Tag Archives: renovation

The Kitchen – A First Look

All right, the dust has settled in my brain and been (mostly) cleaned out of my living room. Where does this leave us? Well, the kitchen looks more or less finished! Big sigh!

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So let’s talk about what I’ve got and why. Painted slab doors. I was emphatic that the kitchen be plain. I wanted this partly because I’m a messy cook – ask me about that time I tried putting ganache frosting onto a hot cake in my parents’ kitchen with beadboard cabinet doors.

And I did it partly to be as unlike the horror of super ornate kitchens as I could. (Even more horrifyingly, this is a 1926 neo-Georgian that surely had some architectural value before it was redone in the style of the Trump Taj Mahal.)

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I balked at Shaker style doors even though I like them because I don’t trust that they’ll stay in style, and there’s still a little bit of grooves co clean melted ganache out of. But flat doors and all that white had me afraid it would be boring. Now that it’s mostly done though I’m totally fine with it. The upper cabinets will get the same chrome knobs as the lowers and the patio doors will be stained darker. I have drywall soffits because I wanted the cabinets tight to the ceiling and the beams slope.

The toe kick runs right under the dishwasher, which makes it look like it’s floating. The dishwasher is up on blocks because the floor is so low over here. The door threshold juts out from the wall and runs past the door under the cabinets because there was a gap in the flooring near the old door.

The stove is up on blocks, too, so now it has a toe kick of its own, painted white. The Irishman thought I was crazy for wanting it white. I thought he was crazy for wanting it blue. Now he says I need to repaint it real white instead of the off white I’ve used everywhere else. I probably will eventually.

The end of the peninsula gets one big panel spanning the 2 cabinet heights, 2 floor heights, and floor slope. The plywood riser between the 2 countertops will be white until I add backsplashes.

Remember how I thought this piece of trim was too skinny?

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The door opening is now 3/4″ narrower. The way it was before would have been even worse on the kitchen side than the living room side.

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Now to finish the room, I’d like to get the painting done this year, though countertops, shades or curtains, and backsplashes will have to wait. My mom wants me to paint the trim the same blue as the lower cabinets. I’m thinking I’m happy with the room being a bit plain, but it was an idea. Colored trim works just fine in her house.

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But as the idea intrigued me and I feel like showing off the fact that I don’t have crappy vinyl windows, I’m thinking of painting the window sashes over the sink blue.

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And in a year or 2 we can figure out livening the space up with the missing bits. Mainly counters and backsplash tile, but I’m also thinking of putting in roller shades made of patterned fabric and wood valences to hide the rolls. Of course, just because I can’t finish the room this year doesn’t mean you can’t volunteer ideas for it.

And, one more shot from the living room side because I don’t get things this tidy every day. I still want to paint the inside of that cabinet blue. And get glass in the doors.

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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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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.

4 Year Anniversary Tour – Upstairs (Hall)

Upstairs, the house had the original Victorian trim. I was kinda thrilled to have unique woodwork in not 1 but 2 unique styles. Sadly, almost half of it was missing or butchered, I made changes that required more, and what did survive I couldn’t get off the walls unbroken. So out it went and I got a very good (and expensive) reproduction.

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All the doors had at some point been replaced with stained flush doors. Then later on, exactly half of those were replaced with the cheapest hollow 6-panel doors you can buy.

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I decided that new solid pine doors would miss the mark with the period look I wanted, so I was planning on putting in new flat doors and recreating the mid-century era update. (The surviving flat doors were shot.) But then I found a set of 5 4-paneled Victorian doors at Philadelphia Salvage and used them instead. This was one of the happiest days of my life.

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Refinishing them was a chore.

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But now they’re my pride and joy. Some of the white porcelain knobs came from my mom’s old house, which was the caretaker’s quarters on an estate in South Jersey built around the same time as mine.

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Part of the second floor had oak floors probably from the 1930’s remodel, but I had to take most of them out. Instead of reinstalling them, I re-exposed the original random-width heart pine. By doing this, I’ve attempted to get the second floor back to something like its original look while the downstairs has a reconstruction of the 1930’s remodel. These floors creaked really badly, but while the ceiling was out downstairs I glued all my scraps of plywood up onto the back sides of the floorboards, and now (except for one bad creak right outside my bedroom) the problem is fixed.

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Now on to the hall, the first thing I called it was “comically narrow.” It’s about 26 inches wide and I left it that way because I didn’t want to lose closet and bathroom space.

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Upstairs hall

And I said I wanted to restore this floor to at least the architectural style I started with even though I reconfigured it a lot. Here it is now from the same angle as before.

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And a friend of mine offered me a huge abstract painting for free. Unfortunately, it took me 4 months to pick it up and during that time he and a friend had some wine and tried to paint a pagoda over it. I took it and hung it up anyway. It’s super bizarre looking but the scale is great.

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And one big change I made to the hall was adding in a big square skylight. I can’t tell you how much it changed the house, including the living room below. The back of the living room doesn’t get much light so every bit helps.

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If you can’t tell from my photos, the walls are just primed right now. I’m thinking that with the exposed brick, the stained doors, the flooring, artwork, and every room up here being a different color, I’ve got enough going on visually up here to paint the walls the same color as the trim, but less glossy. But feel free to change my mind. No decision is set in stone until it’s paid for.

4th Anniversary Tour – Living Room

This was the first room I worked on. Of course it didn’t look too bad at the start.

 

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Stairs

 

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Living room, front

I got talked into the exposed brick on the stairway side and thought that this was going to nearly double what I had to do before moving in. Of course I doubled the scope several more times after that.

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Then when I enlarged the low and narrow opening between the living room and the kitchen I discovered that the whole house was on one knob and tube circuit – except for a few outlets that were dangerously installed with their wires loose on the outside of the house.

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At some point I grabbed the ceiling for stability and it squished – nail pops everywhere! The plan was to ignore this but then I took down all 3 ceilings. Yes, there were 3!

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And it looked super scary at the end of this.

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The big long wall had to be framed in about an inch because the new chimney didn’t fit flush like the old one did. But now I won’t die if I turn the heat on so it was worth it.

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In the back, I opened the wall to the kitchen but I still wanted it to feel like separate rooms. The doorway and window are now the same height. I was a little bit annoying nagging the Irishman to make sure this happened.

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And I had a few issues with the stairway wall. The basement stairs are super narrow.IMG_3656

 

And the door, which was moved rather crudely from the kitchen to the living room after this stairway was built, jutted awkwardly into the stairway woodwork.

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Some people take the wall out entirely but I like my basement closed. The Irishman had a great idea though. Build wood paneling (in a 1930’s style of course) with a hidden seam so the wall comes out. His idea, my sketch:stairway paneling

And his workmanship

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And I solved the other problem by using a skinny sash bead in lieu of door casing. The cap for the paneling runs straight across and the bead butts up to that, so I got to squeeze in my unbroken diagonal line.

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And here it is built. He then filled that hacked out spot with Bondo.

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And my favorite feature of the room, the inlaid banding on the floors. This is why my floors are blond.

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I picked up a retro modern chandelier and was nervous it would look jarring and out of place in this room, but I’m very happy with it now. The Danish modern dining room set ($218 with tax at the ReStore) helps it blend in, too.

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Just about everything else in the room is very traditional. The gods of Craigslist delivered it to me, but I take contrarian pleasure in bucking trends. Ironically, Apartment Therapy says that green will be the “it” color for sofas in 2017. And let’s not forget that I needed 4 friends to help carry it 6 feet above 4 other people’s back yards and dismantle the patio door to get it into the house. Also, I need a privacy fence ASAP mostly because of the yard pictured.

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And against the brick wall, a little dresser that my great-grandmother hated when she had it right here in South Philly in the 1920’s, the convex mirror that was my grandmother’s pride and joy, and a (plaster of course) Brancusi bust just like one my friend’s parents have that I was terrified of when I was little. This is why having stuff that matches is overrated. I finally, finally don’t need the electric radiators anymore.

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One thing that’s worse than before – drywall jambs and totally rigged 1/8″ thick Masonite trim around the front windows. The windows themselves are garbage so I promise this isn’t permanent, and in a year or 2 I’ll have a facsimile of what used to be there.

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And here’s the after – actual nice photos for a change!

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A 4 Year Anniversary Tour

Yep, it’s been 4 years! Or it will be this month. And since it’s an awful lot to wade through all the Phase 1 work, I’ve decided to do it room by room. And that means the only place to start is my closet-sized vestibule. But first, a bit of background. I believe that my house was built in the 1890’s but the downstairs interiors appear to date to the 1930’s when the parlor walls were taken out and paint grade Craftsman trim was installed. And yes, this was period appropriate in Colonial Revival houses.

 

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I have only 2 interior doors downstairs. One dates to this remodel; the other came out of a house across the street and appears to be about the same age. Everyone had the funds to de-Victorianize their houses during the Depression apparently.

Although I (sadly) found very little of the original woodwork to be salvageable, I put it back in as close as I could to the way it was. And a really great find, the Irishman (or the master carpenter next door) got a co-worker to make me reproduction header crown out of my scrap wood for just $50!

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Now back to the vestibule. First, I have a newer sorta Victorian-ish looking front door. I plan to keep it and clean it up, but if I find something great and genuinely old, I might abandon common sense and replace it. I put in a Baldwin brass handle set and the Irishman built nice jamb extensions, so if I do that I’m officially throwing good money away. And look, he had to rig something up just to get something to nail the jamb extensions into.

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I exposed the brick wall in the living room and continued it in here. While the plaster was coming off I found that the walls were new drywall installed over plastic tile that was on the original walls. The whole house was layered like a matryoshka doll.

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On the other side I wanted to add a little something extra and the Irishman made me this great paneling.

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And then there’s a stained glass transom. My mom had this made for a previous house and took it with her to 2 more before I had just the right place to put it. She said that the man who made it was very artistic and very gay. He couldn’t make what he wanted within her budget, so he made what he wanted and undercharged her.

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I took a light that was original to my parents’ 1951 house that my mom never liked – and that to be honest hung too low for the ceilings there. And, I painted the room navy blue! The wall could use at least one picture and the doors and trim still need work, but I’m really happy with the way it’s turned out.

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Some people are perplexed that I kept the vestibule. At least in little houses like this one, they’re slowly disappearing. But I like having the air lock, even though it’s so tiny you have to open both doors at once if more than 2 people are coming in.