a second look and said, “You know it really will look better if you come out about one and a quarter and cover up the side of the refrigerator.”

Shoddy Work Hall of Shame

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

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

Don't even try to understand this one

Don’t even try to understand this one

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

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

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

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

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

Radiator cover removal

Radiator cover removal

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

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

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Then there are the front bedroom windows:

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

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

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

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

Back 3

Back 3

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.

4th Anniversary Tour – Back Bedroom

The back bedroom, oh my. At the start it was tiny, the floor had a terrible slant (normally I’m okay with crooked floors but this was too much), and the closet was once again 12 inches deep.

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Back bedroom

Let’s not forget the horror story of the wall behind the radiator. Whoever did this can’t have been sober. It didn’t look this bad in the before pic, did it?

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Moving the bathroom made this room 34 inches longer, or about 12 ½ x 9 feet, plus an alcove where the closet used to be, making half the room 10 feet wide. You can still see the footprint of the bathroom in this picture of the new closet

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There were some unique challenges in here, like marrying new framing into old when we made 1 window into 2. And the new studs warped so we had to clamp them back into place.

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And we put custom cut sleepers on top of the original joists to level the floor while still allowing the exposed beams in the kitchen downstairs.

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Then I glued down the original pine floors (which were under the oak in the before pic) onto the new subfloor, plus a bit of extra wood I had to buy.

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And are you ready for this one? A sloped ceiling designed expressly to fit the salvaged doors I had already bought. Here’s the deal. Rowhouses have low slope (not actually flat) roofs, so when this house was built, a level ceiling was framed out at a different height in each room. I measured the bathroom ceiling since this end of the bedroom was then the bathroom, which had a higher ceiling. See how the break in the ceiling slope lines up with the corner where the closet was? I was obsessed about that detail. Also, I left the exposed brick where the closet had been so you can see the original low ceiling. The chimney is abandoned and was for the original stove, so I guess that hole was to heat the bedroom with kitchen exhaust?

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This also meant that the center of the room has a level ceiling which allowed me to use a flushmount light fixture. This one was a bargain at Philadelphia Salvage. I needed a flushmount in here because the ceiling is about 7’-9” so I was grateful to find something that didn’t suck or cost hundreds of dollars.

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I was emphatic that the jamb extensions and casings needed around the windows needed to come down in the middle so I could inside mount two sets of blinds. This was hard to do but the Irishman came through.

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And I painted the room green because I wanted a color that brought out the really great morning light. I didn’t think I liked this color while I was painting but now that it’s on the walls it’s perfect. It looks bright in the morning and quiet in the evening. And the doors, also from Philadelphia Salvage, are 1930’s Georgian. Not quite right for the house, but just the right size.

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I also scored a third knob matching what came with the closet doors and put it, incongruously, onto the Victorian door into the room. Remember: door hardware is the most important thing in the world, but I haven’t finished installing it anywhere in the house.

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I had the room entirely furnished with leftovers. Every piece is a different age, style, and type of wood, and I really loved it just like that. The braided rug was very good quality; the comforter was by some cheap brand like Dorm Essentials. It’s showing its age after 5 short years in college but gets the job done.

Now, I’ve had this room rented to a friend since last Easter. Yes, she moved in Easter Sunday. So here it is as it appeared right before that.

Then a reader mailed me curtains! Thank you Mary Elizabeth! (Also note my friend’s bed in the room. I’d say the biggest downside of having a roommate is having to store the bed I had in my bedroom.)

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And I scored this lamp during one of my grandmother’s several moves.

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My roommate wants to live on her own sooner or later, but since it’s never too early to plan, feel free to weigh in on finishing off the room now.

4 Year Anniversary Tour – Front Bedroom

The front bedroom is the least changed room in the house. To start, it had a crazy 1-foot-deep closet and a door connecting it to the middle bedroom, which is now the bathroom.

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So there was enough of the middle bedroom left over to get me a good closet, but I needed a bigger door opening than the one above. I found big fancy doors at Philadelphia Salvage that were just the right size.

 

I stripped them, bought reproduction pocket door hardware that was big and fancy and covered where the knobs used to be, and the Irishman hung them as bypassing sliding doors.

This is a little bit anachronistic, trying to make a 1950’s-60’s door configuration look like a Victorian one that is too grand for the house anyway. But it gave me nice doors that don’t swing out into my furniture so I say it’s fine. And plus, it means that a house in South Philly has a closet like this. Too bad I’m not into clothes and have no intention of filling it.

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Now that the new closet door took one wall away, I wanted to make the old closet wall usable. But the chimney can’t just go away, so I built the whole wall in, making the room about 1 foot smaller. There’s room for a bed in the middle, but on either side the wall is framed out for cut 2 niches for built-in bookcases. One is where the closet was; the other used to be part of the room. Right now there are sections of wall with no framing behind them.

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On to décor. I inherited this rather ornate Victorian bedroom set. It came from my grandmother’s aunt who got it right the third time and married a man who owned half the Wildwood boardwalk before the stock market crash of 1929. Then a good friend of the family gave me a little pan light, probably from the 1920’s or so, and a traditional Oriental style rug.

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With that I have a cheap bed from IKEA, a pair of Colonial style chests, and a pair of mid mod lamps. I said with how formal the room was coming to look I wanted to make it look like a Victorian whorehouse. But then I painted the walls a sedate color. So anyways, before I show you the room now, here’s my worst progress photo. Yes, I was using the room like this.

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And the after. The one below is about the same angle as the first photo in this post. When the bookcases are added, they’ll be in the wall behind the night stands.

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And that fancy furniture I was talking about. The desk belongs in the back bedroom, as do the mattress and box spring behind that piece of plywood.

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I’m at a bit of a stalemate with the décor in here. After Phase 2 is complete and I have permanent windows and no awnings, the cheap blinds have to go and I need something nice that blocks out the street lamp that’s like 8 feet from the window. Don’t forget where the radiators are though. The comforter is not nice (Nana bought it at Bradlee’s) and is starting to age, so it will also go. I have no attachment to the bed frame and may want a queen size bed eventually. The rug could stay but I’m not wedded to it. If you have ideas on how I can decorate around the marble topped furniture, I’m all ears. Understatement is usually my thing, but I was considering letting this room be more eccentric.